The 6th ranked Auburn Tigers began the 2016 season with a 31-24 victory over the Louisville Cardinals in Atlanta on Saturday. This game drew some interest in Florida for reasons other than it involved an SEC power.
After Will Muschamp was let go as the Florida Gators head coach, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn brought in the former Gator coach to run his defense before Muschamp finished packing.
Why not? When he was Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007, Auburn ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense.
In 2014, the Tigers had the 69th ranked defense in Division 1-FBS. That won’t get it done in the SEC.
Muschamp was fired in Gainesville following a 29-21 record over four seasons. Finishing 7-5 in your fourth season at a big time program like Florida is never a good thing.
Things won’t happen in Auburn overnight, but during the first half of Saturday’s game, Auburn fans may have believed they were ahead of schedule. Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews picked off a Louisville pass on the first play from scrimmage. Minutes later it was 7-0.
In the second quarter, Justin Garrett rumbled into the end zone with an 82-yard fumble recovery. By halftime, the Tigers led 17-0. Muschamp’s defense had Cardinals’ quarterback Reggie Bonnafon in their sights, logging 4 sacks by intermission.
The second half showed Muschamp and Auburn fans there is still much work to be done. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino switched quarterbacks, inserting the mobile Freshman Lamar Jackson.
Jackson threw for 100 yards and run for 106 more as the Cardinals put 21 points on the board to make it close. Auburn did just enough to win and the defense is a work in progress, but Louisville actually outgained the Tigers 405 yards to 327 and ran 81 plays to Auburn’s 62.
Muschamp and Malzahn cannot be happy with the Cardinals converting 50 percent of their third downs. Both know what it will take to compete with Alabama and other SEC heavyweights.
“We’re changing the culture a little bit to get back to the Auburn defense,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this place was founded on.”
Though it would make a good story, Muschamp and the Tigers do not play in Gainesville this year. They do play Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia on the road.
By the time Alabama comes to Auburn in November, the SEC will know how much Will Muschamp has changed the Auburn defensive culture.