AUBURN, Ala. — Someday, this Auburn defense will be better.
It can’t get much worse. The Tigers have been punctured for 435.5 yards per game, and barring an overnight revelation, that will re-set last year’s mark for the worst single-season defense in school history.
Who the head coach will be, who the defensive coordinator will be, who the middle linebacker and cornerbacks and defensive ends will be on opening day 2013 are all up in the air.
All Brian VanGorder can worry about is the players he has in his room, with two games left against in-state opponents. Next week is Alabama A&M, an FCS squad which should give the Tigers a chance to celebrate Senior Day with a much-needed victory. The finale, of course, is mighty Alabama in the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.
VanGorder has seen just about everything in more than 30 years in the business, but Auburn’s first-year defensive coordinator was again at a loss for explanation after Saturday’s 38-0 loss to Georgia, which gained 310 yards on their first four possessions, all touchdowns.
The only solution he could come up with was a larger, meaner defense — something he’s occasionally expressed this season.
“We’re not built. The defense is not built with size, strength and power right now,” VanGorder said. “That becomes obvious against teams like Georgia, the first game with Clemson. It shows up. Players know. We talk about it.”
Asked whether guys have lost some of their edge since week one, VanGorder acknowledged it’s a plausible theory.
“I think that’s kind of natural when you’re having the kind of season that we’re having,” VanGorder said. “But not to a degree where it’s concerning to me. Bottom line is you work hard and you hope some good things happen and you hope players make a play here or there. We’ve not been able to do that this year.
“This is a game for tough people. You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be smart, too.”
Head coach Gene Chizik was told of VanGorder’s comments Saturday, but didn’t have much of a response.
“I don’t really know how I interpret that,” Chizik said. “I think that there’s some obviously some positions that we feel like we need to upgrade in terms of productivity, but other than that, I’m not really sure exactly what all that means. We can always be bigger, we can always be stronger.”
VanGorder anxiously voiced his determination last month after a tough loss at Vanderbilt, to construct this defense in 2012 to eventually have the ability to play championship defense in years beyond.
Saturday night, with rumors rampant about the direction of the Auburn program and the job security of athletic director Jay Jacobs and Chizik, VanGorder was asked if he worries about what that future may look like.
“I don’t have a lot of doubt in my mind,” VanGorder said. “Not going to talk about that, out of respect for everybody. That’s the way it should be.
“If you’re into football, you know football, you can look at it and you can pretty much know the route it has to go where we’ve got to improve greatly,” VanGorder continued. “If you’re really intellectually into the game, it’s fairly obvious.”
A couple of junior defensive linemen, Dee Ford and Jeffrey Whitaker, voiced the pain the players feel for suffering the program’s fifth blowout loss this season, after starting out ranked in the top 25 in the coaches’ poll.
“It’s a lack of focus, lack of execution,” Ford said. “The passion and the edge of this defense has never disappeared. But we’re not executing.”
“The only thing we’re going to do is keep fighting,” Whitaker said. “This is Auburn. It’s a blue-collar university. This is what we’re known for, is to come back from stuff like this.”