New Orleans, La.--When you read about the Sugar Bowl matchup between Auburn and Oklahoma, most likely you’ll hear about guys like Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams trying to slow down Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.
With Auburn’s defensive play this season and Oklahoma’s prolific numbers on offense, those two units should get plenty of attention, but the other side of the ball is where this game may very well be won or lost for Gus Malzahn’s team.
The ability to move the football and score points is a big key for Auburn come Monday night and with everyone back healthy the group is much more confident they can get the job done against the Sooners. While they’re not going to talk it up, Kerryon Johnson said the Tigers believe they’ll show what they’re made of in the Sugar Bowl.
“They (Oklahoma’s offense) get a lot of attention and we really don’t search for the attention, but we know what we’re capable of doing,” Johnson said. “We know what we were doing before a couple of injuries happened.
“To us it’s just coming out and playing like we’re supposed to play, get back to how we were playing for that three or four week span when we were dominating people. If we get that done I think we’ll gain a lot of respect, but the bottom line is we’ve got to do what we do. We’re not worried about all the talk.”
Despite the fact that Auburn struggled down the stretch to score points in losses to Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers are just a slight underdog to a 10-win Oklahoma team.
That’s something that quarterback Sean White believes comes with the respect of winning eight games in the SEC. “I think first of all, playing in the SEC tough and not that the Big 12 isn’t--that’s a great conference as well--playing in the SEC is tough and I think the SEC gets a lot of respect,” White said. “Second of all, we had some key injuries down the stretch--Pettway, myself and a few of other guys. Everybody is healthy now and I think we are a different team now.”
Being healthy on offense is a reason for confidence for this team, but for Johnson another huge reason to believe in this team is the way the defense has played all season long. While he knows it’s up to the offense to do its part, he no longer expects to have to win games in a shootout fashion, even against a team like Oklahoma.
“At the beginning of the season probably, but at this point I know what our defense is capable of,” Johnson said. “I know our D-Line is good, I know our DB’s are good, I know our linebackers are good. At this point you have to respect them, you just have to or you’re dumb. As far as running our defense off the field, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think they are too good and I have full confidence in them.”
No matter if they score 40 or 25, Johnson said at the end of the night on Monday the most important thing is getting win number nine. If this Auburn team accomplishes that it will send this group of seniors off on the right foot and set’s up the Tigers for potentially a big 2017.
“That has been preached to us and they didn’t really have to because we knew how big it is,” the running back said of this game. “When you come from a season like we had last year, at this point we were 6-6 and didn’t know where our future was going and didn’t know if we were going up or down. We got a good bowl victory last year and I think that really propelled us through the summer and gave us motivation for this year.
“Now we’re in, really to me, the second-biggest bowl to the playoff," Johnson added. "That’s tremendous, that’s a huge jump from last year. If we get this W who knows what we can accomplish next year.”