2018 Auburn Football Review: Part 2
The 2018 Auburn football season began with high hopes and expectations. Fresh off a 2017 campaign that saw 10 victories, including two against No. 1 teams in Georgia and Alabama, the 2018 team was expected to accomplish something similar. Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan. In this three-part series, we’ll look at how the offense, defense and special teams performed, as well as assess what the overall record probably should have looked like given the strength of Auburn’s opponents. We’ll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly, maintaining focus on 2018, but keeping in mind some of the underclassman’s performances with an eye toward the future.
Part 2: Defense and Special Teams
Entering 2018, the expectations for the Auburn defense were sky high, and they should have been. The 2017 defense came up with great performance after great performance. Even in a loss to Clemson in the second game of the year, the defense was hardly to blame for any negative results for Auburn in 2017. Additionally, Auburn returned many productive players for 2018, with the secondary being the only real question after the losses of Carlton Davis, Stephen Roberts, and Tray Matthews.
In my opinion, 2018 was a very solid year for the defense. When looking at the most basic of defensive statistics, points allowed per game, Auburn in 2018 had very similar numbers: 19.2 points a game allowed, ranked 14th, compared to 2017 when Auburn allowed 18.5 points a game and ranked 12th in the country. However, something seemed left to be desired. Once again, the defense was clearly good, and the offense did it no favors. But I think this Auburn defense could have been elite rather than very good.
The game that comes into mind first and foremost was the Tennessee game. It’s not inherently horrific, but a Tennessee team that went 5-7 on the season and had problems doing almost anything saw Jarrett Guarantano go 21-32 for 328 yards and look like a borderline Heisman contender. Another performance that comes to mind is the Iron Bowl. No matter how great the Alabama offense is, you just can’t allow 52 points to your archrival. There just didn’t seem like there was a dominating performance aside from maybe the ending of the Washington game to begin the year.
Individually, Auburn had several productive performances on their defense in 2018. When talking productivity, it has to start with the senior linebacker Deshaun Davis.
Davis compiled 112 total tackles and led the team with 15 tackles for loss. Davis also contributed in the area of rushing the passer as he tied for third on the team in sacks with 3.5 sacks.
Fellow senior linebacker Darrell Williams also had a productive season for the Tigers with 74 tackles and seven tackles for a loss. The linebackers were as expected for Auburn.
But the defensive line, while it was good, was probably the area where they could have absolutely dominated, but instead settled for solid, not great. Derrick Brown, however, did dominate. The stats don’t always paint the full picture, especially with an interior defensive lineman, but Derrick Brown was indeed a monster.
Brown constantly ate up two blockers, allowing for others to get in the backfield and pressure the quarterback or get the running back for a loss. He still finished with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks, which is real solid for a defensive tackle. Complimenting that, Nick Coe, Big Kat Bryant, and Marlon Davidson all provided solid pass rush and play, although Marlon Davidson in particular was disappointing in the production department with just 2.5 sacks on the season.
With the recent announcement that all of the aforementioned players are returning to Auburn next season, the defensive line is sure to be every bit as good, if not even better, in 2019. As for 2018, it still fell short of the Clemsons and Alabamas of the world.
Auburn’s secondary was slated to be the problem in 2018 but for the most part it held up well. Safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas weren’t necessarily of the ball-hawking variety, but provided a lot of help in the run game and were solid for the Tigers.
Noah Igbinoghene’s move to corner went surprisingly well, as he did a good job with being physical with receivers. This physicality did lead to some early pass interference calls, but Igbinoghene improved throughout the season and it became much less of an issue.
With an eye toward the future, Auburn did a quality job of getting playing time for a few of their young defensive backs, in particular Jamien Sherwood, Smoke Monday and Christian Tutt. This should make Auburn fans feel really good about the 2019 secondary. Because even this secondary, although they did have a few lapses, was for the most part pretty good. This continues the overall theme with the defense in 2018 — solid. Maybe not as great as it could have been, but solid.
As for special teams in 2018, Auburn was overall good. Arryn Siposs was excellent punting the ball for the Tigers, something that had been a problem the previous two or three seasons. Anders Carlson wasn’t quite what people had hoped, but it was just his freshmen season and really the only thing he struggled with was long range field goal accuracy.
Carlson demonstrated the leg strength to make long kicks, but went just 2-for-9 from 50 yards or farther. Meanwhile, inside of 40 yards, Carlson missed just once in 11 tries. I would grade that as acceptable. After the first three or four long-range misses, the coaching staff probably shouldn’t have had him trying 50-yarders for the rest of the season. But it continued, skewing the accuracy numbers of a kicker who truly is accurate when he doesn’t have to put his full leg into kicks.
The return game was excellent for Auburn in 2018. Noah Igbinoghene ran just 11 kicks back but returned one to the house and averaged over 28 yards a return. Ryan Davis didn’t return any punts for touchdowns, but did average 10 yards a return and consistently was a threat.
Auburn special teams were truly defined, however, by blocking kicks. Auburn tied for the NCAA lead in blocked kicks (field goals and punts) with seven. Marlon Davidson and Jordyn Peters were masterful with three blocks each on the season. It was a nice boost for a unit that, as a whole, didn’t do too much other than kick field goals well in 2017.
As a whole, the Auburn defense, as well as the special teams, were really solid for Auburn in 2018. It can once again be argued that most of the negative moments
for both units were set up because of poor offense (see Mississippi State game here). The good news is these two units should still be very good in 2019. The defensive line will be excellent, as well as the secondary. And the kicking game should be even better with Carlson having another year under his belt.
The 2018 defense might not have been what one wanted. But with key pieces returning, 2019 will feel like a great chance at a do-over.