AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense held Mercer to 10 points on Saturday night, but the Tigers fell short of the bar they set in their first two games this season.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was happy with the group — “Our defense played well again. I think we’re doing a super job at that end,” he said — but the Tigers defenders had a differing opinion.
Most defenders weren’t satisfied after an historic performance against Georgia Southern in the Sept. 2 home opener and a strong showing in a 14-6 loss at No. 3 Clemson.
“We did some good things out there, but we didn’t play up to our standard,” Auburn senior safety Tray Matthews said. “We didn’t have the energy that we usually have. We have things we need to correct, and we had things we definitely did good and we’ll definitely come out with more energy in SEC play.”
On paper, the night looked as though it went according to plan. Auburn allowed FCS school Mercer to convert only 6 of 18 third downs and gave up an average of 3.7 yards per play.
Yet the visiting Bears also had successes. Mercer amassed 246 yards of offense and managed to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Steele’s defense made plays when it needed to, but didn’t record a single sack or force any turnovers.
“Yeah, we take it [personally],” Matthews said. “It’s a disrespect to ourselves because we know we can make turnovers and do a lot of things better.”
It could have been worse. In fact, it has been in recent history. A sixth-ranked Auburn team survived FCS opponent Jacksonville State 27-20 in overtime in 2015.
Where issues arose against Mercer, there seemed to be simple solutions.
“I think we played pretty well, we’ve just got some small things to fix,” Auburn linebacker Jeff Holland said. “It’s not major, we’re going to go practice tomorrow and fix the small things.”
Holland has been a force for an Auburn defense, which currently ranks No. 5 in the country in sacks (10.0). The junior linebacker has no doubts about how motivated Auburn will be as it kicks off SEC play at Missouri next week.
“It’s going to drive us,” Holland said. “We’re going to do fine. I think the coaches put us in good positions to make plays.”
Columbia will be another spot where Auburn’s defense can torment a quality quarterback. Before a 35-3 loss to Purdue on Saturday, Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock racked up 766 yards of offense in two games.
“We did some things, but we didn’t live up to our expectations,” junior defensive back Carlton Davis said. “We had some coverage busts and some things we need to work on. Just need to get better from here on out. I think our preparation was good, they ran everything we expected them to run. As a defense, we just need to execute the game plan better.”