Does Auburn have a run defense problem... or is it just facing a great run offense?
The Tigers are moving the ball well on the ground, but it's coming at the expense of a defense that struggled there last season.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
It’s hard for a head coach to leave a scrimmage happy.
And the state of Auburn’s ground game in the month of August can be met with equal parts excitement and concern.
Last Saturday, for the second straight trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn moved the ball well with its rushing attack.
Even with Tank Bigsby now turning heads in the NFL, the Tigers have a lot of confidence in a deeper running back room led by Jarquez Hunter and Damari Alston, with newcomers Brian Battie and Jeremiah Cobb providing even more excitement.
But, in a scrimmage, any excellent performance by one side of the ball is balanced out by criticism for the other side.
“I don't know if it means we're pretty good at running it or not very good at stopping it,” Hugh Freeze said last Saturday. “We'll see soon.”
After all, Auburn ran the ball well — for all of its issues — in a losing 2022 season. The Tigers ranked No. 27 nationally in rushing yards per carry (5.06) and ran for more than 1,000 yards in the month of November alone, after running backs coach Cadillac Williams got the interim head coach role.
Auburn was historically rough when it came to stopping the run in 2022, though. The Tigers allowed 4.64 yards per carry, which ranked 105th nationally and was the second-highest average allowed in program history.
The only average worse was 4.90 in a rock-bottom 2012 season, although the 2022 team still allowed the most rushing touchdowns (28) of any Auburn team, ever.
The Tigers allowed 6.28 yards per carry and five touchdowns in a blowout home loss to Penn State, nearly 7.5 yards per carry and six touchdowns at Georgia, and almost 6.5 yards per carry again in a loss at Ole Miss. Arkansas ran for 276 yards and four touchdowns two weeks later, and Alabama scored four times on the ground in the Iron Bowl.
“In the SEC, if you can’t stop the run, they’re just gonna run all game,” defensive tackle Marcus Harris said earlier this month. “That’s one thing we had to get better at as a defense.”
From the sound of it, that is still very much a work in progress for Auburn.
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