MONTGOMERY | By any measure, Auburn’s defense took a big step forward in 2016. The Tigers improved from 13th to fifth in the SEC in total defense and 11th to fourth in scoring defense.
After finishing last in the SEC allowing 190 plays of 10 or more yards, Auburn improved to fifth allowing 165.
Still, defensive line coach Rodney Garner has higher expectations, especially when it comes to how Auburn’s defense finished the season.
“Even though we made some improvement, I think we still left a lot on the field,” Garner said. “I know how we finished wasn’t very impressive. When we start sitting down and looking at it and just being honest, our worst football that we felt like we played as a defense happened the second half of the Iron Bowl.
“The biggest game and we played our worst half of football. You go to the second half of the Sugar Bowl — we played our worst football.”
Auburn trailed Alabama 13-9 at halftime but allowed 238 yards including 134 on the ground in a 30-12 loss. The Tigers trailed Oklahoma 14-13 at halftime of the Sugar Bowl but gave up 299 yards including 148 on the ground in a 35-19 loss.
“We don’t show up after the half,” Garner said. “That’s been really our focus … we’ve got to finish. We can’t get caught up in the other things that are going on. We’ve got to go out there and play. We’ve got to go out there and perform. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing or the other side of the ball or whatever is going on. We still have to stay focused and do our job.
“We didn’t do that — for whatever reason. We’ve got to sit back and look at it — how can we keep that from happening again.”
Auburn must replace several key players from last year’s defense including four NFL draft picks — defensive tackle Montravius Adams, defensive end Carl Lawson, nickel Rudy Ford and cornerback Josh Holsey.
Senior Tray Matthews expressed confidence that the defense will be able to maintain the same level or be even better in 2017.
“We definitely will,” Matthews said.
But Garner only needs to remind them about what happened at the end of last season.
“It’s really about Auburn. We’ve tried to make an emphasis to our guys — don’t buy into the hype because when it counted, we didn’t show up. We didn’t finish,” Garner said.