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There's no defense for Auburn

Gene Chizik

Gene Chizik

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn has much bigger problems than the demise of a winning streak.

Chief among them: A defense that misses too many tackles and often can't make plays on third down or stop opposing offenses.

The Tigers rank last in the Southeastern Conference in the double whammy of run and pass defense along with four other defensive categories. It's left Auburn coach Gene Chizik on the defensive.

"Obviously we would love to be playing better on defense right now," Chizik said Tuesday in a news conference dominated by questions about the defense. "Again, we're going to continue to work in that direction. It's not about frustration, it's not about any of that.

"We need to play better defensively, I don't think there's any question in anybody's mind about that. We don't take that lightly. We're spending every waking moment right now assessing the defense from top to bottom and figuring out a way to play better."

The Tigers (2-1) gave up a whopping 624 yards in a 38-24 loss at Clemson, ending a 17-game win streak that was the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The deficiencies included missed tackles and allowing Clemson to convert 14 of 18 third downs.

Some growing pains were to be expected with a sizable youth movement, but not to this extent. The Tigers are giving up 534 yards a game, better than only three of the 120 FBS teams. They're 100th in pass defense, 116th against the run and 107th in points allowed.

Auburn also has only managed two sacks and forced a pair of turnovers.

Chizik, a defensive coordinator on unbeaten Auburn and Texas teams, said he and coordinator Ted Roof plan to simplify the defense partly to help make adjustments on the fly easier against fast-paced offenses like Clemson.

Asked if he planned to take a bigger role on the defense, he said: "I've been extremely involved in all three phases."

The Tigers' defensive woes are unlikely to cost them a game Saturday against heavy underdog Florida Atlantic, which has been outscored 85-3 by Florida and Michigan State.

After that comes the heart of their SEC schedule with games against South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU.

It doesn't leave much time to get things like a nearly nonexistent pass rush and tackling problems fixed. Last season, a potent offense led by quarterback Cam Newton helped cover up any defensive shortcomings.

Now, Gus Malzahn's fast-paced offense is still putting up solid numbers but has had more three-and-outs that put the defense quickly back on the field. Auburn's offense has been on the field for 176 plays, the defense for 273.

"We show at times that we can be the No. 1 offense in the country, then on drives we take 30 seconds off the clock, run three plays and go three and out," tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. "So I think just being more consistent all across the board will help definitely our offense but also our team because it gives the defense a little more time to get off the field and make their corrections and get their wind back."

Chizik said the fatigue from being on the field with little depth for nearly 37 minutes a game helps explain some of the tackling problems. He said poor technique is also an issue.

"We just have to work at it, showing them different approach angles, and we're leaving our feet too much, things that are really fixable without question," Chizik said. "They see it and they know it. That's coaching and that's getting them in the right spots, and approaching the ball correctly and things of that nature. So, it's not just one thing. You can work on it a lot of different ways. We're going to continue to do that this week."

Chizik said he doesn't anticipate major personnel changes, except in injury situations. Starting linebacker Jonathan Evans missed the Clemson game with an undisclosed injury, and Chizik said he might not know Evans' status for Saturday's game until late in the week.

He also cited three freshmen who have earned bigger roles: defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, tailback Tre Mason and wide receiver Quan Bray.

The Tigers played 13 freshmen in the opener, behind only Texas' 18 among FBS teams. Chizik said the youth is no longer an excuse.

"The certain problems are going to be solved by them executing what is called, whether they are a senior or what none of that matters," he said. "We are in game four now. We have no more new players, that's the bottom line. We don't even breathe that word around because that's not true anymore. Our full expectation is that we coach them better, which certainly needs to be done. And they execute it better, which needs to be done as well."