Taking the handoff, speedy Jeff Scott got outside the Auburn defense and sped around the corner. Looking like he might take it the distance, Scott raced down the Auburn sideline only to have defensive tackle Zach Clayton run him down after a 30-yard gain. It proved to be a big play as the Tigers held Ole Miss to a field goal on the way to the win. Coach Gene Chizik said it's one of those plays that won't get talked about much, but shows the heart of a champion.
"Phenomenal," Chizik said. "It's unbelievable. Zach Clayton is running down the field chasing guys down X amount of yards down the field. It's phenomenal. It's just great effort. There is another guy that doesn't get the recognition week in and week out that he deserves. He plays hard every week. He practices hard every week. He's been a real force for us down there inside."
For Clayton it's just another day at the office. While he doesn't get the recognition of Nick Fairley he's the guy that does the dirty work up front that is necessary for a defense to get the job done. Referred to by his head coach and teammates as a player that doesn‘t get enough recognition, Clayton said for him it's all about doing what he's coached to do.
"I'm perfectly okay with it," Clayton said. "As long as I'm doing my job to help the defense I'm good with whatever I can do. It's just to get pressure and stop the run."
A physical presence inside on defense, Clayton is a standout defensive tackle for the Tigers and has the tools to make it on the next level if he can continue to play the way he has this season. With the strength to make plays in the backfield and the speed to chase down ball carriers, Clayton showed a little bit of everything Saturday but it was his foot speed that had everyone talking.
"He broke loose and I had been pursuing him to that point," Clayton said. "As soon as he broke loose I had to get him. I just had to hit another gear and that's what I did."
One of the leaders on defense despite being a quiet sort that shows through actions more than words, Clayton is a key component to Auburn's success this season not only because of his play but because of what he's showing the younger players. Never taking a day off, Clayton is showing players like Jeffrey Whitaker what it takes to be successful in the SEC.
"Wow," Whitaker said. "That's what Auburn is all about when you really look at it. It's the hard working defensive lineman that shows everybody has to hustle. That play itself explains the whole Zach Clayton. No matter if we're up by three touchdowns or down by three, Zach is going to be Zach."
For Auburn to earn a championship this season guys like Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Corey Lemonier and Craig Sanders will have to play a part as back ups and providing depth in games. Clayton said so far the young guys on defense have stepped up their game. "They've come a long way," Clayton said. "They're getting playing time so they are maturing at a pretty rapid rate. I think that's helping them out a whole bunch.
"That's huge that they come in the game and there's not a huge lapse of talent or anything," Clayton added. "They come in the game and give us a break. That's extremely helpful."
With homecoming this week against Chattanooga before rivalry games against Georgia and Alabama to close the season, it's an important week for the Tigers to try to improve and take another step forward. That begins on the practice field and in the film room said Clayton, places where he feels like it's important to do your best work so you're prepared for game day.
"It's one of those things where we are going to have to focus on the little things we've done wrong so far this season," Clayton said. "We've got to try to get them corrected and push those young guys along to try and get them where we need to have them for the next couple of games."