Improving Front Four Helping Tigers Succeed

Auburn's run to the SEC Football Championship Game has received a boost from the defensive line.

Auburn, Ala.--There are plenty of reasons Auburn is the most improved team in college football this year and one of the key changes has been the play of the defensive front four.

Under the direction of new position coach Rodney Garner, the Tigers are playing at a much higher level at the end and tackle positions than they did during 2012 when they failed to win an SEC game while finishing with just three victories in 12 starts.

Doing something about the issues on the defensive front was a focus in spring practice and has continued to be a point of emphasis this fall.

"Our defensive line has gotten better each practice, each game," Coach Gus Malzahn says. "Coach Garner has a lot of guys rotating in. He keeps them fresh and that's been a big key to our success."

This season Rodney Garner returned to coach at Auburn where he was a standout lineman.

Fifth-year senior Nosa Eguae, who has contributed to Auburn's 11-1 record playing both tackle and end this season, agrees with Auburn's first-year head coach.

"We have gotten better," says Eguae. "Coach Garner said that we needed 10-12 guys to step up. It's going to be about a unit. It's not going to be about four guys or six guys, it's going to be 10-12 and he said that at the beginning."

Eguae, who leads the Tigers in career starts with 40, had played end prior to this season, but has started the last eight games at tackle, which happens to be the length of Auburn's winning streak going into Saturday's SEC Championship Game vs. Missouri. Prior to that he started games two and three this season at end.

Juniors Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Ben Bradley have also started at tackle this year while seniors Dee Ford and Craig Sanders along with junior LaDarius Owens have started at end.

Like Eguae, senior Kenneth Carter has also contributed at both end and tackle this season. True freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel are seeing significant playing time at end and so is true freshman Montravius Adams at tackle.

"We all push each other and we've gotten better," Eguae points out. "We had some key freshmen come in and they are making a big impact for us.

"Up front we are playing for each other and we will keep getting better," adds Eguae. "We know that if we go out there and we play hard we will play our four snaps, and then another group will come in and they will play hard. We will just keep that rotation going and in the fourth quarter we will be fresh and wear down that offensive line."

In 12 games last season the Tigers made 22 sacks for 137 yards in losses and were credited with 55 quarterback hurries. Going into game 13 at the Georgia Dome on Saturday the Tigers have 25 sacks for 187 yards in losses and 98 quarterback hurries.

Ranked No. 3 in the next to last BCS poll before the top two teams are chosen to play in this year's game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the winner of the SEC Championship Game could be on the outside looking in unless unbeaten No. 1 FSU or unbeaten No. 2 Ohio State are upset in their league championship games this week.

Even though either Auburn or Missouri will be the SEC champ with one loss, Eguae says that he can see the logic in putting a one-loss SEC team into title game this year with the conference earning a reputation as being the toughest in the country.

"It's something that is monumental it means a lot," Eguae says on the subject of winning the SEC Championship Game. However, he quickly adds that is not where the focus is for this Auburn team. "We are just worrying about Missouri," the senior says. "We're worrying about getting better every single day and Saturday will take of itself."

Kickoff is set for shortly after 3 p.m. with TV coverage on CBS as SEC West champ Auburn takes on SEC East champ Missouri (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC) in Atlanta.

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