Last week, Auburn ran for 296 yards against the SEC's top rushing defense. Auburn can not afford a let down this week, because Missouri is the conference's second-best rushing defense. Fortunately, the Auburn coaches seem to have convinced the running backs that this could be another tough game. Corey Grant said this week:
"Their guys are real physical. They're fast. They look like they play with great technique and they're a very sound defensive line. I think they're one of the best defensive lines that we'll go against this year."
The Other Tiger defense also leads the SEC in sacks, but it can truly alter Auburn's game plan if its defensive line can contain the run game. Using a spread-to-run type offense similar to Auburn's, Ole Miss was only able to gain 126 yards on the ground. That is more than 60 yards fewer than the Rebels' average output.
Since the Rebel offensive system is not much different than Auburn's, Missouri's defensive plan this week may be similar to what was used against Ole Miss. However, at least with the defensive line, it was talent, technique and execution, not scheme, that won the day.
Controlling the line of scrimmage
Football is a sport full of cliches, and "controlling the line of scrimmage" certainly qualifies as such. In Missouri's case, it also genuinely describes one way that its defensive line prevents many rushing yards.
With about 11:20 left in the first quarter, Ole Miss ran the zone read. One of the major benefits of the zone read is zone blocking by the offensive line. This lets an offense get double-team blocks initially and get second-level blocks thereafter. On this play, however, Missouri's defensive line absorbs all of the blockers. By the time the runner reaches the line of scrimmage, only one lineman has gone beyond it, and he does not provide any additional run support as he fails to lay a hand on any linebackers. The running back is dropped for no gain.
With 10 seconds left in the quarter, Ole Miss is threatening to tie the game with a touchdown. On third-and-goal from a yard out, Ole Miss runs the zone read again. The quarterback makes the right read and gives the ball to the running back. Unfortunately for him, both the center and right guard have been completely wiped out by the Missouri defensive line. The running back attempts to leap over them at the 3-yard line, but he cannot make it to the end zone. Ole Miss would come away with zero points after a blocked field goal.
One other example of Missouri owning the line of scrimmage comes with 1:37 left in the second quarter. Running another zone-read play, it looks like the Rebel offensive line has created a huge rushing lane to the left. But by the time the running back reaches that hole, the center has been blown back into the runner's path. The opportunity for a big gain quickly disappeared.
Shedding blocks and making tackles
In the examples above, Missouri's defensive line absorbed blocks, and the linebackers ultimately made the tackles. This is not always necessary for the Other Tigers defense, as the linemen are good at shedding blocks and making tackles themselves.
With a little more than 4 minutes left in the first quarter, Ole Miss calls for a running play with a pulling guard. This extra blocker on the right side should be able to give the running back protection from a linebacker, but the back does not make it that far. The backside defensive tackle fights off the center's block and makes the tackle himself at the line of scrimmage.
With 13:26 remaining in the second quarter, Ole Miss calls for an inside zone run. I don't believe this is an option play, because the backside defensive end is blocked instead of read, and the quarterback does not show any intention of running. Regardless, the left side of the Rebel offensive line is blown up. The left guard is pushed back by a defensive tackle, which causes the runner to hesitate. The left tackle is pushed back, too, but he also fails to maintain even the appearance of a block when the defensive end reaches over and makes the tackle in the backfield.
Another example of the Missouri defensive line shedding blocks and making tackles comes with 12:40 remaining in the second quarter. On this play, the offensive line makes good initial blocks, especially in the middle. The right guard holds his block on one defensive tackle while the left guard and center double-team the other tackle. At the moment the running back receives the handoff, there is a good rushing lane between these two defenders.
A linebacker could easily fill this lane, so the center leaves his blocking partner to block this threat. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the two guards can not maintain their blocks on their own. As the back approaches the line of scrimmage, the defensive tackles shed their blocks, and the running lane collapses. The play ultimately goes for no gain.
Auburn has proven that it can run the ball against anybody. The only team that has slowed down Auburn's running game this season was Mississippi State, but that was before Nick Marshall began fully using the read-option game. Since Auburn's game against Ole Miss, Our Tigers have not rushed for fewer than 233 yards.
The Missouri defensive linemen may or may not be as good as Alabama's, but Auburn will need another excellent game in the trenches to run like it wants.