Auburn, Ala.--No player on this year's Auburn team has been talked about as much with as little playing time as sophomore safety Tristan Davis. A fan favorite because of his blazing speed and unselfish attitude, Davis played running back and safety last year and had several memorable plays for the Tigers including a block to finish off a touchdown run by Ben Obomanu against Alabama.
With outstanding depth at the tailback position Davis moved to safety full time this season. Saturday was his first true experience as a safety and he says it went as good as he could have hoped. "Everything is pretty comfortable," Davis says. "I had a lot of help. Going into the week we were able to prepare a week earlier so I was helped with that. Then being out there with (Aairon) Savage he kind of helped me out a little bit."
Despite playing just 15 plays, Davis impressed the coaching staff enough to move into a co-number one spot with junior Eric Brock. Part of that is his ability to bring the lumber when he hits, as evidenced by his blow to Washington State running back Demaundray Woolridge that knocked him out of the game. Davis says that he was trying to force a fumble but wound up putting the opponent out of the game.
"Actually I thought I was going to be able to force the fumble," Davis says. "He looked like he was fumbling the ball and I wanted to put my helmet on the ball. Instead his knee came up and it was kind of like he took himself out."
Davis gives the Tigers a big hitter in the secondary and also a threat to take it to the house on kickoff returns.
Because of his explosive speed Davis isn't completely done running the football as he is the deep man on kickoff returns along with fellow sophomore Brad Lester. He showed his talents early on Saturday as he returned the opening kickoff for a sizeable gain and followed with another long return to finish the night with 67 yards on just two attempts. He says that he loves the job and hopes to break a big one before the year is done.
"I know everybody was waiting on it," Davis says. "During the week everybody was asking me if I was going to take one to the house. I did the best I could. I got some pretty good returns.
"Me and Brad take a lot of pride in it," he adds. "We got to arguing one day about who was going to get the first one. We were just joking around but we've got a lot of pride in it. We know that field position is a big part of the game and can help us win. We started off the field position outside the 35 every time. That plays a big part in things."
Still, first and foremost Davis' job is to slow down opposing offenses as a safety. Because of his play in the opener Davis should continue to get more opportunities in games to make things happen. He says this week could be especially important for him because of the depth needed to play a 11:30 a.m. game at this time of year.
"They are trying to get me more involved in the defense," Davis says. "We're going to need it, especially on Saturday, because it's going to be a hot game and we're going to have to rotate more. I'm looking to play with the first team."
The Tigers will face a Mississippi State offense that has been decimated by injuries the last week. Already one of the worst units in the league, the Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Michael Henig in a 15-0 loss to South Carolina. To top things off true freshman sensation Anthony Dixon broke a bone in his hand on Tuesday and is likely out for this week's game as well. Davis says that no matter who is playing it's not going to be tough to get up for the Bulldogs this week.
"It's kind of hard to put it out of your mind but then again it's a SEC game," Davis says. "The SEC is always going to be competition. It's always a tough game no matter who we play in the SEC. It's going to be a hard-nosed game."
One change on defense will be Auburn's alignment as less nickel (five defensive backs) packages will be used and more traditional three-linebacker sets employed. That will be important as Mississippi State plans to run the football and use play-action with redshirt freshman quarterback Tray Rutland and quarterback turned receiver turned quarterback Omar Conner. A former high school teammate of Rutland, Davis says he's a player that can make things happen if Auburn isn't prepared for what he does well.
"He's real athletic," Davis says of Rutland. "He's real fast but he's kind of young. He's going to look at whoever he's throwing the ball to. It's going to be a big key for us db's. When he doesn't see anything downfield he's going to run. We're preparing for that also."