Auburn, Ala.--Having success and seeing your hard work pay off is always important in anything you do, but for Auburn’s defense to finally have a breakthrough game in the win over Texas A&M was huge for the Tigers as they look to finish strong in 2015.
Facing a team that came into the game averaging 432 yards of total offense and 32 points per game Auburn finally put it all together and in a big way. Avoiding the big plays that are the bread and butter of the Aggies while also forcing freshman Kyler Murray into three big mistakes, the Tigers finally got to taste success on defense and Will Muschamp said that’s something that as a coach you never get tired of seeing.
“There's nothing like it,” Muschamp said of seeing guys enjoy the fruits of their labor. “There's nothing like, No. 1, competing in the arena. Starting on the opponent tonight, and that goes through Monday, and then practice on Tuesday. You're working regular downs and short-yardage and goal-line.
“I love the preparation of the week, then it hits on Saturday afternoon, and you're in that arena and you go out and compete. It's modern-day gladiators. It's awesome. You go out there and you go compete and lay your guts on the barbed wire for four quarters and see what happens and be victorious in that locker room, there's no feeling like it.”
Those three interceptions were a big reason for Auburn’s defensive success and have been part of the turnaround for the Tigers since the bye week said Muschamp. Creating just four turnovers in the first four games Auburn has turned things around in a big way with 11 in the last five games, including nine interceptions. Muschamp said it has been an emphasis for his group and it’s nice to see the guys having success in that area because it only reinforces what they are doing each week on the field as they prepare for the games.
“There have been a lot of things each week we've been able to point to, and they certainly see the results,” Muschamp said. “It's certainly a lot easier to emphasize that after a win. You're able to point to those things and they get a little bit more self-gratification from they've accomplished because of that. Even after the tough defeats the previous two weeks we've showed them some things we've done to improve.
“They need to see that. Right now in our society, it's 'who can we blame?' We've got to blame somebody. To point out some things we did do in a positive manner, but also be technical on some things we can improve on. They saw improvement from last week's game as well. To be able to see those things is a positive deal.”
There is no question that the return of Carl Lawson has been a big boost for the defense, but in addition to just his play on the field having No. 55 back has given Muschamp and his staff some options and different looks they can play within the framework of the scheme.
Against Texas A&M Muschamp had Lawson lined up at the “Buck” position, but he was also inside at times. The same is true of Cassanova McKinzy as well with DaVonte Lambert playing some different roles as well. Options are always the best friend of any coach and Muschamp said the more familiar the guys are becoming with his system and vice versa the more they can get out of the defense.
“We’ve handled things very well,” Muschamp said of the growth of the defense. “Obviously moving some guys around, I talked to the team and the defense about the defensive line’s unselfish play in the game. We asked them to do some things that were unconventional playing against a quarterback that has legs. We have a lot of unselfish guys.
“Cassanova McKinzy was a Mike linebacker and now we have him at multiple spots. Carl Lawson is playing end and Buck. Pee Wee Lambert is playing end and inside. Blake Countess is playing multiple positions and so there is a lot of guys that have answered the call as far as giving up what they need to do to help our football team play better. That is a huge part of moving forward.”
Freshman cornerback Jeremiah Dinson suffered a knee injury on a play when he was blindsided on a block that was originally called targeting by the officials but later overturned. Muschamp said Gus Malzahn will have more updates this week, but at this point it doesn’t look good for the young defensive back.
“He’s out, obviously, and Gus will address that more on Tuesday, but he’s definitely out,” Muschamp said.
Some positive news is that safety Tray Matthews could be back this week after missing the Texas A&M game because of an ankle injury. With his old team coming to town on Saturday it will likely take a whole lot to keep Matthews of of the game against Georgia.
“I think he'll be fine this week,” Muschamp said. “We tried his ankle this week. We felt like it would get better as the week went, but it did not. We worked him out on Wednesday, didn't feel good about it. Tried him again on Thursday, didn't feel good about it and those other guys got all the reps at practice and felt like they deserved the opportunity. He did move around a little bit with us tonight and we'll see how it goes the rest of the week. Based on tonight I would think he would be ready to go.”