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Auburn needs defensive improvements against the run to show up on game day

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn linebacker Justin Garrett (26) runs an interception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against San Jose State, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn linebacker Justin Garrett (26) runs an interception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against San Jose State, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp spent the week preaching fundamentals to his group.

During a pair of bye week press conferences, Muschamp said he was pleased with the defense’s focus and effort as they spent a significant amount of time working on technique.

He rattled of a half-dozen specific skills defenders worked on including hand placement, pad level, disengaging blocks and playing double-teams.

Muschamp knows his continued praise of the defense’s performance in practice will prove meaningless if the group can’t slow down Kentucky Thursday night in Lexington.

“We’ll find out on game day,” Muschamp said.

Auburn’s struggles stopping the run continue to be the main area of concern. The defense is giving up more than 200 yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry, as it sits near the bottom of the entire NCAA in run defense.

When the defense has struggled, Auburn linebacker Justin Garrett said players aren’t maintaining the attention to detail Muschamp has emphasized since joining the team back in December.

“We kind of get away from that when game day starts and start doing our own thing,” Garrett said. “We’ve got to trust one another out there on the football field and trust that each player is going to fit their gap and do what they’re supposed to do and not try to go out there and make every single play.”

Auburn’s job Thursday is to slow down Stanley Boom Williams. The running back is returning to the starting lineup after missing last week’s overtime win against Eastern Kentucky due to a personal issue.

The 5-foot-0, 196-pound sophomore out of Georgia has 343 rushing yards this season with a touchdown on 47 carries. His backup Jojo Kemp has 246 yards on 51 carries.

“Boom Williams, he can take it the distance at any time,” Muschamp said. “Really one-cut runners, they get the ball north and south.”

Muschamp said the Tigers will need to be prepared for Kentucky’s three-back looks that also feature Mikel Horton, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound sophomore; and be ready for the Wildcats screen game.

“They do a really good job of getting it to them in the screen game,” Muschamp said.  “The slow screens that scan the formation, and also the flare screen, and the different ways that they try and get them the ball. This offense fits those guys extremely well in what they do.”

Despite Kentucky's offensive talent, Garrett sees the defense turning a corner against the Wildcats.

“We’re going to get better this week,” Garrett said.

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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