War Eagle Extra

Michael Niziolek: Can personnel changes fix Auburn’s struggling defense?

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

3. LSU (2-0; 2-0 SEC) – The early whispers surrounding LSU running back Leonard Fournette as a Heisman Trophy candidate turned into deafening cheers as the sophomore put up 228 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn. Fournette’s jaw-dropping runs rightly earned him the spotlight, but LSU’s overall performance proved it’s a legit contender. Next week – Syracuse (Gerald Herbert | AP Photo)
3. LSU (2-0; 2-0 SEC) – The early whispers surrounding LSU running back Leonard Fournette as a Heisman Trophy candidate turned into deafening cheers as the sophomore put up 228 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn. Fournette’s jaw-dropping runs rightly earned him the spotlight, but LSU’s overall performance proved it’s a legit contender. Next week – Syracuse (Gerald Herbert | AP Photo)

Auburn brought defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in to replace Ellis Johnson last season expecting him to provide a quick turn around for the Tigers’ defense.

The coordinator’s long history of success combined with the belief that Auburn had the talent in place created a sense of optimism that Auburn could make a seamless transition from one of the more toothless defenses in the SEC, to one of the best.

After Saturday’s 45-21 loss to SEC rival LSU, Auburn is reevaluating that initial timeline.

“Frustrating, disappointing, embarrassing, whatever you want to call,” Muschamp said, of the 45-21 loss to LSU.

Auburn gave up more than 400 total yards of offense for a third straight week, and a staggering 411 rushing yards. The team’s rushing defense is one of the worst -- tied for 123rd out of 127 FBS teams -- in the entire NCAA giving up 270 rushing yards per game.

The other statistics are just as ugly with the defense giving up 442 total yards and 29.7 points per game while allowing 75 first downs, and third down conversions at an alarming rate of 50 percent.

Muschamp doesn’t have many blemishes on his defensive resume, but this certainly qualifies. He said Wednesday night this about as bad of a stretch as he’s been responsible for as a coordinator, or coach.

“As a total group no, I’ve never been in this situation,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp puts the blame on his shoulders, but Auburn players aren’t getting a free pass.

The first-year defensive coordinator didn’t detail his specific plans, but intends to make changes to the team’s starting defensive lineup for Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State.

“Yeah, there will be – I mean you’ll see Saturday night,” Muschamp said. “We’ve, whenever you play, coach, slash, whatever as dismal as we did you got to make some changes. That’s just bottom line. You can’t continue to get the same results and really the first two games winning coats and soothes a lot of things.”

Muschamp wants to find his  “best 11 guys” with a focus on fixing communication issues that have been a source of frustration for the coaching staff since the spring.

Communication breakdowns have contributed to problems making in-game adjustments by the linebackers and safeties. The coaching staff has even simplified the defense to try to get improved results with no success.

“We’ve tried to reduce our package week to week to week and it’s frustrating,” Muschamp said.

The prospects for defensive lineman Carl Lawson missing extended time adds an extra level of difficulty to the problem.

Lawson is a game-changer, and Auburn hasn’t looked the same since losing him at the end of the first half against Louisville. His elite playmaking ability makes everyone on the defense better.

The Tigers haven’t shown they have kind of transformative player just waiting on the bench.

Muschamp has already shown a willingness to throw freshman like Tim Irvin, Jeremiah Dinson, Carlton Davis and Bryon Cowart into the fire.

The results have been less than inspiring, but no one is throwing in the towel even if that means readjusting the timeline for success.

“I’m very excited about the group we have and I’m in this for the long haul,” Muschamp said. “This is a great place to be and I’m excited about the players we have on campus and the players we’re recruiting, Gus and the job he’s doing here. We got to do a better job of coaching the guys and putting them in situations where they can be successful. That’s your job as a coach. I haven’t done that good enough and it will get better.”

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+

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

  Comments