Taking a defensive coordinator position shortly after being fired from a prominent head coaching position has to be a very humbling experience for Will Muschamp. However, being a really good defensive coach and recruiter gave him the chance to pretty much have any position that was open (or probably not open). Muschamp couldn't have picked a better job than Auburn. The Tigers return 9 of their top 12 tacklers from last year and they were able to add one of the best players in the nation in Byron Cowart. A new coach's best friend is experience and Muschamp inherited plenty of it. His ability to turn this defense from a liability to anything that can at least stop someone will be key in this game.
Muschamp utilized a 3-4/3-3-5 (They have a "buck" end which is a hybrid LB/DE) defense at Florida but in any defense you need good defensive tackles. Auburn has a really good one in Montravious Adams. Anytime you see a 300-pounder wearing number 1 you have to give him some credit. Adams finished last year with 8 tackles for loss and three sacks. Muschamp's system asks tackles to eat up blocks more than make plays, but he has had disruptive forces at the position before. The defense doesn't return a lot of experience along the line but it is by far the most talented position they have if you ask me. Carl Lawson has returned from an injury that kept him out last year and he is joined by two highly ranked freshmen at defensive end. Throw in DaVonte Lambert and you have plenty of tools for Muschamp to utilize when it comes to putting pressure on the offense. Muschamp has said that he plans on putting his best four pass rushers on the field on third downs. That could include two top ranked defensive end recruits and Lawson, who is on every preseason watch listed on earth it seems.
It never hurts to have your starting middle linebacker returning for your defense. It's even better when you have an outside linebacker that put up similar numbers returning with him. Cassanova Mckinzy and Kris Frost are both experienced guys that put up outstanding numbers last year. Both came close to totaling 100 tackles and both ended up with double digit tackles for loss. Mckinzy has been a big time player for Auburn's defense for the past few years but Frost really stepped his game up last year and became a player that was even considered a potential early entrant for the draft. I'm not sure how Muschamp will fill the third linebacker spot, but I wouldn't be surprised to see true freshman Jeff Holland push veteran Justin Garrett for playing time. Holland was a big time prospect out of Florida and Muschamp might be looking to get some more talent on the field. If there's one area where Mckinzy and Frost struggled, it was in coverage with play action passes being especially tough. Wisconsin was a team that really exposed this as their run heavy offense really kept both linebackers looking into the backfield instead of retreating to their zones. This could be why Tre' Williams is listed as "or" on the depth chart with Mckinzy. Williams was a backup last year but it says a lot that he could potentially take over for a senior starter. Something to keep an eye on with James Quick and Traveon Samuel lining up in the slot.
The Tiger's secondary have a similar scenario that Louisville will have this year. They are welcoming two high-level transfers in to bolster an area that had glaring weaknesses. Tray Matthews and Blake Countess will likely step right into the starting lineup for Auburn at free safety and cornerback, respectively. They will join stud safety Jonathan Ford, ballhawk corner Jonathan Jones, and likely nickelback Joshua Holsey to make up what should be a much improved secondary. Depth is a concern here for Auburn but there is no question that this group will be able to hold their own against a group of receivers that will have to show that they can get things done without DeVante Parker. The question with this secondary is whether or not they can stop giving up big plays. They allowed an average of 7.1 yards per attempt last year as well as surrendering 22 touchdown passes. Muschamp likes to be aggressive with his playcalling. Without a solid secondary he won't be able to stay in his comfort zone.
KEY PLAYERS: DT Montravious Adams, Buck Carl Lawson, LB Kris Frost, CB Jonathan Jones, S Jonathan Ford