Auburn defense still seeking to end ‘trashy’ plays

Auburn defense still seeking to end ‘trashy’ plays

There weren’t a lot of mistakes last Saturday.

But the few he saw were certainly glaring to Ellis Johnson.

After about a year of grumbling about “trash” plays by Auburn’s defense, especially in the secondary, the Tigers’ veteran defensive coordinator is calling for a wholesale cleansing.

“Things have got to get cleaned up. It’s just some miscommunication or someone gets their eyes in the wrong place, but it’s got to stop,” Johnson said Sunday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s one guy or six guys, the mistakes are what is causing those trashy plays and things that give up cheap yardage. Make them earn it the hard way.”

Last season, Auburn’s secondary was one of the SEC’s worst in allowing big plays in the passing game, surrendering a conference worst 54 plays of 20 plus yards, including 15 of 40 plus yards, the later of which ranked 118th in the nation a year ago.

Some of the same issues have already arisen in two games this season, including five passes of 18 or more yards against overmatched San Jose State in Saturday’s 59 13 blowout including the lone touchdown: a 75 yard pass from Spartans senior quarterback Blake Jurich to tailback Tyler Ervin on their second series.

“We gave up a 75 yard touchdown on one busted communication between two players, but it is what it is,” Johnson said. “Whether one player messes up or six players get blocked, it still causes the same problem.”

On the play in question, Ervin is lined up in the backfield beside Jurich while junior defensive back Josh Holsey is lined up opposite an outside receiver. On the snap, Ervin sprinted up field and momentarily motioned like he was going to throw a screen block before continuing up field, hardly breaking stride while passing Holsey in the process. With Holsey beat by several steps, Jurich released the ball and hit Ervin down the visiting sideline as Auburn boundary safety Derrick Moncrief is late covering over the top because he had opted to cover another receiver over the middle of the field. Ervin’s score tied the game at 7 7 midway through the first quarter.

“They had the miscommunication on the touchdown it was between one of the safeties and the corners,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t the safety’s (Moncrief’s) fault, but I think there was a check going on that may have confused the other one. But (San Jose State also) made some plays in the running game with run support, (and) I thought they could’ve tackled better.”

While the Spartans threw for 254 yards in the air, Jurich’s ability to break free on timely runs with designed quarterback keepers and draw plays including four first down runs for a combined 45 yards, three of which came on either third or fourth down also frustrated Johnson.

“I was disappointed in some of the plays we left on tape,” Johnson said. “I think we played 77 snaps, 60 of them are as good as you want to see. But there are still those dozen plays or so every game where we do something that we’ve really worked on, kids are keyed in on it and we seem to make a mistake.”

Johnson credited Auburn’s aggressive pass rush for some of the defensive lapses, as the Tigers’ defensive line accounted for three of Auburn’s four sacks, eight of the 11 quarterback hurries and six of 10 tackles for loss.

“We’re giving up some first downs on scrambles and scramble routes,” Johnson said. “We’re getting to the quarterback and sometimes, I don’t know if overrated is the best word, but I would almost rather knock the quarterback down seven times in the first half than sack him two or three times.”

Next week, the Tigers’ face their first legitimate threat against No. 19 Kansas State and senior dual threat quarterback Jake Waters, who is tied for fourth in the country averaging 96.5 rushing yards per game among quarterbacks this season.

The focus over the next eight days, at least defensively, is further eradicating those “trashy plays” completely.

“There are some things that can be fixed. It’s not getting beat, it’s not things from a fundamental standpoint,” Johnson said. “I think we’re playing really well but it’s just one or two guys that make a mistake here or there that are costing us some trashy plays we ought to clean up.”

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