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Will Muschamp, Auburn defense working to silence echoes of 2014 disappointment

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp wants to earn the offense’s trust.

On Wednesday, Muschamp was asked what his feelings would have been if the Tigers weren’t able to run out the clock at the end of their 31-24 win over Louisville.

The Cardinals scored on all four of their second half possessions to make it a one-possession game. 

“I’d have embraced it,” Muschamp said, emphatically. “It would have been awesome to go out and win the game on defense. I would have loved to have fumbled the kick return to go out on defense and make a stop, to be honest. That’s just my mentality. You want to go out and win the game. I’m very disappointed we allowed those two scores at the end. You embrace that opportunity.”

While Muschamp wasn’t here last season, he knows Auburn’s defense struggled at key moments in 2014.

The Tigers dropped the Iron Bowl 55-44 to Alabama despite holding on to a slim 36-34 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Rolling Tide scored 28 unanswered points with three of the four scoring drives going 70-plus yards.

In the Outback Bowl, running back Cameron Artis-Payne handed the defense a 31-28 lead with 2:55 to go after scoring his second touchdown of the game.

The Tigers allowed Wisconsin to march right down the field and hit a game-tying 29-yard field goal, and the Badgers went on to win 34-31 in overtime.

Auburn’s defense allowed 426 rushing yards in the bowl game with Melvin Gordon going for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

It was the most yards the Tigers’ defense had ever given up to an individual rusher, and first time since Oct. 12 2002 that it gave up more than 400 total yards rushing.

For Auburn fans, the end of Saturday’s game at the Georgia Dome felt eerily similar to those late game situations. The defense couldn’t get Louisville and true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson off the field in the second half.

The Cardinals converted four of its seven third down chances, and two fourth down conversions.

With less than four minutes to go, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game doesn’t become a nail-biter if Muschamp’s defense stops Jackson on a fourth and seven at Auburn’s 19-yard line up 10 points.

“That’s something we looked at and need to improve on,” Muschamp said. “That was a huge part of the game was not converting in those situations in critical downs. We did that in the first half. We got off the field in some situations in the first half and we certainly didn’t in the second half.”

Muschamp knows that if Auburn wants to win a SEC Championship, and remain in the picture for a national title, the defense is going to need to come through in clutch situations  

It’s a certainty in his mind, and he wants his players to be ready for that moment when it comes.

“I told our team at the hotel before the game, I hope it comes down to the last drive and I hope we have that opportunity to be in the picture so they can count on us,” Muschamp said. “They need to be able to count on us. That’s the mentality we’re going to have.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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