- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's the midway point for Auburn and for most of the teams in the SEC. Earlier in the week, we looked at the conference as a whole in our SEC midseason overview. Now it's time to break down the Tigers after the first six games.
Offensive MVP: C Reese Dismukes
After missing the first half of the season opener, Nick Marshall has been great. Cameron Artis-Payne is third in the SEC with 664 rushing yards. Even D'haquille Williams, the junior college transfer, can make a case. But the player who makes it all go is Dismukes. He's been the constant for this Auburn offense since Gus Malzahn arrived. When the Tigers are running the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, Dismukes is the one getting everybody set and making the calls. That's no easy task. His experience is simply irreplaceable.
Defensive MVP: DB Johnathan Ford
Nobody saw this coming before the season, but Ford, a running back in high school, has played as well as anybody on Auburn's defense. He leads the team with 41 tackles, and he also has two interceptions, one fumble forced and half a sack. The sophomore is doing it all for the Tigers, and it's his first year playing safety. It's safe to say he's found a home. In Saturday's loss to Mississippi State, Ford finished with nine tackles, one interception, one fumble forced and one quarterback hurry. How's that for a stat line against the No. 1 team in the country?
Newcomer of the year (not named D'haquille): DE Davonte Lambert
Since Duke Williams is our SEC newcomer of the year at the midway point, we're going to go a different route and take Lambert. The junior college transfer didn't have the luxury of going through spring practice, but it's easy to see why Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner was raving about Lambert once he got on campus. He cracked the starting lineup after the third game, and he leads the team with five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He's not Dee Ford. He's not Carl Lawson. But he's filled in admirably, exceeding expectations.
Biggest surprise: Ellis Johnson's defense
In August, everybody was asking if Auburn score enough points again this season to make up for an average defense. Well, the Tigers took exception to that. The defense has played much better in Johnson's second year as coordinator. Before Saturday, they had allowed 21 or fewer points in each of the first five games, the longest such streak since 2007-08. Even in the loss, Auburn forced four turnovers and allowed only 10 points in the second half. If not for shortcomings on offense, it might have been a different game.
Room for improvement: Consistency on offense
Speaking of those shortcomings, it's been a struggle at times for Auburn's offense. They never really got going at Kansas State; they started slow against Louisiana Tech; and they turned the ball over twice on the first two plays in Saturday's loss to Mississippi State. The talent is there. The coaching is there. They've even shown glimpses of last year, but they have been way too inconsistent. To reach that level, that standard that Auburn set for itself last year, this offense needs to improve on the little things.
Biggest game of the second half: Nov. 1 at Ole Miss
Take your pick. The Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa obviously stands out. A trip to Georgia in November will be difficult regardless of whether Todd Gurley plays. And Auburn can't overlook home games against South Carolina and Texas A&M. But the most meaningful game left on the schedule is in Oxford against Ole Miss. The Rebels are undefeated, having already beaten Alabama and Texas A&M, and a win against Auburn could make it mighty difficult to keep them out of the playoff. On the flip side, every game is a must-win now for the Tigers, and that one is no different.