After racking up nine sacks and forcing three fumbles against Akron and Alabama State, the Auburn pass rush all but disappeared last Saturday against Penn State.
Without a pass rush, Penn State was able to pass all over the Tigers in their 28–20 win.
“(The defensive line was) affected and upset that they weren't able to, you know, get pressure on the quarterback,” defensive end Colby Wooden said. “We pressured them a few times but we weren’t able to get sacks.”
Playing against a Penn State team that likes to throw the ball deep, the Tigers ran a lot of three- and four-man pass rush sets last Saturday. The goal was to be able to sack quarterback Sean Clifford when he dropped back for deep passes, but with the defensive backs cutting off the long ball it left open a lot of underneath routes.
“Throughout the week (before Penn State) we thought we were going to be able to get there with three,” Wooden said. “They like to run a lot of deep routes, meshes and stuff like that so we figured we’d get pressure with three, but that’s on us.”
There were instances of the pass rush showing up last Saturday, one moment being highlighted by forcing a turnover. Right before halftime, Penn State was driving, and a pressure by linebacker Zakoby McClain forced Clifford to make an errant pass down the field, which Roger McCreary picked off.
“We can definitely improve,” Wooden said. “Get back there faster, better technique.”
The Auburn pass rush shined in its first two games of the season, with defensive tackle Marquis Burks a bright point. The transfer from Iowa Central Community College earned the starting role in the offseason, helped by the departure of Tyrone Truesdell. Burks has two sacks and two forced fumbles through the first three games.
“Burks is stepping up,” Wooden said. “He’s looking real good as you know, he’s caused quite a bit of turnovers … Glad to see he’s finally coming up.”
This week, the Tigers are preparing for a different offensive attack for Georgia State. The Panthers run the read option through quarterback Darren Grainger. The junior transfer from Furman started his first game of the season last Saturday, taking over the starting gig from fellow quarterback Cornelious Brown IV.
“They run the option, which the last time I saw was in high school,” Wooden said. “We’ve just got to be disciplined. That’s what Coach Harsin has preached this week, discipline.”
Georgia State serves as a chance to clean up some of the problems that were shown throughout the last two games for the Tigers before SEC play begins. Wooden and the rest of the defensive line is ready to get out there and improve from past week.
“You can tell this week (getting to the quarterback is) emphasized,” Wooden said. “They’re looking to go hunting this week, so I’m excited to see what they do this Saturday.”