Auburn Football: Looking For That Edge In ‘15


HOOVER, Ala.–  2014 did not end the way that many in the college football world or even Auburn fans envisioned. It started with a 5-0 record and quickly spiraled downhill.

After a 15 point road loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers went on to finish the year at 8-5, with losses to Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.

What was the problem? According to Malzahn, it was the program didn’t have that “edge.”

What is that edge?

“It’s that physical hit you in the mouth hard edge that Auburn’s been known for when they win championships,” Malzahn said. “Defensively, Will (Muschamp) definitely believes in that. That’s why he’s a good fit here at Auburn. We were very physical and went “live” as we could in the spring. We’re on our way back to getting that.”

Yes, enter the picture with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp from Florida. Before that, college football fans were familiar with the swarming defense that he led while coordinating that side of the ball for the Texas Longhorns from 2008-10. He was at Auburn from 2006 to 2007 before that as their DC as well.

The program needs him after last season. The unit surrendered 26.7 points and team’s averaged 400 yards per game against them. The pass rush was absolutely anemic, with the Tigers racking up a 91st ranked 21 sacks all season long.

The changes were made to the defensive coaching staff over the offseason, with Malzahn deciding to part ways with then coordinator Ellis Johnson. He says it didn’t take long to zero in on the next man for the job in Muschamp.

“He was the first the first guy that once we decided to make a change that I wanted,” Malzahn said. “We had to be a little patient. He was still trying to sort through some things. I went and visited with him one night late in Gainesville and just kind of tried to sell him on the standpoint to put our offense together with his defense. Of course, he’s familiar with Auburn and took a couple days and said ‘hey I’m excited.’ He’s been a breath of fresh air for our program.”

The “physical edge” on defense could start with inside linebacker’s Kris Frost and Casanova McKinzy. Both players finished last season with over 80 tackles. Frost believes they can set the trend for the team.

“Linebackers being the heart of the defense is where it’s supposed to start,” Frost said. “Being able to have us as leaders in the middle and taking over that leadership role as seniors, me and Cass are extremely excited. We’re able to come out to practice each and every day to have guys looking at us to lead them.”

McKinzy was very strong in 2014 with 91 total tackles and 11 for a loss. The loss tackles were the most for an Auburn linebacker since Karlos Dansby played there.

Another player that could help this defense in 2015 is redshirt sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson. He had to take a medical year off in 2014, after an offseason torn ACL.

The Milton High School product had an impressive 2013, where he debuted with 20 tackles. Seven and a half of those stops were for a loss.

Malzahn knows his team missed his production last season, especially with the pass rush. He believes he’ll factor in 2015.

“Carl Lawson’s back 100 percent and that’s a good thing,” Malzahn said. “Last year, if you look at our major problems it was putting pressure on the passer. He’s one of those guys that’s an impact player rushing the passer. To have a great defense, you have to be able to put pressure on a quarterback just rushing four. He’s definitely going to help in that area this year.”

The physical play on defense doesn’t end in the front seven for the Tigers. They also rely on stalwarts in the secondary, like cornerback Jonathan Jones with his 18 passes defended in 2014.

Jones has high hopes in 2015, where he said he hopes that he doesn’t give up one completion. He will have some help this season.

The standout corner says the addition to the defense of Georgia transfer Tray Matthews will really help add an “edge” to this Auburn secondary.

“Tray’s an experienced player,” Jones said. “He played as a freshman at Georgia and he’s going to have some experience in our group. He’s been here for a year, he’s learned everybody and built trust. Tray is somebody that we can depend on. He’s a physical safety and we’re going to need that.”

Auburn’s defense is bound to improve under Muschamp. The addition of Lawson back into the fold will help this team immensely up front.

Experience on all three levels of the defense will definitely help the Tigers get back into the discussion for the SEC West title.

My Pick: 2nd in the SEC West.

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