For much of this season, the Auburn Defense has had to listen to naysayer's talk about how poor a unit they were. But that did not keep this bunch down. Quite the contrary, Ted Roof's players used it as motivation to get better. And get better they did, in a turnaround of almost epic proportions.
In the first three games this year the young Auburn defense looked out manned and out matched. Auburn gave up an embarrassing 624 yards in just the Clemson game alone. However, in the last four games the Tiger 'D' has made an unbelievable conversion, cutting points allowed per game from 36 to 18.
In week five the Tigers defeated No.9 South Carolina 16-3 and held Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore to just 66 yards. The next week they held the SEC's No.1 offense Arkansas 50 yards under their 471 yards per game average. (The Hogs QB Tyler Wilson had thrown for 510 yards against Texas A&M just the week before.) And Saturday the Defense held another good SEC runner, Chris Rainey, to 33 yards while shutting Florida out of the end zone completely in their 17-6 victory over the Gators.
Auburn Defensive Tackle Jeffery Whitaker best described how the defensive guys felt after the win against Florida,
"The first step of improvement is believing in yourself. We don't listen to the naysayers. We use it as reverse psychology - as motivation. It doesn't matter what they say. The only thing that matters is what happens on the field."
The biggest change seems to have come from a new found ability to put pressure on the quarterbacks. And leading the charge has been Defensive End Cory Lemonier. He has literally become a disruptive force in opponent's backfields. He is the SEC sack leader and was named Monday as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week by both the SEC League Office and Rivals.com. Against Florida alone Cory had 2 sacks, 6 tackles, 4 quarterback hurries and 3 tackles for a loss.
Make no mistake about it, much maligned Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof deserves the lion's share of credit for the change in direction. Roof has a track record of turning defenses around. He built impressive defenses at schools that are not known for their football prowess. While the DC at Duke, he took the Blue Devils from the last place defense in the ACC to 1st place. In just one year at Minnesota he turned around a defense that had been ranked as one of the nation's worst defense to the top 25 in sacks and tackles for loss. His defenses were noted for an aggressive style of play, he calls it "attack and swarm."
That's exactly what the Tigers did Saturday against the Gators. Florida was held to 194 total yards; 66 yards on the ground and 128 yards passing. Auburn did not allow a touchdown and only surrendered two field goals that were aided by penalties.
I know, I know, Florida is not LSU. The Bengal Tigers have a power running game and several dangerous receivers. And it will take more than defense for the Auburn Tigers to win Saturday in Death Valley. The special teams have to come through again; the offense has to play mistake free ball, win the time of possession and turnover ratio, and score points.
That will be a tall task not only because No.1 LSU has a tough defense but because their offensive game plan this year has been to score early and often.
The betting odds are against Auburn as the Tigers have been made a 22 point underdog to the Purple Tigers. However, stat sheets and betting lines do not matter. "The only thing that matters is what happens on the field."
Go Tigers Beat the Bengals!