“We have to start fast,” said Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes. “We have to start better. If we put together a truly complete, four-quarter game, this team would be a lot better. This team would be unstoppable.”
So far, the Tigers have been pretty close to unstoppable without four quarters of solid defense.
Auburn is 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the BCS, but the Tigers would still like to get off to a better start defensively.
Auburn has allowed 187 points in the first half this season, and that’s a big reason why the Tigers have trailed in eight games, including four by 10 or more points.
In the second half and overtime, Auburn has allowed 114 points, an average of 9.5 per game.
That includes a total of 45 points in the fourth quarter.
Another telling statistic is third-down conversions. Opponents are converting on third down at a rate of 48.8 percent in the first half against Auburn, 23.6 percent in the second half.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik credits defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s ability to make adjustments at halftime as a big reason for the Tigers’ effectiveness in the second half.
“Coach Roof does a really nice job of making some good adjustments as to what we see the offense is trying to do to attack us,” Chizik said. “The other part of it is the consistency of what we’re trying to do has not been there entirely on defense.
“That’s why you’re seeing a tale of two halves. It’s a combination of a guy being out of place here and there and also our coaches doing a nice job of adjusting at halftime.”
Auburn’s earlier game against South Carolina — a 35-27 victory over the Gamecocks Sept. 25 in Auburn — is a classic example of the Tigers’ Jekyll and Hyde defense.
South Carolina led Auburn 20-7 in the second half and 20-14 at halftime. The Gamecocks rolled up 202 yards in total offense and 13 first downs.
In the second half, the Gamecocks managed seven first downs, and their final four possessions ended with turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions.
Auburn may have a tougher fight on its hands this time around against the 9-3 Gamecocks, who by all accounts, have improved significantly on offense.
Compounding the problem is that the Gamecocks are fast starters on offense. South Carolina has scored 245 points in the first half this season, 154 in the second.
Chizik points to the improved play of South Carolina’s best skill players — quarterback Stephen Garcia, tailback Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
The first time the teams played, Auburn limited Lattimore to 33 yards on 14 carries and the Gamecocks managed only 79 yards rushing as a team on 28 carries.
Garcia and Jeffery were a bit harder to stop. Garcia completed 15 of 21 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
Jeffery caught eight passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
For the season, Lattimore has 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns on 232 carries. Jeffery has 75 receptions for 1,351 yards and eight touchdowns. Garcia has completed 189 of 287 passes (65.9 percent) for 2,646 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I think early in the year everyone knew (Jeffrey) was talented, but I think he got better,” Chizik said. “And the quarterback-wideout combination has gotten better. You can just tell that the confidence is there. So Jeffery is playing wide open right now as the rest of their offense is. So we’ve got a tall order in this one.”
Bynes says Auburn’s defense will be up to the challenge — for all four quarters.
“This week, we’re going to make sure we start out fast,” he said. “We’re going to finish like we’ve been finishing in every game this year. We just have to stay in sync in that first half. Then do in the second half what we do in every second half — dominate.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star