3 key areas where Auburn's defense needs to improve from the season opener
The Tigers had a solid start to the 2022 campaign on the defensive side of the ball last Saturday. But Bryan Harsin and his staff know they're capable of much more.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
For a large chunk of Auburn’s season opener against FCS opponent Mercer, Jeff Schmedding’s defense couldn’t have asked for much more than what it got.
Mercer punted the ball on each of its first five drives and only picked up two first downs. The Bears finally scored on drive No. 6, but it came on a possession that started at the Auburn 23, following an interception from T.J. Finley. Auburn allowed just 101 yards in the first half and an average of 3.5 per snap.
The next three drives were more of the same for Mercer, even as Auburn started to rotate some more of its reserves — punt, punt and punt. The Bears only picked up two first downs during that stretch.
But after a lightning delay that almost lasted an hour and a half, Mercer found success on offense. The Bears put up 124 yards and 10 points on their final two drives, coming through with a backdoor cover.
In the end, Mercer recorded 271 yards of offense on 67 plays — an average of 4.04 yards per snap — and 16 points. For Auburn, it was the most yards per play and the most points the program had allowed to an FCS opponent since the near-disaster against Jacksonville State in 2015.
So, when someone said that Auburn’s defense played “lights out” during their question to Harsin after the game Saturday night, the head coach was quick to disagree.
“I really like our defense,” Harsin said. “I don’t think they played lights out tonight. I think we’re capable of more.”
The sentiment was shared by Auburn’s players after the game, from edge rusher Derick Hall saying the game was a “B-plus” showing to linebacker Cam Riley adding that “we've got some stuff to clean up.”
Still, that’s what a Week 1 paycheck game can do for you.
If the old coaching adage of teams making the most improvement between the first two games of the season is true, then Auburn’s defense should take a step forward in Week 2 — especially against a San Jose State offense that only put up 288 total yards and 17 points against FCS opponent Portland State in its opener last Thursday night.
So, what will be the focal points for Schmedding and the defensive staff this week in practice?
Here are three key areas to watch, after talking to people in the program and reviewing the action from the Mercer game.