Auburn 43, Georgia 38: What went wrong with the Tigers' defense?

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn defense was suffocating for one quarter, and was still good throughout the middle of the game, but Georgia made adjustments by the fourth quarter to come back from a 20-point deficit.

Just some quick observations about Auburn's defense in the game with Georgia.

Auburn held Georgia to just six plays and -1 yards (including penalties) in the first quarter by getting heavy pressure on the quarterback and making sure tackles of Todd Gurley. It certainly helped that Auburn held the ball for more than 12 minutes of the first quarter, but it looked like Georgia was never going to move the ball. Throughout this season, Auburn has been spectacular at adjusting to an opposing offense by the fourth quarter, but in this game, it was that opposing offense that did the adjusting.

Defensive Line

Defensive end Dee Ford owned offensive lineman John Theus at right tackle. By the second quarter, Kolston Houston replaced Theus at that position. Plus, on many plays, a tight end was added to delay Ford's pass rush by forcing the pursuit to come from a wider angle and by chipping him on the way into a passing route. Ford managed one sack and six quarterback hurries over the course of the game, but the replacement player and additional body in the way really made a difference.

On Auburn's second defensive snap, the defensive line used a twist in the middle. Gabe Wright attacked the pocket straightforward, but Nosa Eguae started to Wright's right, circled around behind him and then rushed the quarterback with no one blocking him. On this play, it didn't matter because Ford hurried the quarterback again, and Aaron Murray's throw was a quick one, but twists are a good way of confusing an offensive line's protection scheme.


What surprised me is that throughout the rest of the game, I hardly saw another twist. The ends just speed rushed around while the tackles tried to get push up the middle. It's much easier to pass protect if you know exactly how the pressure is going to come.

Linebackers

The linebackers played a good first half, as well. Their basic strategy was to sit tight for a second and watch for the run. If the run came, it was attacked. If not, they dropped back into zone. This worked for a while, as Todd Gurley was stopped on simple inside zone runs, and Murray couldn't find anyone open downfield before being forced to throw.

The linebackers were susceptible to power runs and checkdown passes. Georgia began using the fullback and the draw to get Gurley some extra running room. The fullback provided the extra blocker up the middle to clear out any linebacker hoping to quickly stop a run, while the draw play fooled the defensive line into taking itself out of the play. When the defensive line isn't a threat to stop the run, the linebackers become vulnerable.

The checkdown passes became deadly in the second half. Auburn was playing softer coverage as early as the third quarter, hoping to simply protect 20-point lead. By the end of the game, Gurley had 10 receptions for 77 yards, but one of the biggest checkdown passes was to Brendan Douglas. His only catch of the game came in the middle of Georgia's first fourth-quarter touchdown drive.


Jake Holland was the only true linebacker in on this play, but Robenson Therezie was initially playing the role of another. When the play started, however, Therezie flew backwards into a deep zone, and this was a good call because Georgia had three wide receivers and only one running back, and the back wasn't even Gurley. But Douglas ran straight to the area that Therezie vacated and, after several missed tackles, Georgia had a 16-yard gain.

Secondary

When a team has a big lead and a potent offense, it's usually OK to play conservatively on defense. As frustrating as it was to watch, Ted Roof knew that he didn't need to stop the opposing offense from scoring, but that he only needed to keep the opposing offense from scoring too easily. In 2010 at least, Auburn's offense was going score more often than not and using the tennis analogy of holding serve made sense.

In this game, Auburn had a 20-point lead late in the second half, and the offense didn't look like it could be consistently stopped, so the secondary became conservative. Obviously, this didn't really work out in the end, but one play late in the second quarter showed how effective such a strategy can be.


Down 13 and with only a few minutes left before halftime, Georgia was hoping to get within one score, knowing that it would start on offense in the second half, as well. The Bulldogs pass protected with seven and sent only three receivers out, but all three went deep. Meanwhile, Auburn only rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. And it was deep coverage, as even the linebackers were nearly 10 yards deep when the ball was thrown. The secondary was defending any downfield passes and Georgia played right into it. Murray tried to fit the ball between three defenders and paid for it by throwing his only interception of the game to Ryan Smith.

In the second half, Georgia decided that it wasn't going to be able to score fast. If it was going to move the ball effectively, it would be through short and intermediate passes, and its defense would just have to keep the Dawgs in the game. And when the Auburn secondary tried to play more aggressively, Georgia was ready.


Georgia showed three receivers to the left and a tight end to the right and, without a wideout to defend, cornerback Chris Davis simply came inside. He should have stuck with Arthur Lynch, the tight end, but he saw play action, decided to stay inside to help against the run and gave up a touchdown pass. A well designed offensive play lured a defensive player into being more aggressive than he should have been.

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