Auburn had to hit a hard reboot on its defense when the bottom fell out in 2014.
Outside factors might force the Tigers to regroup again in 2015, but performance issues aren’t driving those decisions.
Coach Gus Malzahn called the defense’s play in the final stretch of the season encouraging.
“It's really been good to watch really get this defense and it's starting to become what he (defensive coordinator Will Muschamp) wants it to be,” Malzahn said.
The late upswing doesn’t erase the group’s earlier failures, but it balances out their overall grade.
Stats weren’t the only way Muschamp evaluated his defense from week to week. It was a point he made a time or two throughout the season, but some of the numbers can’t be ignored.
Auburn finished the season with 19 sacks as a team. The lack of a pass rush was even an issue when the defense played well.
Only two players other than linebacker Cassanova McKinzy had at least two full sacks.
When Carl Lawson went down with an injury, Muschamp transitioned McKinzy from middle linebacker to the edge as a possible solution to the problem.
McKinzy played admirably, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of consistent production from DaVonte Lambert, Montravius Adams, Devaroe Lawrence and Dontavius Russell.
Lawson’s injury gives him an incomplete grade individually, but there’s no question the Tigers’ front played better with him on the field.
“I'm going to say this again and I've said this before, when you lose your impact player, Carl Lawson, we played pretty good the first half that he was there,” Malzahn said. “We lost him, we had a little growing pains.”
Muschamp did have an issue with the modest number of turnovers Auburn forced this season.
The Tigers forced 18 turnovers (13 interceptions, five fumbles), but 10 of those came in just three wins (San Jose St., Texas A&M and Idaho).
Auburn’s defensive coordinator was less concerned about allowing more yards than last season (398 per game in 2014 to 421 in 2015).
Final grade: C+