Reserve senior linebacker Derrick Graves was called on to start at the weakside linebacker spot where junior Antarrious Williams had played so well all season. Graves, who had seen significant action as a reserve, came through with a solid game in his first start during Auburn's 11-0 season.
Playing with their backs to the wall much of the first half, Graves and the Auburn defense didn't allow Alabama to cross the goal line and Auburn escaped its worst half of offensive football this season down just 6-0 at intermission.
Derrick Graves heads to the center of the field as a game captain for the Tigers.
Graves says he knew the Tigers needed to make big plays to keep the momentum from getting out of hand for the fired up Crimson Tide that was looking to pull off the big upset in the rivalry game.
He personally stepped up and did something about the situation by deflecting a pass from quarterback Spencer Pennington that was picked off by fellow linebacker Kevin Sears, giving the Tigers possession just outside their own goal line.
Graves finished the game with three tackles and high praise from defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "I couldn't be prouder of the job Derrick did," Chizik said. "This was a huge game for him making his first start here in his hometown. I am so happy for Derrick because he is a great young man."
The former Holt High star said he was fired up for the opportunity--probably too fired up to start the game. "I was on an emotional high," he noted. "At the beginning I had to calm down because I was so excited."
Keeping the Tide out of end zone until the closing minutes excited him, too. "We said if they didn't score a touchdown, we are going to win this game," he said. "We committed to that and we knew our offense would come around. We always say we have each other's back. We were just waiting for the offense and we knew they were going to come around and they did."
Next up for the Tigers is a trip to the SEC Championship Game to play Tennessee in two weeks and bowl game that is yet to be determined. The Tigers are hoping that the bowl destination will be in Miami where the Tigers can play for the BCS title.
However, before that is possible, the Tigers must win the rematch with the Vols. "It is hard to accomplish that (going 11-0), especially in the SEC," the senior said. "We just took it one game at a time and we will still take it one game at a time and keep our focus on our mind on the goal ahead."
Graves said he will always remember the game he started and the Tigers won in his hometown. "The coaches had faith in me, my teammates had faith in me and I just had faith in myself and I went out and did it."