Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Eli Manning, the Rebels have been tough to slow this season and that's exactly what the Auburn defense hopes to accomplish Saturday afternoon.
The first task of the day for the Tigers will be to get pressure on Manning in the pocket, something that hasn't been done much this season. Leading the league in fewest sacks allowed, the Rebel offensive line has improved greatly in that area in 2003. Auburn defensive end Bret Eddins says that the entire defensive performance depends on how well the guys up front play.
"I think the pressure is on us to keep him from having open throws," Eddins says. "It's a lot harder to throw when you have an almost 300-pound guy on your back. We're just going to try our best to get to him because they've got a real high-powered offense. You just try to do what you can to slow him down."
Even if the Tigers are able to get pressure it doesn't mean that they'll get Manning on the ground. A smart quarterback who knows when to get rid of the ball and avoid the big loss, the senior makes it tough on opposing lineman and Eddins says it can almost seem like a futile effort at times, but you have to keep going and going to get the job done.
"It's real frustrating because you work and work and work and finally that move works for you," Eddins says. "Then you get back there and he's already thrown it. He's a lot like Rex Grossman. He's not going to let you sack him easily. You have to sneak up on him. He's smarter than to just let you sack him."
Something that will help Auburn's chances to get to Manning this weekend is added depth up front with the return of former starter Doug Langenfeld at end along with Eddins and Jay Ratliff on the strong side. Opposite starter Reggie Torbor along with freshmen Kyle Derozan and Marquies Gunn, the group should have plenty of able bodies to run at Manning for 60 minutes.
"I think fresh legs are definitely needed," Eddins says. "Against the run you can just kind of fit the gap because that guy is tired too. You just stay in your gap and the running back can't run there. On the pass you definitely have to have fresh legs so you can make your moves and try to get around them as quickly as possible. Our rotation should help us. We'll see."
Manning and the passing game isn't the only concern for Auburn as the Rebel running game has made huge strides since last season's dismal campaign. Averaging 168 yards per game on the ground, the Rebels are not a one-dimensional football team any longer and Eddins says it begins up front with the offensive line.
"I think if you watch them up front they play a lot more physical," Eddins says. "They stay on their blocks and drive their legs and keep everything going. They're running backs are very talented just watching them on film. It seems like they are more talented than they have been in the past. Eli has done a good job of getting rid of the ball and getting them in good downs to where they can run the ball and be comfortable with it."
Saturday's game is the first of three SEC tests for the Tigers to finish the regular season. With Georgia and Alabama waiting down the line it would be easy to lump them all together instead of focusing on each individual game, but Eddins says that's not something this Auburn team is even worrying about heading into Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS.
"I think they're huge and the problem is you can't take any of them lightly," Eddins says. "I wish we had another light game in there, but these are three of the best quarterbacks you're going to find in the SEC and maybe the country. We're going to have to buckle down and play them one at a time."