Senior defensive tackle Spencer Johnson says last weekend's game was a big one for this team and the defense.
"I was very proud of our defense to hold those guys to three points and control the line of scrimmage like we did," Johnson says. "With all the hype about their offensive line, Cedric Cobbs and Matt Jones running the ball, we did a good job at containing them and just playing Auburn defense."
As a senior and veteran on this Auburn team, Johnson knows all too well the need to forget about big wins quickly and move on to the task at hand. This week that means preparing for the gunslinging Bulldogs led by quarterback Kevin Fant. Third in the SEC in passing and averaging 28 points per game on offense, Johnson says the Bulldogs will be a tough test for the defense, but one he feels they will be up to against a team that can't be taken lightly despite their poor record.
"It's very different from what I remember my first and second years," Johnson says. "They were real physical with a big offensive line and they ran it right at you. That's something we're going to have to contend with. We've got young guys in the secondary and up front we have to do a real good job of getting pressure and controlling the run also.
"In the SEC it's all about who you play," Johnson adds. "When you're in the SEC it's a different attitude. Every team wants to beat every other team. Against Mississippi State there is a little rivalry thing going on. I remember my first year they really dominated us and beat us. That's the attitude they have over there and they're going to bring that in this week and try to do the same thing."
Johnson was named co-defensive player of the week by the Auburn staff for his play against Arkansas.
Ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense, rushing defense and passing defense, the Tigers enter Saturday's game on a roll under Coach Gene Chizik. Since giving up 40 points the first two games, Auburn allowed just 34 in the last four contests. The main concern is that the bulk of those points came in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, a team that threw the ball almost every down late. That could be the case again this weekend as the Bulldogs have thrown the ball more than everyone in the league with the exception of Ole Miss and Florida. If so, Johnson says playing against Casey Clausen should be a good practice run for Saturday.
"The Tennessee game was a real good game for us, especially in the fourth quarter when they started throwing it so much," Johnson notes. "It really gave us a chance to see what we need to work on, what we need to get better at. This gives the guys in the back a chance to make plays and we've got good guys back there."
One change this week for Auburn is that the Tigers will be the ranked team and playing an unranked opponent, a position that is reversed from one they have thrived in each of the last two weeks. Johnson says that because they know how the other side feels, they won't take anyone for granted and look ahead because that's the exact time you feel the sting of defeat once again.
"That's something that we've really become attuned to, staying humble no matter what goes on," Johnson says. "Coming in being ranked and beating an unranked opponent really doesn't matter, the winning is easy. Not getting complacent while you win is the hard part. We're just going to try to stress that and get better on the football field.
"I think everybody has gotten the picture that rankings don't mean anything. We've been on the other side of the wall now and we see playing ranked teams just makes you want to play harder. You want to win even more. We're going to take that with a grain of salt and continue to get better because if we don't get better people are going to shoot after us and beat us."
Perfect in conference play, the Tigers now find themselves in a good position to be playing in Atlanta following the regular season for the SEC Championship. To do that Auburn must keep winning and everything else will take care of itself. With matchups against LSU and Ole Miss down the road in the Western Division, Johnson says this Saturday's game is important to his team's goal of going to the Georgia Dome in December.
"I definitely think we control our own destiny," Johnson says. "All we have to do is continue to win. We beat the defending champs and Arkansas had a great team, but we've still got a long road ahead of us. We've got Mississippi State coming in this weekend and they could very easily beat us. We just have to continue to stay focused and get better."