Roof, Defensive Players See Improvement

Comments from Auburn players and defensive coordinator Ted Roof are featured in this article.

Auburn, Ala.--After taking last week's poor showing against Clemson personally, the Auburn defense responded against Florida Atlantic with its statistically best performance of the season, holding the Owls to 307 yards of offense and snagging three passes for interceptions in a 30-14 win Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he saw progress on the defensive side of the ball, which included improvement in two facets the defense struggled with against Clemson--third down defense and tackling.

"I thought the tackling was better--not good enough, but I thought it was better," Roof said. "I thought we did some better things, but once again, we still got a lot of work to do."

"Thought we played well for most of the football game," he added. "Obviously, there are some mistakes every week, but I thought we were improved, and that was the goal--not to be confused with ‘good enough, but we were much improved, and I was proud of how the players handled this week and the way that they came to practice and worked to get better, and I think it showed on the field."

The hard work during the week also paid off for some of the true and redshirt freshmen, who saw an increase in repetitions against the Owls.

One young contributor on defense whose performance excited Roof was true freshman LaDarius Owens, who had three tackles, including one for a loss, as he stepped in at defensive end for the injured Dee Ford.

"When his number was called, he made some plays for us tonight," Roof said. "I'm real proud of him, and I think it's a good example for the rest of our guys that you never know when your opportunity is going to come, but when it does, you have to be prepared for it, be ready for it and take advantage of it, and I thought he did."

Cornerback Jermaine Whitehead had perhaps the biggest impact of any true freshmen, as he tipped a pass from FAU quarterback Alfred Morris, snatched it out of the air and then returned it for a touchdown, which stretched Auburn's lead to 11 early in the third quarter.

"That was a huge play in the game," Roof said. "We made a couple of adjustments at halftime with him coverage-wise and he was in position, made a great play, picked the ball and took it to the house, and really changed the complexion of the game, really opened it up a little bit. He's a guy that's got a great attitude, that works and is going to be an awful good player."

Whitehead, who added a tackle to go with his first-career interception, said he had it in his mind to make a name for himself at Auburn. "I just wanted to make a play for my teammates, whether I'm playing with them or behind them," Whitehead said. "We've been watching film all week and saw that was one of their favorite plays. I looked back and saw the ball coming and my eyes got big. I couldn't hear anything until I got in the end zone."

Whitehead's strong performance against FAU that has the true freshman excited is the opportunity for an increased role in the defense.

"The playing time right now is increasing and I like that," he said. "I'm just learning as I go and listen to the guys in front of me. They are coaching me up very well."

Another true freshman who might be in line to see more action in the defensive backfield is Robensen Therezie, who finished the game with five tackles, good for second most on the team.

"It felt great, finally getting an opportunity to get a feel for college football," Therezie said. "I mean, in the first half it was pretty nerve-wracking for me, but in the second half, I just got over it. I was just playing ball. I had to find my inner self to play ball."

Redshirt freshman linebacker Jawara White, who chipped in three tackles for the defense as he got the first start of his career, said he felt comfortable out there because of the hard practices last week that coaches Chizik and Roof demanded of the defense.

"I'm getting there, getting the butterflies out of my stomach," White said. "It was fun when you know what you're doing and can play fast.

"I wake up and think about it every morning," added White of the neck injury that forced him to sit out last year after having surgery early in the season. "It's a blessing to be alive and to be able to do something I love doing."

The focus now is preparing for going on the road to face South Carolina, the first of five SEC games in a brutal October slate.

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