Defense Bends But Doesn't Break In Win Over Rebels

Auburn, Ala.--Although the Auburn Tigers earned a 35-14 win on the road Saturday night against Ole Miss, the Auburn defense statistically played its worst game of the year.

After watching the video of the game, Coach Tommy Tuberville says that "we looked like we were playing in mud at times and couldn't make tackles."

Tuberville says that he was pleased with the effort of his defense, even though it allowed more rushing yards (147) and passing yards (286) to Ole Miss than any team all season.

Defensively, the Player of the Week honors went to junior linebacker Travis Williams, a player that Tuberville calls "just 215 pounds of pure machine.'"

"Him and Antarrious (Antarrious Williams) played a great game, but we gave it to Travis," Tuberville says. "Antarrious was out there making a lot of plays.

"Travis had an IV at halftime," he adds. "He was running on air. He just came out in the second half and didn't miss a beat. He's just 215 pounds of pure machine. Mentally and physically, getting us lined up, and with the way he plays I can't imagine any other linebacker in the country playing any better than him right now."

Travis Williams finished the game with 11 solo tackles, one assist and a quarterback sack for six yards. For the season Williams has made 56 tackles, which is ninth among linebackers in the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn got some good news on Sunday as defensive lineman Tommy Jackson got the news back that his MRI was negative and he has no damage to his knee other than a sprain. Jackson should be ready to go when the Tigers face the Bulldogs in two weeks.

Another player that Tuberville says that he was impressed with is sophomore punter Kody Bliss. "Kody Bliss kept us in the game with his punting," he says. "Our special teams were excellent. That's about as good as our special teams have played."

Bliss was named Special Teams Player of the Week after punting six times for 286 yards, a 47.7-yard average. Three of his punts pinned the Rebels inside their own 20, and Bliss' solid hang time kept returner Mike Espy in check with three returns for minus seven yards.

Auburn's Carnell Williams had much more success than Espy, returning the punts of All-American candidate Cody Ridgeway six times for 71 yards, including a 38-yarder return. "The tempo of how we won this game was on special teams," Tuberville says. "Kody Bliss averaged 47 yards a punt. One snap was a high and he sometimes punted with the wind in his face.

"In the return game we didn't have a block in the back," he adds. "Last week we really stressed that if you're going to block a guy in the back on a return, don't block him and don't take any chances. There were a couple of returns that really set us up in good field position where we scored some points."

Defensively, the 433 yards given up was 96 more than the Tigers had allowed in a single game all season. Three Ole Miss quarterbacks completed a pass against the Tigers, but sophomore Ethan Flatt was the only one to get the Rebels into the Auburn end zone.

"They threw it down the field quite a bit," Tuberville says. "The one on Montae Pitts (Flatt's perfect deep throw to Bill Flowers for a 64-yard touchdown), if their timing is that good and they hit a guy dead stride, you're normally going to score a touchdown.

"We're going to be aggressive with our cornerbacks," he adds. "And the other one (Flatt's 25-yard touchdown to Taye Biddle), they just did a good job of scheming us. We just didn't play the technique we wanted. After 75 plays, sooner or later they're going to get you on one. You're not going to be perfect every time."

The Tigers were able to do some good things defensively despite the statistically unimpressive performance. Several times throughout the game the Rebels had drives going only to have them stopped by an Auburn sack. The Tigers came up with seven sacks by six different players, giving them 25 in the last four games.

Stanley McClover forced his forced his fourth fumble of the season late in the fourth quarter against the Rebels, which is good for first in the league. His two sacks moved him into third place in the SEC in that category with five and a half on the year, two behind teammate Quentin Groves and Georgia's David Pollack.

Ole Miss didn't score until its ninth possession of the game and only reached the red zone (inside Auburn's 20) once. That kept Auburn in the game after the offense squandered several scoring opportunities during the game and didn't score until its last possession of the first half. The Ole Miss game marked the first time in six games that the Tigers didn't have at least a 14-point lead by halftime. Despite the slow start by the offense and the big plays allowed by the defense, Auburn was still able to pull away and win by 21 points.

"That's the reason we're ranked number 3, I guess," Tuberville says. "We've got a pretty good team. Our defense's back has not been against the wall. It was probably good that we did that (Saturday) night so we can say 'hey, we are human."

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