Auburn, Ala.--There were blown coverages and missed tackles and even a few penalties and all are expected in a first game but Auburn's defensive effort against a powerful Washington State offense Saturday night was something that Coach Tommy Tuberville could find very little fault in other than the obvious.
"Obviously pleased with the win," Tuberville says. "I looked at two things, effort and being physical, and I thought we accomplished that last night. We played a good football team. Offensively they gave us about everything you can see and we adjusted well with a lot of new guys and a new defensive scheme. We played hard. We didn't make tackles at times but those things can be corrected. A couple of times we didn't fit our blocks and play the run as solid as we should.
"Then we busted a couple of coverages that they took advantage of but it was a good game for our defense to see a good type of offense. They really stretched us mentally trying to figure out everything they were trying to do. They had a good game plan. They took advantage of some things we did and they changed every series to new formations trying to confuse our young guys."
Maybe the biggest question mark on Auburn's defense coming into the season opener was at linebacker where the suspensions of Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon left the Tigers short on experience to start the season. Fortunately for the Tigers they faced a Washington State team that spread the field on almost every down. That allowed the Tigers to play five and even six defensive backs for much of the game. While the strategy caused them to give up more rushing yards than normal, it kept the explosive passing game from Washington State in check throughout the night.
Leading the charge at linebacker were seniors Will Herring and Karibi Dede. Playing his first game at a new position Herring earned defensive MVP honors for his play Saturday night. "He really, really played well and got better as the game went along," Tuberville says. "He played physical and very good pass defense. We didn't play a lot of regular defense. We played a lot of nickel and dime. That eliminated one linebacker. I thought he really played well. Karibi Dede is smart, both he and Will are coaches on the field."
A veteran at linebacker, Dede also had a solid game with eight tackles to lead the Tigers. Sophomore Merrill Johnson also played sparingly but Tuberville says that was by design based on Washington State's offensive sets. Tuberville says that while they played mostly two linebackers both did an outstanding job and Dede deserves some extra kudos for his effort.
"He's a good football player," Tuberville says. "He's got a lot of common sense about football. He's been around it. He's played in the secondary. He's played linebacker at all three positions and played a couple of positions last night. He knows the defense and as long as you know the defense you've got the opportunity to line up at different positions. Playing that team last night they were more of a passing team. We knew he was going to be better in pass coverage. He was able to play different positions with experience. That's the reason we played him and Will most of the time and took out one of the younger linebackers."
Up front there were also some question marks for the Tigers in the middle as first-time starters Josh Thompson and Sen'Derrick Marks along with Pat Sims and Tez Doolittle were counted on for the bulk of play for the Tigers. After controlling things early Tuberville says they played well up front despite some lapses at times.
"The defensive front set the tone pretty early," Tuberville says. "Josh Thompson played one of his better games. Pat Sims really played well. We played him at nose and at three technique (tackle). It was good to see him come through for us because he's going to have to be a guy to make some strides and he did. Chris Browder played a solid game. We made some mental mistakes inside but we made up for it with our physical play."
In the passing game the Auburn defense was very good as they held Washington State to just 150 yards passing. Included in that low total was 18 yards and one touchdown on four receptions for All-American Candidate Jason Hill. Although he apparently didn't think too highly of Auburn's cornerback play, Tuberville says the Tigers did a good job of Hill and all of the Cougars' outside guys.
"I thought we played exceptionally well at corner. David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite pretty much shut their outside receivers down. They were very physical on their good outside receivers. We did get one pass interference but I thought we really played well at corner. We gave up some passes over the middle and we'll make some adjustments with that and try to be a little bit more aggressive."