Auburn, Ala.–Auburn's offense deserves the headlines in Saturday's 63-3 rout of Ball State, but for the second consecutive week the Tiger defense did its job well. Despite playing nearly everyone dressed out on defense with the exception of a few players being redshirted, Auburn allowed the Cardinals just 220 yards of total offense in a performance that coordinator David Gibbs said looked solid.
"We got a bunch of young guys in the game, which was good," Gibbs said. "We got some backups a lot of playing time. Obviously, we sat some guys that didn't participate in the game, which put some pressure on some other guys, but we played all right. We didn't play great. We made some mistakes and you are always going to make mistakes, but for the most part they did a good job."
One of the toughest to sit was senior linebacker Travis Williams. The anchor of the Auburn defense at middle linebacker, Williams' absence with a turf toe injury left the Tigers with very little experience in the middle. Because of that the Tigers played junior Karibi Dede in the middle for the game and Gibbs said he thought Dede looked comfortable in his first meaningful action at the position.
"I'll have to watch the tape, but he had a really good week of practice at mike," Gibbs said. "We knew we were going to play him at mike linebacker all week and he went in there and I thought he did a decent job. Nothing glaring jumped out at me and then again I might watch the tape and think something different, but like I said he is a guy that can play all three positions and is a very integral part of our defense."
True freshman linebacker Chris Evans makes a play on the Ball State quarterback.
In addition to Dede freshmen Merrill Johnson, Courtney Harden and Chris Evans all got extensive playing time at linebacker against Ball State. In just his second game back after dislocating his elbow during two-a-days, Johnson led the Tigers with nine tackles while Dede had six stops. Starting weakside linebacker Antarrious Williams also had five stops on the day for the Tigers. Gibbs said that getting the young linebackers experience was important for the defense.
"Chris Evans, Courtney Harden and Merrill Johnson, all of them have great futures here and again they just need quality reps, and they got quality reps today," Gibbs said. "It was important for us to make sure we got some quality backups because if you get in the SEC and a guy gets hurt you have got to have a guy go in there and play at a certain level. There are no excuses. They are not going to feel sorry for you because your starters are out, so it was very important, today, to get those guys in there. They went in there and for the most part did a good job. Had a couple of lapses, but those things are going to happen."
Up front for the Tigers freshman Andrew McCain got his first action of the season at defensive tackle while Sen'Derrick Marks continued to gain quality playing time behind starter Wayne Dickens. In the secondary youngsters such as Steve Gandy and Tony Bell got early playing time in a game decided well before the half with Bell getting an interception. Gibbs said he was happy to see his young players get in the action and play a good portion of minutes.
"They were playing hard," Gibbs said. "They were making some mistakes, but they were playing hard. And, again our starters back there aren't the most experienced guys in the world so as many reps as we can get in live competition is great reps for us. We will take all we can get."
In a game where all that is left to chance is the final score, it can sometimes be difficult for a team to finish the game off. Gibbs said he was happy that his defense kept the Cardinals out of the endzone late in the game because now they can build on the confidence of last week's shutout heading into a game against Western Kentucky.
"Yeah, at the game you are looking for the clock to run out when you have got a lead, that is just human nature," Gibbs said. "But, you really don't know until you watch these young guys on tape because you don't know what they saw. The veteran guys you know right away when there is a mistake what happened, but with young guys you don't know what they are seeing. So, it is especially important for those guys to come in and watch the tape."