Whitaker And Tigers Focused On The Run

Auburn sophomore defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker discusses the importance of containing Marcus Lattimore.

Auburn, Ala.—With Auburn's struggles on defense to start the 2011 season the challenge this weekend is as big as it has been this season for the Tigers as they travel to South Carolina to face one of the nation's top backs, sophomore Marcus Lattimore.

Averaging 152.75 yards per game on the ground with eight touchdowns, Lattimore has carried the ball more than any back in the country this season. Two weeks ago he rushed for 246 yards on 37 carries in a win over Navy to help the Gamecocks avoid an upset.

Realizing he and his teammates will get a heavy dose of number 21 this Saturday, Auburn sophomore defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said it's one of those games that excite defensive linemen.

"You love these kinds of games right here," Whitaker said. "It's physical. They're running at you. The best man will win.

"South Carolina has a very competitive offensive line," he pointed out. "They are going to come at you with whatever they have to do to get you out of what you're doing. It's going to be a great matchup. I'm looking forward to it. We just have to put the work in during the week."

For Whitaker it will be a special game because Lattimore is a player he got to know during recruiting and also during the U.S. Army All-American Game and the practices leading up to it. Just because the running back is someone Whitaker considers a friend doesn't mean big number 54 won't be giving it everything he has to try to ruin the talented tailback's Saturday when the Tigers and Gamecocks meet at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I look at Marcus like a relative," Whitaker said of the running back who also considered Auburn during recruiting. "We have been knowing each other and we talk from time to time. The deal is when you go to a relative, you don't put your mind into hate. If my brother walked into this room and we had to compete right now, it doesn't mean I hate him. I'm going to try to take his head off. At the same time, I don't hate him. I have love for him. It's a competitive match-up."

Marcus Lattimore

While Lattimore and the Gamecocks have been very successful running the football, the Auburn defense has struggled to stop opponents' running attacks while posting a 3-1 record. Currently the Tigers are ranked 112th in the country in rush defense, giving up 226.50 yards per game. Only Northern Illinois has allowed more rushing attempts than Auburn's 200 this year, meaning Auburn has gotten plenty of chances to improve this season.

Showing some signs of life each of the last two weeks against Clemson and Florida Atlantic against the run, Whitaker said the biggest problem has been plays getting out of the box for a big chunk of yardage. That will be something to watch for again this week when Auburn and South Carolina tee it up Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CDT in a nationally televised game on CBS.

Whitaker noted the job is to keep moving forward for Auburn's defense and focus on finishing plays this weekend. "Each week, you get better," he said. "You just have to eliminate those big runs. You can be great, great, great and then they pop off a 15-yarder.

"When you're going against South Carolina, even last year the two times we played them, we stopped them but at the same time he got his pops, maybe 10 yards here, 12 yards there," Whitaker said. "You have to keep chopping. They're going to come at us and they're going to have some nice runs. The goal is to stop Marcus."

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