While the Auburn offense has received most of the attention this fall, the Tigers defense should be the strength of the team this season. After getting past the name Tank Bigsby, most of Auburn’s best players are on the defensive side of the ball. Like the offense, the defense will have a new coordinator and it is another coach that was on the staff last season. Jeff Schmedding will replace Derek Mason who left after last season to take the same role with Oklahoma State. Schmedding worked for head coach Bryan Harsin at Boise State and was the Tigers linebackers coach last season. The 2021 unit was fifth in the SEC allowing 21.8 points per game. The 2022 Auburn Tigers defense will look to be even better this season.
2022 Auburn Tigers Defense
Auburn has a very talented group on the defensive front that made things hard on opposing rush offenses. The Tigers only gave up 128.1 yards per game on the ground. That ranked fifth in the SEC. It all starts with edge rusher Derick Hall who led the Tigers last season with nine sacks. That number finished third in the SEC behind Alabama’s Will Anderson and Sam Williams of Ole Miss. Hall will be a constant match-up nightmare of offenses and will be keyed on in game plans. He also had 12.5 tackles for loss last season. Along with Hall is another threat at edge rusher in Eku Leota with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2021.
Clogging up the middle will be Oregon Duck transfer Jayson Jones. In 2020, Jones was a four-star recruit when he signed with the Ducks. At 6’6 and 328 pounds, he will make it tough for opposing offenses to do much on the ground. Also on the defensive line is Marcus Harris and defensive end Colby Wooden. The two combined for seven sacks last season and bring experience to the defense. Another newcomer to pay attention to is Jeffrey M’ba. He comes in as the top-ranked JUCO player according to 247Sports. M’ba had 50 tackles and 15 tackles for loss at Independence Community College and did not start playing football until three years ago in France.
While there is a lot of talent and experience returning on the defensive line, the latter cannot be said for the linebackers. The group lost two veterans in Zakoby McClain and Chandler Wooten when they opted to enter the NFL Draft after last season. Both were the Tigers leading tacklers last season and were key factors in the top five rush defense.
Leading the group this season should be the very talented Owen Pappoe who is entering his senior season. Pappoe is one of the most gifted players in college football, but he has struggled to stay on the field. Last season he only appeared in five games, and the Tigers will need him to stay healthy this season. Other players that could be stepping in are Cam Riley and Wesley Steiner. Riley was the A-Day Game MVP, and Steiner was one of the leading tacklers in the spring.
Two leaders will need to be replaced in the defensive backfield as well. Cornerback Roger McCreary and safety Smoke Monday are now going to be applying their craft in the National Football League. Replacing McCreary will be key. He was the type of corner that could be trusted on any receiver and allow the defense to shift to the other side of the field if needed. McCreary made his money with his performance against Alabama and John Metchie in the Iron Bowl. He only had two interceptions last season, but that is because most quarterbacks did not throw in his direction very often.
Outside of McCreary, the secondary did struggle last season. Auburn ranked 12th in the SEC allowing 245.8 yards per game through the air. Quarterbacks completed at a 64% completion rate against them as well. At the two corner positions look for Nehemiah Pritchett and Jaylin Simpson. Both players have plenty of playing experience. That is especially true of Pritchett who has shown signs of big play potential.
As safety Zion Puckett is returning starter that had 48 tackles last season. The team does welcome in the top junior college safety in Marquise Gilbert. He had 50 tackles and two interceptions during his time at Hutchinson Community College. A player that has been highly touted during fall camp is nickel-back Donovan Kaufman. He is a very versatile player that can play at different spots on the defense. His stat line from last year reads with 33 tackles, one sack, one interception, and three forced fumbles.