Auburn, Ala.--Through five games one of the best stories for the 2016 edition of the Auburn Tigers has been the breakout play of the linebackers with a major assist from a previously little-used redshirt sophomore.
DeShaun Davis and company have been more efficient this season, helping the Tigers rank 15th in the country for points allowed per game (16.4). The former Vigor High School standout from Prichard credits the improvement almost entirely to coaching.
“Coach T-Will (Travis Williams) and Coach (Kevin) Steele, they have done a really great job just molding guys,” Davis said. “Our coaches have really been building us and molding us into who they want us to be, and we’ve just been playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
That confidence stems from close defeats to unbeaten, highly-ranked football teams Clemson and Texas A&M in which the defense kept Auburn close as well as the dramatic win over LSU in which Steele’s unit kept Leonard Fournette in check.
“I think our confidence is really, really high right now,” said Davis. “We beat a good LSU team at home after coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. This week the offense put up a lot of points and the defense limited (Louisiana-Monroe) to seven points--it could have been a shutout. Going into the road stretch of the schedule, I feel like it was really important to get these two wins.”
That road stretch begins with a visit to Starkville this Saturday to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11 a.m., SEC Network). Auburn is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. The Bulldogs are 2-2 with a 1-1 SEC record, which they will try to improve with the help of a home crowd that likes to make life miserable for opposing teams by ringing cowbells during games.
Davis admitted that he has “always hated those cowbells,” but he also noted that he believes that it will be easier for the defense to adjust and communicate on the road than the offense.
“Nothing’s changed,” Davis said when asked about how different it will be to play on the road vs. at home. “Since day one we’ve always been the same team with our routine. Things won’t change whether we are playing Clemson, Alabama or the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Steele and our coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball are very routine whether we are home or away.”
Playing extensively the entire month of September plus the first weekend of October at home was “fun,” according to Davis, who also lauded the support of the fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium. He said the key to having success in the first road game of the season is to contain Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and to limit his team’s big plays.
Davis also noted that the goal going forward is to try and produce shutouts and getting one against an SEC team would helps his defensive group become “more respected.”
This buildup to becoming a much improved linebacker group started with the first practice for the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis, said Davis, who was coached for that game by Travis Williams. For that game Williams was handling the assignment on an interim basis prior to being promoted to a full-time coaching role.
Starting with that game the Tigers have allowed an opponent more than 20 points just one time. “We have a good identity of who our team is now,” said Davis, who is fourth on the team in tackles with 21 going into Saturday’s game at Starkville.