Defense's goal: Be no.1 in the nation

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Auburn football defense’s bold goal for 2018: Be No. 1 in nation

By Justin Ferguson, Auburn Beat Reporter

AUBURN, Ala. — The story of Auburn football’s A-Day spring game last Saturday was one of defensive dominance — something that would have sounded unrealistic just a few seasons ago.

But with Auburn’s first-team defense making the team’s second-team offense go backwards more than it went forwards, the unit hasn’t shown any drop-off from finishing in the top 15 nationally in yards and points per game allowed last season.

“Here’s what I feel good about — I feel good about our defense,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday. “I mean, there’s no doubt. They just carried over.”

MORE: Auburn football defense dominates on A-Day, which it has done ‘all spring’

And, to hear it from Auburn’s defensive players, the benchmark for success is much, much higher for 2018.

“We’re going to be top 10 this year,” junior defensive end Marlon Davidson said. “We’re going to be top 5, maybe even top 1. That’s how we feel. That’s how we’re going to carry it.”

It’s a lofty mark to reach, no matter how No. 1 defenses are measured. In terms of average yards allowed per game — the outdated but still widely held mark — Auburn’s highest finish came in 2003 and 2004, when it was No. 5 in the country.

If points per game is a better indicator, Auburn hasn’t had a No. 1 scoring defense since an undefeated season in 2004. But after finishing 48th or lower in seven straight seasons, Auburn has been inside the top dozen nationally in scoring defense in both seasons under Kevin Steele.

Auburn’s pace of play on offense would make it difficult for the Tigers to allow the fewest yards per game in college football. Shorter scoring possessions for an up-tempo attack will mean more possessions for opponents.

But in terms of yards allowed per play — a tempo-adjusted metric — Auburn has jumped from 24th to eighth inside the last two seasons.

MORE: What A-Day defensive MVP honor really meant to Auburn’s Nick Coe

So even after a day in which Auburn’s first-choice defense forced the offense to enter halftime at -5 yards, the message in the locker room was one of improvement.

“Everybody can get better,” sophomore defensive end and A-Day defensive MVP Nick Coe said. “Nobody is perfect, so we just need to keep improving so we become the best we can. Be the No. 1 defense. Not top 5. I want us to be No. 1 and show everybody in the nation.”

After a spring of facing them, Auburn’s offensive players believe their defensive teammates are capable of reaching that goal.

“Our defense is the best in the country,” sophomore quarterback Malik Willis said. “No doubt in my mind about it. Going against them every day is just making everybody better.”

Malzahn didn’t go quite that far Saturday.

But the praise for Steele’s defense spoke volumes. Even though he didn’t use many words, his facial expressions and tone told the whole story.

“I will tell you this — our defense has a chance to be really good,” Malzahn said.

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It would be great for those guys to finish the season #1.  I honestly can't remember the last time Auburn closed a season with the #1 ranked D.

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You can tell they want it. I haven't seen an Auburn D take the Spring so seriously in a LONG time. It will be interesting to see their measurables in the Fall. I'm betting the weight room is going to be VERY busy in the off season, above and beyond mandatory workouts.

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