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Auburn defender Jonathan Wilhite (24) can't stop this touchdown pass to Georgia's Sean Bailey on Saturday. Georgia won 45-20.
AP photo by John Bazemore
Auburn defender Jonathan Wilhite (24) can't stop this touchdown pass to Georgia's Sean Bailey on Saturday. Georgia won 45-20.

AU defense feels heat for Georgia loss

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2460

AUBURN — Quentin Groves sighed when asked the question, then he confessed what happened behind closed doors during Monday's film study of Auburn's loss to Georgia.

"I got ripped a new one, I tell you that much," Groves said Tuesday, wearing an orange Auburn shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

"Rough, rough, rough," the linebacker said, describing the meeting.

Groves and the Auburn defense experienced a hellish afternoon Monday in the team's film session, covering all of Saturday's embarrassing 45-20 loss to Georgia.

But it was the Auburn defensive backs who took the brunt of the criticism from livid coaches.

"We got it pretty good," said cornerback and Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers, who, like most of the secondary, was responsible for allowing seven plays of longer than 15 yards Saturday, including passes of 58, 45 and 33 yards.

Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Will Muschamp, who was not available Tuesday, admonished his players as the film ran.

Players like safety Eric Brock and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite were forced to relive moments they wanted to forget — like a broken coverage, resulting in a 58-yard Georgia touchdown pass. Powers saw on film as Brock went for the receiver on a short route and then got beat "over the top" on the play.

"That was a bust," Powers said, "but all the other ones were just technique."

Powers called the technique problems "just little minor stuff," but it seemed awfully complicated Tuesday as the cornerback launched into a full explanation of why Auburn's secondary had a collapse Saturday. And how they'll avoid repeating the performance against Alabama (6-4, 4-3 SEC) on Nov. 24.

Powers said defensive backs already have begun fixing the mistakes they made against Georgia.

So, what are those mistakes?

Well, according to Powers, it involves just turning your head around and looking for the ball, or “playing the ball” in football terms.

But it’s not that easy.

Before doing that, Powers says a defensive back must get into “phase.”

He explained: “You just want to be able to be in position to cut (the receiver) off and basically run the route for him. You become the receiver. That’s what I mean by phase.”

In layman’s terms, once a defensive back has good enough coverage on a receiver — running stride for stride with him — he then can turn and look for the ball. That, Powers said, happened plenty of times Saturday, but Auburn defensive backs did not turn their heads.

Of course there are many more factors involved in this process. A defensive back must feel safe. He must feel that he has tight coverage on the receiver before turning his head and looking for the ball. If not, Powers said, the cornerback or safety likely will get beat.

“You don’t want to look back because they are running 100 miles per hour while you are trying to catch them,” he said.

Powers insisted a defensive back cannot turn his head too soon, but if he waits too long, things unfold like they did Saturday.

Powers said he waited too long during the Oct. 20 loss at LSU when receiver Demetrius Byrd caught the game-winning touchdown pass with Powers draped on his back.

Powers was in “phase,” but he waited too long to turn his head.

When he finally did, Matt Flynn’s pass buzzed by his face mask and into Byrd’s arms for the game-winner.

“Basically, as soon as you get in phase,” Powers said, “you want to look back right away.”

And that’s what Muschamp has preached since the first day.

“If you are in phase, he wants you to put your hand on (the receiver’s) hip,” Powers said. “He wants you to be able to touch the receiver.”

That, of course, did not happen as much as Muschamp would have liked Saturday, resulting in one of the worst losses by an Auburn team during the last century.

“We went into that Georgia game saying we can’t give up the deep ball and we need to do all the technique things right not to give up the deep ball,” Powers said. “A couple plays we didn’t do it. They capitalized on it.”

Alabama at Auburn

Nov. 24
7 p.m.

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