Travis Williams, the senior who has been slowed by a painful turf toe injury early this season, was back in form as he led the Tigers to a 48-7 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Williams made 11 tackles, including five for losses, to lead the AU defense.
Williams had nine tackles at halftime as the Tigers jumped to a 24-0 lead by allowing the visitors from Columbia, S.C., only two first half first downs.
The scenario could not have played out much better for Williams, who grew up a big fan of the Gamecocks, where his uncle Duce Staley was a star running back.
"This game meant so much to Travis because he is from Spring Valley High School in Columbia and he took it personally when he wasn't offered a scholarship," Whitt said. "Even though this coaching staff wasn't there, he wanted to go out there and and prove to them that he was deserving of a scholarship.
"Not that he isn't happy to be here and be an Auburn Tiger, but when you sit right there in that town and pull for them all of your life he just didn't quite understand nobody showing any interest," said Whitt, who personally recruited Williams after former defensive coordinator John Lovett suggested that the linebacker coach take a look at the talented, but undersized Spring Valley High star.
"He was quite deserving of that interest, but we are glad they didn't and we are glad he is at Auburn," Whitt noted. "He is a wonderful guy and an outstanding football player."
Whitt admitted that he was initially concerned about Williams not being big enough, but a visit to see him in action changed that. With the help of a redshirt year and Kevin Yoxall's strength and conditioning program, Williams has been proving for four seasons he is plenty big enough to get the job done.
As a junior, Williams was a first team All-SEC middle linebacker, but by his standards he was off to an average start in 2005. Whitt said he liked what he saw from the senior on Saturday night, who wasn't showing the effects of his toe injury.
"It seemed like he played a strong game," Whitt noted. "I hope it is the begin of something for Travis. It is has been sort of slowly coming."
Whitt said it looked like all of the linebackers had a solid performance vs. Coach Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. "I know Coach Spurrier would have liked to have had his quarterback and been hitting on all cylinders, but for our defense to go out and play, and play together and execute the defense we called, we are quite pleased with that.
"From upstairs watching, it looked like they played pretty good," Whitt added. "I don't ever know for sure until I watch the film because sometimes I think they played very well and they didn't and sometimes I don't think they played very well and they did. One thing that I could tell is they played hard."