Tigers Defense Stands Tall in Victory

Auburn Al, (al.com) Auburn made too many mistakes for Gus Malzahn‘s liking Saturday night, but he could already see a silver lining before turning on the film.

The first-year coach expected to learn a thing or two about his team when adversity hit Saturday night against Washington State. The Tigers managed to fight off the upset bid, responding to every Washington State score with a score of their own in the 31-24 victory.

Still, the Tigers couldn’t quite find a rhythm, and when they did it seemed they would stall or make a mistake.

“Just to be completely honest,” said Malzahn, “we learned a whole lot about our team. I told our team before ‘Hey, we want to know where we’re at’ and obviously I think you all saw we made some mistakes, but the good thing is most of them are correctable.”

A few mistakes were easy to see from the stands: Nick Marshall’s overthrown passes, the five penalties and a breakdown or two in pass coverage.

Some offensive possessions will stick out more than most when Malzahn turns on the game film.

Marshall misfired on several deep routes, but finally hit Sammie Coates for a 34-yard gain in the middle of the third quarter. The Tigers moved the ball to the 4-yard line, and Marshall showed off his speed with a 4-yard touchdown run to the left side on first down.

He ran in untouched, but running back Cameron Artis-Payne was caught holding on the play. The Tigers were pushed back 10 yards on first down, stalled and later had to settle for one of its three field goals. It ended one of the more impressive drives of the night.

“We had our ups and downs and we had too many downs than we did ups,” said Corey Grant, who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown. “There were opportunities where we could have made plays where we didn’t take advantage of it. Overall, we need to get better and we are going to get better.”

The Tigers did fight through tough moments and Marshall’s growing pains. Malzahn called the Tigers’ execution “average at best.”

The Cougars also threw several different looks at the Tigers, whose defense struggled to defend slant routes. The Tigers’ offense managed to find a few holes in the defense, especially in the running game (297 yards), and Marshall settled his early-game jitters and completed 8 of 11 passes for 79 yards in the second half.

“They were a good team,” Marshall said. “They were flying around the ball. They made plays and so did we. We’re grateful to come out with the win.”

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson switched to man-to-man coverage in the second half. The adjustment worked for the Tigers, who held Connor Halliday to 11-of-29 passing for 80 yards with an interception in the second half. He finished 35-of-65 for 344 yards and one touchdown with a pick.

“They were a good team,” Marshall said. “They were flying around the ball. They made plays and so did we. We’re grateful to come out with the win.”

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson switched to man-to-man coverage in the second half. The adjustment worked for the Tigers, who held Connor Halliday to 11-of-29 passing for 80 yards with an interception in the second half. He finished 35-of-65 for 344 yards and one touchdown with a pick.

“My big deal was adversity and my head was on a swivel,” Malzahn said. “I wanted to see how we handled it. That was my big question but I didn’t see heads down and all that pouting. I saw some bright eyes, I saw our guys hustling on and off the field no matter what the score was and I’m proud of our guys for that.”