X’s and O’s: Auburn’s Defense

X’s and O’s: Auburn’s Defense

The matchup that everyone is wanting to hear about is how Auburn’s vaunted defense is going to matchup against Oklahoma’s explosive offense. The Tigers rank 21st in the country for total defense while the Sooners are 3rd in the country for total offense. This matchup of strengths is what makes the Sugar Bowl one of the more intriguing bowl games on the 2016-2017 bowl slate.

Auburn will bring a formidable pass-rush, headed by Carl Lawson, Montravious Adams, and Marlon Davidson that have 16 total sacks on the year combined. On the back-end, senior corner back Joshua Holsey, is a ballhawk. He leads the Tigers with three interceptions on the season. The entire Auburn defense is allowing 348.4 yards a game, 124.8 of that on the ground — good for 21st in the country.

The one thing that is peculiar about this defense is that they are not great defending the pass. This season, the Tigers gave up an average of 223.6 yards a game through the air. This number will put them at 61st in the country. A surprising number to say the least.

With all that being said, Auburn has only faced one true up-tempo offense in Ole Miss. Texas A&M and Clemson also run their version of the hurry-up no-huddle, but do not have as quick of a pace as the Rebels. In that game, Chad Kelly threw for 465 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.

Let’s take a look at what Ole Miss did against the Auburn defense:


You will see Auburn only keep six in the box against most personnel groups throughout this game. On this play, you will see the safety come to stop the run. At this moment, Chad Kelly (Ole Miss QB), sees that and attempts to throw into the window that the safety vacated. 

Auburn is playing zone to the field side, leaving the corner to the top of the screen on an island with a safety to play the deep ball. You’ll see that the corner that was at the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the play is the one who makes the pass break-up. Great closing speed. 

Auburn shows five, and rushes five. In 0 coverage, which leaves the safety no chance on the inside receiver. 

Put this one in the memory bank as I expect Lincoln Riley to use a version of this play. 

Notice how hard that safety comes down around the right hash mark near the first down line. If this is a repetitive theme, Oklahoma will put pressure on Auburn’s defensive coordinators to play it safe or play the run. 

2.8  seconds to get rid of the football here. Just a ridiculous pass rush from true freshman defensive end Marlon Davidson.

But once again, an Auburn safety is not able to cover an inside receiver. This time it is Ole Miss’ flex receiver (Mark Andrews’ position).  

Right at 3 seconds. The pass rush is unreal. 

Chad Kelly does a good job stepping into the throw as they attacked Auburn’s safeties once again. Ole Miss runs a switch concept and the safety stayed in the middle and didn’t have the time to close on the post route. May just be the weakness of the Auburn defense.

A little run-pass option. Chad Kelly reads the linebackers coming up, leaving a window over the hash mark to the near side of the field. 

Notice that the safety to the far side of the field bites on the play-action once again. 

Just want to note that Chad Kelly throws this football nine yards behind the line-of-scrimmage. You can definitely beat Auburn by getting the ball out early, but that pass rush is unbelievable.

True freshman, Marlon Davidson is a future NFL defensive end. This play is one of the many examples of his potential. Pocket collapses, Chad Kelly takes off, and Davidson still catches him from behind. 

Carl Lawson attacking a guard. Not a good matchup.

Haven’t seen Lincoln Riley run anything outside the tackle into the boundary, but here’s a reason why they should not do it on Monday. However, this is a play that’ll set up a touchdown in the 2nd half.

Three consecutive plays inside the 10-yard line — plays in which the Auburn’s defensive line forced two rushed throws and one sack. That’s why it is so crucial that Oklahoma forces Auburn to bring more than six into the box in order to create throwing lanes.

Early in the 2nd half, Ole Miss continues to attack the middle of the field as the inside receiver to the far side of the field beats the safety inside. Chad Kelly then finds the window in between the linebackers for a first down. 

One thing to note here is that Auburn brought seven into the box to counter seven potential blockers. Although it looks like it is 2v2 to the far side of the field, there is a safety over the top. Auburn is attempting to keep everyone in front of them. 

Nice wrinkle by Ole Miss. Instead of just the regular play action off the pitch, it is a read-pass option. Chad Kelly does a good job not leaving the wide receiver out to get killed by the safety. 

Also note that Ole Miss is not attacking Joshua Holsey.

Oklahoma showed a version of this with Samaje Perine the last few weeks of the season. Auburn’s physicality may be too much to try it on Monday as you can see above.

Carl Lawson causing a hold here on 3rd and short. The matchup of him and Marlon Davidson on Bobby Evans and Orlando Brown is going to be fun to watch.

Auburn shows four, but rushes three on 3rd and long and gets to Chad Kelly on a stunt that put the Jack OLB on a guard. Second time they ran something that forced a guard into a tough situation. This Auburn defensive front is talented and has good depth.

Chad Kelly and Ole Miss attacking the middle of the field once again. Auburn’s safeties are keeping everything in front for the most part, but are giving up 10+ yards a snap on these digs. Something I would like to see Oklahoma do against Auburn.

Sign of hope for Baker Mayfield’s scrambling ability? No spy on this 2nd & 7 and Chad Kelly goes for 8-9 yards before running over a couple defenders. 

The swim move by the 2i technique on the center is impressive. Chad Kelly still avoids it and gets 3-4 yards. Auburn’s pass rush is suffocating.

Auburn goes man-to-man on the three receivers to the far side and Chad Kelly throws a beautiful ball to the skinny post by the inside receiver. These are catches that have to be made, especially one that could have given Ole Miss a lead.

I noted above that Ole Miss avoided Joshua Holsey on a one-on-one scenario. On the very next play following the dropped touchdown, Holsey picks off Chad Kelly. Kelly stares down the receiver, the receiver runs a bad route, and Holsey makes a great play. 


The one thing Ole Miss doesn’t have is the talent at offensive line, or at running back like Oklahoma does. I would expect the Sooners to try and establish the running game early against the talented and physical front that Auburn will present. If they can do that and force Auburn to bring an extra man into the box, it will open up the back-end of the Auburn secondary for Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.

An intriguing matchup it is. A true chess match that will either see Oklahoma continue its momentum heading into the 2017 season, or see another bump in the road that will show that the Sooners are not ready to be crowned contenders with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State.

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