Hoover, Ala.-- Auburn's preparation for Wednesday’s Birmingham Bowl game against the Memphis Tigers is entering the final stages and soon we will know just how well this team coped with the loss of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. With Lance Thompson taking over play-calling duties on defense and Travis Williams stepping in to coach the linebackers with former Texas safety Blake Gideon coaching the defensive backs.
Those changes have meant a challenging few weeks for the Auburn defense, but senior linebacker Justin Garrett said it hasn’t changed their focus in practice and for getting ready to face a very good Memphis offense.
“The prep has been great,” Garrett said. “We’ve got coaches that have stepped in, Coach T-Will and Coach Gideon. Coach Thompson and everybody has stepped in. We’ve really been working hard still doing fundamental drills and getting after it every day. The prep has been great getting ready for my last game.
“We just have to adjust not having Coach ‘Champ out there and hearing his voice and stuff like that,” he added. “We’re still getting after it doing the same drills and stuff. It’s nothing but carryover and we’re trying to get better each and every day.”
One thing that helps the linebackers is having Williams alongside them once again this bowl season. Taking over the job last year for Auburn’s game against Wisconsin, the former standout for the Tigers himself has worked with this group of linebackers for a long time and Garrett said that makes the transition an easy one for them.
“He’s just energetic and young and somebody that played the game,” Garrett said. “He’s somebody we can look up to. He’s a great coach and has stepped right in and doing the same thing. We’re just ready to get after it this game.”
That’s a must for the Auburn defense with a powerful Memphis offense on the other sidelines. Led by talented quarterback Paxton Lynch, Memphis is averaging 42.7 points and 510.4 yards per game this season. Garrett said because of that and what they’ve seen on film this Auburn team knows how tough this challenge will be.
“They look real good,” Garrett said. “They’ve got a great quarterback. They put up about 30 or 40 points (37) on Ole Miss and they’re hanging up a lot of points on every team. It’s going to be a tough challenge, probably the best quarterback we’ve faced all year. We’re ready to get after it.”
There are still plenty of questions for Auburn’s defense and most won’t be known until the game gets going on Wednesday. One of those is having Thompson on the field for the first time this year instead of upstairs. That’s a change for everyone involved, but Garrett said in the end the changes won’t impact the game because it’s still up to the players to get the job done.
“It’s just adjusting to having somebody else call the signals, make the calls and stuff like that,” Garrett said. “It’s about getting used to not having Coach Muschamp on the sidelines. You’ve had one coach on the sidelines for so long and Coach Thompson was in the press box.
“It’s about having him back out there on the field. Other than that it’s just football, line up and play. It’s really just football. Line up, do your assignment, and make plays. That’s what it really boils down to.”
Kickoff for the Birmingham Bowl is set for 11 a.m. CST on Wednesday. The game can be seen on ESPN.