AUBURN, Ala. — Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb ran wild the last time Kentucky faced Auburn, exposing the Tigers’ tackling flaws like no other team did all last season.
Auburn is dead set on making sure it doesn’t happen again.
The Tigers will get another crack at Locke and Cobb, two of the SEC’s most dynamic playmakers, Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
Their meeting a year ago didn’t go well for Auburn. Locke ran for 126 yards and Cobb 109 and a touchdown as the Wildcats pulled off an improbable upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium, snapping a 15-game losing streak in the series.
“We have a lot of respect for them and know the kind of football players they are,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “So we have to do a better job than last year.”
Easier said than done. The duo has averaged 340.2 all-purpose yards per game this year and has scored 11 combined touchdowns.
The Tigers have experienced that explosiveness first-hand. Cobb, a 5-foot-11, 186-pound running back/receiver/wildcat option, set up Kentucky’s winning touchdown a year ago with a 61-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Locke, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound tailback, finished things off, rumbling for 16 tough yards after Auburn turned over the ball on downs. It set up three straight kneel-downs that ran out the clock.
“We know for a fact the main thing is stopping the run,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “And we’ve got to go from there.”
“It’s a little bit about angles with those guys,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “They’re trying to get to the corners, and pursuit angles are a must.”
Auburn has been better at doing that this year. The Tigers are second in the SEC and eighth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 92.8 yards per game. They allowed 38 rushing yards to Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday, their best effort since Georgia Tech finished with 40 rushing yards in 2003.
“We’ve played against some good players on some good teams, but that’s all in the rearview now,” Roof said.
Despite the improvement, Roof isn’t satisfied with Auburn’s tackling form, a concern since he took over defensive coordinator duties nearly two years ago.
The most glaring example last week was linebacker Daren Bates, who had ULM’s Rodney Lovett dead to rights short of the first-down marker.
Bates, a converted safety, came in low with his helmet, a glancing blow the running back easily absorbed. Lovett spun away from the hit and turned up field to move the chains.
“You’ve got to hit them,” said Bynes, showing frustration. “You’ve got to hit them straight in the mouth. You’ve got to hit them dead in the legs. You’ve got wrap them up. Not that head ducking and all that other stuff. …
“That’s why you see us miss a lot of tackles because we do some dumb tackles, which is very stupid. I think we need to go ahead and lean into them, wrap up and make the tackles.”
Roof said several factors are to blame — bad angles, poor pad level and body position.
“Those things that when you do them well, you eliminate the big plays,” he said.
Linebacker Craig Stevens echoed Bynes’ complaint.
“Instead of going for the kill shot every time, you have to wrap up,” he said.
“There are several factors it could be,” Roof said. “But the bottom line is it can’t be.”