With little to show through four weeks, Auburn's defense turned in a fantastic performance, holding Lattimore to just 66 yards on 17 carries and South Carolina to just 129 yards overall. Coach Ted Roof said he was pleased with the effort and the win, but added his group still has a long way to go and a short time to get there with Arkansas coming up this weekend.
"There were a lot of great things," Roof said. "I was really proud of how our guys embraced the moment on the road in a hostile environment against a very good football team. We kind of gutted it out, and I was proud of that, but, at the same time there are several things we've got to get better at. The goal each week doesn't change. The goal each day, each week, is to improve, and we've got to improve, quickly."
One of the things that didn't hurt Auburn's defensive chances was the nearly constant talk about how they had struggled to open the season. With new faces at nearly every position the Tigers gave up huge chunks of yardage to Utah State, Mississippi State and Clemson to open the season. Even with a better performance against outmanned Florida Atlantic the jury wasn't in doubt about Auburn's defense it had already delivered a decision. That's something that redshirt freshman defensive end LaDarius Owens said the defense used as motivation to improve.
"I feed off that a lot," Owens said. "Basically when someone tells me I can't do something it just motivates me more. I think that's any man. If someone says you can't do something you love to prove them wrong. That's the kind of approach we have taken. You can't help but hear some of the hoopla out there. You ignore it because you know what you're capable of and what you're working for, but at the same time you work hard to prove them wrong and shut them up."
Auburn's improvement came because of a number of different reasons. The Tigers played more physical up front and changed the line of scrimmage, making it harder for Lattimore and quarterback Stephen Garcia. Auburn also tackled well and didn't allow a ton of yards after contact. Another thing was in the secondary where the Tigers changed up coverages and did a solid job in defending Alshon Jeffery.
Anyone who watched the South Carolina game had to come away impressed by some new wrinkles employed by the Tigers on that side of the ball. It was a far cry from what everyone expected two weeks ago when the Tigers said they were going to simplify things. Roof said while they didn't throw the whole book at the Gamecocks they were able to add some wrinkles in after stripping things down to a base level and it paid off.
"Somewhere in the middle," Roof said of the defensive package used. "We always want enough bullets to be aggressive in how we call a game, but, at the same time, not overburden our kids with adjustments. We cut down some things we asked them to do, and just to work improve on what we do."
This weekend Auburn's defense will again be up against the wall, this time against an Arkansas offense coming off a record-setting performance in a win over Texas A&M. Throwing for over 500 yards in a single game, the Razorbacks, with quarterback Tyler Wilson and a deep receiving corps, will be a tough task for the Tigers. Roof said while it's going to be another difficult game his defense just has to keep responding and working hard to improve week by week.
"It's certainly a different challenge," Roof said, "but, at the same time, the challenge is to get off the field and not allow points. The goals are still the same. The standpoint of what we've got to prepare for is going to be different. We'll have to tweak some things, but stay within what we do. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel to play this week to play Arkansas."