AU's Unlikely Hero: Smith In the Spotlight

Auburn's coaches and big-play man Ryan Smith discuss a victory over Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--It was his only tackle of the football game, but it couldn't have come at a more important time for Ryan Smith and his teammates on the Auburn defense.

With visiting Mississippi State two yards away from the goal line and 10 seconds on the clock, and the last timeout burned, the Bulldogs decided to run the football on a do-or-die play with Chris Relf trying to power in on a quarterback keeper.

However, the huge MSU quarterback was cut down at the one-yard line by Smith, a backup sophomore safety who was in the game as part of Auburn's goal line defensive package.

"I was just trying to make a big play for Auburn," said Smith, who was covered up with reporters asking him questions in the postgame locker room, heady stuff for a guy who almost wasn't a part of the team this season.

Head coach Gene Chizik had suspended Smith for off-the-field issues before allowing him to rejoin the program in good standing over the summer.

"I couldn't be more proud of a guy like Ryan," Chizik said. "I am not going to go into any details, but he has had some tough things happen in his life. He was able to stand up and make a play at the end of the game and for me, as the head coach, it makes me feel like a proud father.

"It is just awesome to see a young guy come through at the end of the game ultimately for the win so I am very proud of Ryan," Chizik said of the former Cordova High School star.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he was thrilled for Smith. "I think that, sometimes, people lose sight of the fact that being part of a team and being part of a family...what this is all about is to fight his way back.

"He was in a jam, put himself in a bad position, but you know, we all make mistakes," Roof added.

"I have a lot of respect for people who pick themselves up and fight their way back," the coach said. "I was just glad for him and obviously for us, but especially glad for him that he got to see some of the fruits of his labor pay off and see all of the things and the good decisions that he was making, and the hard work that he was putting in to come back, and then pay off on the field. I couldn't be more happy or proud of him."

A star quarterback in high school who was an excellent runner himself at the position, Smith zeroed in on Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf on the final play of the game as 6-4, 245 Relf tried to run over 6-2, 205 Smith with Smith having the responsibility of outside contain in Auburn's defense. which was set to stop the run.

"He (Relf) weighs a lot more than me so I was just trying to get up field and make the stop," Smith said.

The Auburn sophomore said when he heard the crowd erupt he knew he made the stop before Relf got to the goal line. The MSU quarterback came up a yard shy of six points as Auburn held on for a 41-34 SEC victory.

Smith said the action was happening so fast that once the ball was snapped he didn't have much time to think, but noted he had an idea of who was going to be carrying the football in that situation. "I knew he was going to keep the ball," Smith said. "He had been keeping it all day.

"The coaches had been telling us all week that once they get into the red zone their quarterback was going to keep the ball," Smith pointed out.

Smith noted that being able to help the Tigers win a game means a lot to him and he was thrilled to be able to "bounce back" from being in limbo with the team and become a contributor. He said it was a good feeling to have his teammates congratulate him for the big play.

"The most important thing is winning as a team," he said, adding, "Anytime you get an SEC win, it is a big win."

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