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Michael Niziolek: Auburn defense needs to solidify its reputation

Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams rushed the quarterback against LSU Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams rushed the quarterback against LSU Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M earlier this season hit the defense hard.

Players apologized for not being able to bail out an offense coach Gus Malzahn described as a “work in progress” at the time.

“They had a little struggle today,” Auburn defensive line Montravius Adams said. “The offensive has always picked the defense up. We should always be able to pick them up.”

Linebacker Deshaun Davis stressed the importance of living up to a much higher standard of success than the defense had for itself in 2015.

“I feel like we are close, but close doesn’t really get you nowhere in the SEC,” Davis said.

It didn’t take long for Auburn’s defense to regroup and meet the expectations Davis laid out.

The unit has strung together one defensive gem after another during a three-game win streak holding opposing offenses to 11 points and 305 yards per game.

Auburn has a chance to solidify a reputation as one of the conference’s best if it can shut down Arkansas and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks.

Arkansas comes to town averaging 34 points per game with an uncharacteristically pass heavy offense.

Quarterback Austin Allen is second in the SEC in pass efficiency to Auburn’s own Sean White, but the junior has been a much larger part of the Razorbacks’ offensive game plan. Allen has thrown for 1,861 yards and 18 touchdowns with 87 more pass attempts than White.

Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams is also leading the conference in rushing.

Auburn will have an equally challenging matchup the following week when it heads to Oxford to face a similarly formidable offensive minded opponent.

Ole Miss is averaging 39 points per game with much of the production coming in the passing game. Chad Kelly is the only quarterback in the SEC averaging more than 300 yards per game.

While Auburn’s offense is playing better, it still has only scored more than 30 points against an SEC opponent one time since playing Arkansas last season (seven games).

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele admitted his group might be ahead of schedule in terms of where he thought they would be at the halfway point, but there’s no turning back now if the team wants to jump back into contention for an SEC title.

“I could stand here and tell you that I didn’t think we could be here, but I hoped we would be here,” Steele said. “The truth of the matter is I think every player you coach wants to be able to look at something and say, you know what, we’re doing this pretty well and we’re getting better.”