AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn had an idea its defense was good, but the question now is whether the offense is in a bad position heading into the summer.
That’s the mind trick scrimmages provide fans — and even coaches — in controlled situations in front of thousands, particularly when there is an entire summer during which to contemplate the future. Quarterbacks are not tackled and the defenses know nearly every play before it is called. For Auburn, less than 20 percent of the playbook was on display, quarterback Jeremy Johnson said.
Still, the defense did what many believed it would do: attack the quarterbacks, stop the run and force three-and-outs. In fact, the first-team defense forced three straight three-and-outs as the Blue and White teams combined to go 1-for-22 on third-down conversions, an atrocious measure of an offense by any discerning eye.
“That’s real impressive,” said defensive end Carl Lawson, who finished with one sack and was named the scrimmage’s defensive MVP. “I didn’t even know that. You just told me, but I like where the defense is going.”
Malzahn said he isn’t worried about his offense’s performance. The first-team unit put up 374 total yards, including an impressive 266 on the ground — but it did so against the backups. Meanwhile, the White team was held to 1.5 yards per carry against the first-team defense.
“When you rotate three quarterbacks with different groups and you have different receivers, that is a challenge,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “You have to give our defense some credit on that. As far as being concerned, I am not concerned at all. I thought the defense did an outstanding job and made them earn it.”
It was, by far, the worst performance by Malzahn’s offense in an A-Day game. The 29 combined points was lower than the 24-14 final in 2015 — and much lower than the record 61 points scored with Nick Marshall leading the offense at quarterback in 2014.
Quarterbacks Sean White and Johnson also fumbled the ball inside or near the red zone to stall drives, and White nearly threw an interception. The Tigers’ deep defensive line gets a lot of the credit for the miscues on offense.
“I think they’re super talented,” White said. “I think they can be one of the best D-lines in the country, as far as how spring has gone so far. They’re so deep. They have about 10 guys who are really, really good. I think that’s going to be one of the strengths of our team.”
Compared to the day Malzahn walked off the field at the end of spring practices in 2015, before an eventual 7-6 season, how does the coach feel after Saturday’s scrimmage?
“I feel like our defense has a chance to be good,” Malzahn said. “We have more depth than we had before. I don’t feel bad, let’s put it that way. From a head coach’s standpoint in A-Day, you want to let your players get out there and play. We give everyone a chance to play and have fun. You pray that nobody gets injured seriously and nobody did. I think it’s comparable.”