Playing in 12 games with nine starts Bates made just 48 tackles last season with only one tackle for a loss as he tried to adjust playing closer to the line of scrimmage. This year however Bates has turned things around while also adding the size needed to compete at the position. Currently 212 pounds and leading the team with 86 tackles, he also has seven tackles for losses and has become a more consistent player as the 2011 season has unfolded.
Bates knows he and the Auburn defense will have to be at the top of their game this weekend when number two Alabama rolls into town this Saturday for the Iron Bowl. Leading the SEC in rushing led by Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson, Alabama is a physical team that Bates said they'll have to match physically to have a chance to win.
"This is the kind of game you like to play. Physical, hard, in the box. You don't have to worry about deep routes and those things. You can just play downhill and ready to tackle. You have to be ready to take on some of the biggest guys they've got. Also you play with an edge in those types of games.
"They are great backs, especially Richardson," he added. "I remember when we were both freshmen he came into the game after Ingram and did a great job. He's a good running back. We look forward to stopping him like we did the two previous years with their running backs."
Almost pulling the upset in 2009 and then coming back from 24 points down to win last season, Auburn has shown the way to beat Alabama and that's by slowing down the running game. In the last two Iron Bowl games Alabama has carried the ball 65 times for a total of just 146 yards against Auburn. Bates said that will again be the focus for the Tigers this week.
"If you notice everybody is at the ball wrapping up and making tackles," Bates said of the last two years. "Everybody is in the box doing their assignments. That's all it comes down to."
Even when everything falls into place a team is still going to have to overcome adversity to get a win in a rivalry game. That's something this Auburn team had excelled at in the first two seasons under Coach Gene Chizik, but this year it hasn't worked out that way. On the road Auburn has folded under the onslaught of Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia this season. Bates said this week they're looking for a different finish and all they've got to do is think back to last year to get their motivation.
"It was probably when Antoine Carter hit Mark Ingram and punched the ball out from the back," Bates said of the game-changing moment. "That's when we got our motivation on offense and defense. I think that's when things turned."
That play symbolizes what it takes to be successful and perhaps the difference in winning and losing a close game. Bates said it's something the coaches have talked about this season and it shows the dedication and hard work the Tigers must display this Saturday.
"That nobody ever quit," he added of the main thing he remembers from last year. "We didn't have anybody that quit. Nobody had long faces on the sideline. Nobody blamed each other for anything. We just kept on fighting."