"I really like this group in respect to, each week, their preparation," VanGorder said. "Their focus today going into the game was much better. I say that collectively. More and more guys are working their way into the strategies of the game and intellect of the game, which is very encouraging. I felt the effort was solid, but we didn't handle the Wildcat and the tempo, two things that just stand out in my mind."
It was those two parts of the game that were the Achilles heel for Auburn's defense on Saturday. On its opening possession of the game Vanderbilt drove 75 yards on 16 plays for a touchdown. In the second half the Commdores backed that up with an 85-yard drive on just seven plays for their second touchdown of the game. The only other scoring drive came in the two-minute offense to end the first half as Vanderbilt drove 65 yards to kick a tying field goal on the last play of the half.
"I choose to look at this game in that we ascended in the area of the mental part of the game and the preparation part of the game," VanGorder said. "Their intentions were very good. The commitment to the cause was very good, but we just have to handle the fast-tempo and Wildcat formations.
"Those things are operative in the game when you think of the first series of the game, when offenses are on a script, and two-minute, when it's going fast. We came out in the second half and didn't handle the Wildcat and that's the disappointment of the game. We have to continue to try to grow a group of guys that are working to get better."
One of the bright spots for the Tigers on defense Saturday was the play of freshman middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy. Finishing with 12 total tackles in his first extensive playing time of the season, VanGorder said the young guy did some good things leading up to the game and it showed on the field.
"He made a lot of mistakes in the game," VanGorder said. "His physical traits showed up. His size and ability to run were apparent a number of times in the game. I really respect the work he put in this week to get ready. He was grinding to get himself ready to play in this game. That meant a lot for all of us to see. It was very, very important to him in respects to the other guys lining up and playing well. It was a big, big step forward."
Sitting at 1-6 through seven games, the job doesn't get any easier for Auburn's defense with explosive Texas A&M coming to town next weekend. VanGorder said even though it may seem hard for people to understand, for his defense getting back to work and improving is something that keeps them going at the moment.
I don't think it's hard when you're getting better," VanGorder said. "They know they're playing better football, they know they're getting smarter with the game, they know they're improving. That's motivation. The biggest part of motivation though is success so as we ascend we've got to find success and again, I'll point at the takeaway, game on the line today, as a positive step to them. I just got to believe it'll pay off. I got to believe their work and their commitment to it and their growth as football players is going to pay off for them here down the line."