“They’re a great team with a great quarterback,” Auburn senior safety Jermaine Whitehead said. “He’s an accurate guy, moves the ball around a lot to a lot of different receivers. I can’t wait to finish watching the film and get a bead on exactly what they’re going to do and when they like to do it. I think this is going to help us down the line to see this passing offense so we can be a better defense.”
A fifth-year senior and the son of a former Oregon quarterback, Blake Jurich had a very solid first start in an easy win over North Dakota. Completing 22-25 passes for 250 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, Jurich is picking up where NFL draftee David Fales left off last season.
That means stepping up the play for inexperienced players such as Johnathan Ford, Derrick Moncrief, Trovon Reed and others while getting leadership from Whitehead, Jonathon Mincy, Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones. As for the safety position, Whitehead said it’s just a matter of giving the guys some advice along the way as they get used to the speed of the game on the SEC level.
“It was just us not putting our eyes in the right position,” Whitehead said of the blown coverages. “We gave up two passing touchdowns that really shouldn’t have never happened, but we went back to the drawing board and we knew exactly what was going on at the time. It was just a matter of eyes, it wasn’t the scheme, it wasn’t the players, it was the lights are on, let’s make a play.
“They made a lot of great plays, but being in the game it’s a little faster than practice,” he added of his secondary mates. “You don’t get all day to line up, you have to get to your assignment, things get to flowing fast. I’m going to coach them up on that and just talk to them, because I had those same struggles as a sophomore in my first game starting. So those boys are going to be ready to go in the weeks ahead. There’s a lot of growing room for everybody. The tape showed us a lot of things to work on.”
One of the positives was Whitehead’s interception return for a touchdown. Forced by Robenson Therezie’s hit on quarterback Brandon Allen, it was the second career pick six for the senior, but he said they need to do even more of that to get the ball back to the offense. Forcing two fumbles, but unable to recover either, he said the key now is to finish things off.
“It was definitely big to know we can force teams to do things that they normally don't want to do,” Whitehead said. “We were able to get balls on the ground that we definitely fought for and had a chance to get. We'll find a way to come up with those balls in the games ahead.”
While Auburn’s offense continues to get the bulk of the attention early in the 2014 season, the Tigers continue to search for respect on the defensive side of the ball. Allowing just 61 total yards in the second half against Arkansas is a good start for Coach Ellis Johnson’s group, but Whitehead said this week is about stepping up in the secondary and helping the defense reach its goal of becoming one of the best in the country.
“It’s a big chip on our shoulder,” Whitehead said. “It’s definitely a statement game for our secondary. We definitely feel we need to get some interceptions and turnovers to put ourselves in a great position to solidify us being a great passing defense. So we can’t wait to go out there and showcase our talent this week.
“It took a minute for us to start back clicking, but we got in at halftime and decided it was time to come out and play Auburn football,” he added about last week’s game. “Gabe (Wright) talked about wanting to be a great defense. It was our way to make a statement in the second half, and, hopefully, that second half is a reflection to the rest of our season.”