Auburn's defense needs a refill of that Jordan-Hare Juice
After getting blown out at LSU, Auburn could really use a home game. And the Tigers' defense usually plays on a different level inside JHS.
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn’s defense got punched in the mouth Saturday night in Death Valley. Repeatedly.
LSU’s high-powered offense needed just four plays to find the end zone. On its next drive, LSU marched all the way to the Auburn 7-yard line before a false start and a potential touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels was thrown behind Malik Nabers. And, on its third drive, LSU went 65 yards for another touchdown in just six plays.
With 2:15 left to go in the first quarter, Auburn had already surrendered 17 points.
This was out of the ordinary for Auburn’s defense. Georgia and Texas A&M didn’t get their third scoring drives against the Tigers until the third quarter. LSU, meanwhile, made it look easy and rolled up more than 200 yards of offense in the process.
Between that slow start on defense and a pair of error-filled 3-and-outs from an offense that is struggling mightily against quality competition, Auburn seemed completely shell-shocked.
“I think our team has competed hard in every game except for times the other night,” head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday. “Obviously when you say team, you’re not saying it’s every individual. There’s still some extraordinary great efforts by certain individuals. But it seemed flat.
“You don’t make too much of that in one particular game. If we have three or four in a row that we’re flat, then it becomes a real issue. For whatever reason, maybe it was the way we started on both offense and defense, that we were shocked.”
Freeze also added that he thought the Tigers “looked like zombies a bit on the sideline… and it kinda snowballed.”
Auburn’s defense looked like zombies between the sidelines, too. The Tigers rallied to keep LSU out of the end zone on a stretch of four straight possessions, which included a deflected interception by Jaylin Simpson to D.J. James.
But the return to life from Auburn’s defense was short-lived, and LSU mowed down the zombies in the second half with four touchdowns in four possessions.
“It was embarrassing to watch,” linebacker Wesley Steiner said. “I was slightly disappointed with our response to being down.”
While LSU’s offense has a habit of killing the hopes of defenses this season, Auburn’s 48-18 loss felt more than just one-sided domination.
Effort, energy, fight, juice — whatever you want to call it — was lacking from a defense that must rely on it to overcome its talent and depth concerns.
“When you're a defensive player, you thrive off of juice,” said freshman defensive end Keldric Faulk, who got his first career start at LSU. “You thrive off of energy from everybody else. … We really didn't have any juice on the defensive side.”
That was a key takeaway from Freeze and the defense in the immediate aftermath of the LSU game Saturday night. After watching the film Sunday, Freeze told reporters Monday that it was “embarrassing” that Auburn didn’t play with “the right energy and drive and competitive spirit” — and that ultimately falls in the head coach’s lap.
That message was even stronger in the team meetings Monday.
“Coach Freeze definitely harped on that in the meeting,” cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett said. “I feel like we came out flat, but we can definitely change that. Just find a way to get the guys riled up before the game and see how that works.”
It shouldn’t be hard to get Auburn’s defense riled up for Saturday night.
Ole Miss isn’t quite at LSU’s level of offensive success this season, but it’s close. Lane Kiffin’s Rebels are No. 10 nationally in yards per play (7.06) and No. 8 in points per game (41.7).
Jaxson Dart is one of the SEC’s most prolific passers in terms of yards per attempt (9.8), touchdown-to-interception ratio (12-to-2) and quarterback rating (167.77). Three different Ole Miss receivers have at least 360 receiving yards this season, which is 130 more than Auburn leader Jay Fair.
And Quinshon Judkins has only had one monster game this season — rushing for 177 yards in a shootout win over LSU — but the preseason All-SEC running back is capable of breaking out at any moment.
It’s an extremely difficult matchup. But at least it’s coming inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The last time Auburn was in there, it fought hard against a Georgia offense that is actually higher ranked than Ole Miss this season and had a real chance to win against the back-to-back defending national champion.
“Shoot, Jordan-Hare Stadium can do miracles,” Faulk said. “Nobody thought we could be in the game with them, and we were seven points away from beating the No. 1 team in the nation. Jordan-Hare played a big part in that.”
Almost every defense plays better at home than it does on the road. You have the vast majority of 88,000-plus fans screaming in your favor, trying as hard as they can to make life difficult on the opponent. That’s just common college football sense.
But, for Auburn’s defense, Jordan-Hare Stadium is statistically proven to be a big advantage.
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