Auburn needs pick-me-up against Florida Atlantic

What Auburn’s battered defense needs is a pick-me-up game

against an offense that is really struggling.

Florida Atlantic got here just in time.

The Tigers (2-1) get to take on an offense Saturday night that

might make their problems look insignificant – if they didn’t have

six straight Southeastern Conference games looming.

Trouble tackling? Florida Atlantic (0-2) ranks last in the

country in rushing offense.

Giving up way too many points? The Owls have been outscored 85-3

in their first two games.

Bedeviled by third down troubles? Florida Atlantic managed just

one first down against Michigan State.

It certainly seems like a chance for Auburn’s young defense to

work on some deficiencies and rebuild confidence.

”I think the game plan is to beat them, beat them bad, let them

know,” freshman defensive tackle Angelo Blackson said. ”That’s

really the emphasis. We’re all mad about the loss (to Clemson).

Coach said, `You’ve got to put it on somebody else.’ We’re going to

put it on them.”

If ever there was a week for defensive tough talk, this is it.

The Tigers need a big boost after getting torched for 624 yards

against Clemson in a defeat that ended a 17-game winning

streak.

Howard Schnellenberger’s Owls continue their murderer’s road

trips. First Florida, then Michigan State and after an open date

now they travel to the defending national champions.

Schnellenberger isn’t sugarcoating the situation facing his

players.

”They know that they’re going into this game with a very small

chance of winning,” said Schnellenberger, an Alabama assistant

under Bear Bryant from 1961-65. ”But they know they go into these

games playing against teams that could give us a great lesson in

how to play this game of top-of-the-line football.

”This is not a portion of our schedule that we tell our players

that they’re competitive and have an equal opportunity to

win.”

Score a touchdown? Maybe.

The Tigers rank last in the SEC in the four major defensive

statistical categories: scoring, total yards allowed and defending

both the run and pass.

Coach Gene Chizik said poor tackling was just the most obvious

of the problems. The offense has still been potent, just not

dominant. Chizik thinks the Tigers’ issues are fixable. This week

would be a good time to start with four straight games with ranked

SEC teams awaiting – three on the road.

”It’s not really about Florida Atlantic, really and truly,”

Chizik said. ”This is a game where we’ve got to improve some

things in practice, and go out on game day and execute the things

that we feel like we need to improve on. So, it really wouldn’t

matter who we’re playing. It’s very obvious that we need to play

better all the way around as a football team. Florida Atlantic just

happens to be the next opponent.”

And the Owls have problems of their own after their opening

mismatches.

Platooning quarterbacks Graham Wilbert and David Kooi combined

for 26 passing yards against Michigan State, which held Florida

Atlantic to 48 yards.

Running back Alfred Morris, who gained 2,320 yards the past two

seasons, has managed 37 on 24 carries.

As SEC defenses go, this might not be such a bad one to face.

But Blackson and the Tigers know opposing offenses might have that

mind-set these days, and don’t especially like it.

”It’s going to be so big,” Blackson said. ”Teams are looking

to put up tons of yards on us. We’ve really got to take a stand. I

think the emphasis for this game is we’re not going to let up

because of the team they are. We’re going to play them. They’re

coming into our home. We’re going to try to get it over with

fast.”