December 21, 2013

Secondary revelation

AUBURN | A season of discontent in 2012 created a plethora of statistical dreariness for the Tigers, but one number stuck out above the others for its outlandishness.

Auburn finished with two interceptions last season; One by linebacker Daren Bates and from reserve safety Trent Fisher. Opponents were intercepted every 179 attempts.

It might as well have been infinity.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said things would change in 2013 -- and he was correct. Auburn finished the regular season with 13 picks in all, which yielded a 1-per-35 interception rate.

What changed?

"Really just how we're approaching the ball," said cornerback Jonathon Mincy, who has one interception this season. "It comes back to the fundamental ball skills. When you see a ball, go get it at its highest points and when you're in position, when you're playing 'man' and turn around, look at the ball. That's something we feel more comfortable with."

Johnson's 4-2-5 system, installed during the spring, brought with it sweeping changes to how Auburn's defense operates. Aside from the obvious elements -- the creation of a 'star' safety, emphasis on penetration along the defensive front -- there was a more subtle change that boosted the team's opportunistic tendencies in the back end.

The Tigers have employed man-to-man techniques in coverage well more than half the time this season, which represents a dramatic shift. Former coach Gene Chizik and the defensive coordinators under his employ relied heavily on a Tampa 2 (zone) scheme, which he believed would limit home-run plays by providing extra help on outside wide receivers.

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