Auburn Looking For Answers: Notes and Quotes

Auburn players Jeff Whitaker, Demetruce McNeal, Robensen Therezie and Philip Lutzenkirchen discuss the loss to MSU and moving forward.

Auburn, Ala.—While the lack of offense is a huge part of Auburn's struggles through the first two games, just as much can go on the shoulders of the Tigers' defense as well with new coordinator Brian VanGorder suffering his own growing pains after moving back from the NFL to the college ranks. Allowing 27 points and 458 yards per game, Auburn's struggles have come at every level starting with the front four.

With the need for playmakers up front at defensive tackle, Auburn has instead gotten very little production from the rotation of Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson, Kenneth Carter, and Gabe Wright combining for just 15 total tackles in two games. A starter, Blackson has six of those tackles while Carter has added eight of the remaining nine stops at the position. Having just one tackle through two games, Whitaker said the job of the defense is to keep pushing and getting better.

"We had a great practice today," Whitaker said. "I just think that the mind-set is for everybody, 'Hey, we've got to put it behind us.' It is what it is. It doesn't mean this is going downhill. That's the great thing about playing in this league. You bring your A-game, you keep swinging and good things are going to come. That's just being in my third year and being on the undefeated teams and the 8-5s, just understanding that it's not over. It's far from over."

That's true of safety Demetruce McNeal after making the jump back into the starting lineup for Saturday's game. After not playing a down of defense in the loss to Clemson, McNeal made 18 total tackles against Mississippi State and was the only player that Gene Chizik had nice things to say about following the loss. He said for him it was a chance to show the coaches and everyone else what he was made of.

"For me it was a great opportunity to show the coaches that I know the defense and that I'm a well prepared player going into games and that I shine under the biggest lights," McNeal said. "It just felt like a great opportunity and I wanted to show everybody what I could do in the new system."

Allowing just seven points in the first half, Auburn's defense got a boost with Onterio McCalebb's kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half. Staked to a lead and riding high, the Tigers instead crumbled down the stretch as the Bulldogs picked apart the Auburn defense for three touchdowns in the second half to win going away. McNeal said things were coming together and just as quickly went sour.

"We felt like we were getting a better chemistry on the defense as a whole," McNeal said about Saturday's game. "We were just hitting on all cylinders the first half. We just felt like we were going to be able to bring it back together in the second half. It didn't work that way. We didn't get much energy going because we really only had ourselves out there. Not much was going on with the offense so we felt like we had a lot of pressure on our backs. That's not a knock on the offense. We felt like we had a bigger task at hand. We just felt like we had to score on defense and it didn't unfold that way."

Therezie To Running Back

Known as "Cadillac" coming out of high school, Auburn sophomore Robenson Therezie started his career at cornerback for the Tigers, but played mostly special teams in 2011. Starting this year at cornerback before being sidelined during the preseason, Therezie said he decided he wanted to take a shot at playing his favorite position this season and with Auburn short on depth at running back there was no better time than the present. He said as far as he's concerned it's a final decision and he's a running back for good.

"It happened on Sunday right after the (Clemson) game," Therezie said of his request. "I just wanted to make my mind that I wanted ... you know, since we need a little bit of depth at running back.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," he added. "Coming in 2011, we was pretty much full at running back. And coming to college as an athlete, I just stayed at corner. Now that we need a lot of depth at running back, I just made up my mind that this is something that I wanted to do. So I changed my position."

More than Frazier

While quarterback Kiehl Frazier will get much of the blame for the poor play of the offense in the loss to Mississippi State, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said that's far from the truth. After watching the game again and going over it with coaches, the senior leader said everyone deserves some blame for the poor play against the Bulldogs.

"It's tough, you know. We had our opportunities, and we didn't execute them," Lutzenkirchen said. "Kiehl's going to take the most of it, but it was just a bad game, collectively, as a group. Offensively, we didn't establish the run game at all, and no quarterback's going to be able to make plays in the passing game if they're not thinking run, so, it was frustrating, but it's just another learning experience, and we'll grow from it."

Auburn will take Monday off before returning to the practice field Tuesday night. Kickoff for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe is scheduled for 11:21 a.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.

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