The buzz over the national championship game has reached its inevitable dead period. So what better time is there than now to bring up the elephant in the room—Auburn’s defense, or lack thereof.
Great teams typically run the football out of a multitude of formations and play strong defense. Michigan State and Alabama may fit the mold, but Auburn has bucked that convention for the second time in four years by winning the SEC title with finesse. Auburn’s current 11-man defense is significantly worse than the one that rode Cam Newton’s coattails all the way to a national title in 2011.
Auburn’s defense is unquestionably its weak link. That’s not a shock if you watched them trade touchdowns with Missouri in the SEC Championship Game as if they were baskets during March Madness. However, you may underestimate how weak of a link it is. Prior to this season, the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners repped the most easily perforated defense of the BCS era in terms of total yardage and scoring defense.
That season, they were 58th in scoring defense, 68th in total defense and featured a young Gerald McCoy along their defensive line.
However, they were also first in turnover margin, thanks to a young hotshot quarterback named Sam Bradford piloting an offense that obliterated the single-season scoring record which Auburn is 28 points away from breaking.
They were also No. 1 in turnover margin compared to the Tigers, who are ranked 60th in turnover margin.
The Tigers have created just 18 turnovers in 13 games. They’d need to tack 10 more games onto their schedule to match the 34 turnovers Oklahoma forced in 14 outings.
Gus Malzahn has consistently made it a habit of reaching college football’s peak with a nebulous defense.
In 2010, the Tigers were 53rd in scoring and 60th in yardage per game. However, they had quarterback Cam Newton saving them from distress and Nick Fairley along the defensive line. This season began with Auburn moving its starting quarterback to safety, while a former college cornerback was anointed the starter.
All-22 tape of the 2013 Tigers defense is the equivalent of the Zapruder film in high definition. Auburn making it to the national championship is akin to M. Knight Shyamalan earning a Best Director Oscar for a script he wrote.
Auburn 90th ranked defense didn’t just fail the eye test.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson hasn’t had the opportunity to recruit the athletes he’d like for his defenses, but the 4-2-5 scheme he installed has actually been a slight improvement over Gene Chizik’s 4-3 fense (sans the D). His defensive atrocity in 2012 was 65th in scoring defense and bought him a buyout that will earn him $200,000 per month for another four years.
The national championship would have been much more compelling if the rumors of Florida State hiring Gene Chizik as it's defensive coordinator last December actually panned out.
The strength of this feeble unit is along their defensive line, led by Dee Ford which generated the SEC’s third-most sacks.
Auburn’s secondary bounced back from a historically bad season in which they recorded just two interceptions. The star of their D-List defense is their “Star” hybrid linebacker/safety, Robensen Therezie.
Auburn should be proud of making it to Pasadena, but as the BCS national title game draws near, it appears they will be in for a rude awakening. Jameis Winston may be cheesing plenty against Auburn in two weeks. That is if another miracle doesn’t drop into Auburn's laps.