Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Let's say this up front: if you're an Auburn coach, there's no good answer for why your Tigers have been out-and-out shelled for the first three weeks of the 2011 season. When your teams ranks 96th in the FBS in yards allowed per-play*, 107th in scoring defense, and dead last in opponents' third-down conversion rate, the problems go far beyond anything you can address in a press-conference soundbite.
But that doesn't mean we weren't surprised to hear Tiger defensive line coach Mike Pelton's comments on his unit's anemic pass rush. Per CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jay Tate, Pelton "isn't upset" over the Tigers collecting two sacks in three games, tying for the fifth-worst mark in the country. Why?
"We don’t really focus on making sure it’s about sacks. Sacks are overrated sometimes," Pelton said (emphasis added). "Affecting that quarterback pocket, making that quarterback get rid of that ball, closing in and building a trap around a quarterback — those are the things we talk about."
Which, well, OK. Yes: forcing throws under pressure and hemming in a quarterback who might take off on a scramble are also useful goals. And yes: it's true that linemen who blindly chase after a sack can cause issues with their poor defensive positioning.
But however you measure Auburn's defensive line production -- sacks or otherwise -- the Tigers aren't getting it done at the moment. They rank 99th in opponent's yards-per-rushing attempt. Auburn's opposing quarterback rating -- which might be helped by "affecting that quarterback pocket" -- comes in at No. 100. Quarterbacks under pressure would also throw interceptions and fumble more often, right? Auburn ranks 103rd in turnovers forced, too.
And it's worth remembering that when it comes to counting stats like sacks and forced turnovers, the Tigers have been on the field for more defensive snaps than any other team in the country--meaning that they're not just failing to make big defensive plays, they're failing to make them despite having an overwhelming number of opportunities to make them. Whether you believe sacks are overrated or not, that Auburn has so few should still be a major cause for concern.
All of this is not intended to rip Pelton, who behind-the-scenes is no doubt as troubled by the lack of production from his line as anyone; his comments may be intended to shield his inexperienced charges (the Tigers start four sophomores on the defensive line) from public criticism, rather than be taken at face value. That much, we won't blame him for.
But all the same, the implication that the current state of the Tiger pass rush isn't something to be upset about is one that simply doesn't stand up to the evidence of the team's early-season performances. There's a lot of things the Auburn defense ought to be upset about, and having two sacks in three games is one of them.
*Remember that because Gus Malzahn's up-tempo offense creates more plays and possessions for both teams, Auburn's defensive total yards allowed is always going to skew higher than it otherwise should ... not that the Tigers' 117th rank in total defense is all that misleading.