Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't the most dominating defensive effort in terms of yardage but points allowed is what matters most and Coach Will Muschamp's Auburn defense came up big time and time again Saturday as the Tigers defeated LSU 7-3 in a battle for the ages at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Facing a LSU team that had scored 45 points in each of its first two games Auburn was looking for a way to slow down the red hot unit led by junior quarterback Jamarcus Russell. As it turned out the answers were already in Auburn with Muschamp. A former LSU coach, Muschamp knew this game was going to be a war from the beginning and says it was all that and more.
"It was typical Auburn-LSU," Muschamp says. "It's a tough football game and hard hitting. That's the way their staff approaches and coaches it. That's the way our staff does it. That's the way their players play and the way our players play. It's a team that you have great respect for because of the way they coach and play."
Freshman safety Aairon Savage was one of the leaders for Auburn's defense Saturday.
Early on it appeared Auburn would be in trouble this day as number three cornerback Patrick Lee got ill during warm-ups and was held out of action. Things went from bad to worse in the second quarter as starting corner Jonathan Wilhite injured a hamstring and was out for the game. That left Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden as Auburn's answers on defense. As it turned out they more than held up to the pressure of this Top 10 battle.
"The hat's off to our kids," Muschamp says. "It's execution. The kids executed the plan, what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. We had to make adjustments in the game with our personnel. We called the game and we kept throwing the pitches we had to throw at them. I told the guys ‘keep throwing marbles at these guys for four quarters'. That's what we did."
Still that almost wasn't enough facing a quarterback such as Russell with the weapons he has at his disposal. With just 182 yards passing on the day heading into the final drive, the Mobile native was poised to lead his team to a comeback victory. Trailing 7-3 Russell picked apart a soft Auburn defense.
Driving to the 24 Russell had one final chance to steal the victory. Lofting a pass down the sidelines he hit a pass to Craig Davis but Auburn's Eric Brock put the clamps on him at the six-yard line to end the threat and give the Tigers the win. Muschamp says while it worked he wasn't happy with how his defense played late.
"We didn't play the way we should have played in the last drive," Muschamp says. "As a matter of fact we played very poorly. That's not the way we're coached to play and that's my job to get them in a situation to be successful. Obviously I didn't do it. We'll get better at that."
One drive earlier Brock made what was then the play of the game. With LSU facing a fourth and eight at the Auburn 31 with just 2:46 left in the game, Russell lofted a pass in the seam towards Early Doucet. Seeing the pass in time, Brock leaped and tipped it away just before Zach Gilbert closed in on the receiver. Gilbert's play initially brought a flag but it was overturned to give Auburn back the football. Muschamp says that Brock made the play when he had to.
"It was an outstanding play," Muschamp says. "We were shooting safeties over (Dwayne) Bowe. They were running a lot of vertical stretch routes down the field. The kid made a hell of a play."
In the end the stats aren't overwhelming. Auburn's defense gave up 309 yards of total offense and 16 first downs to LSU's offense. Auburn defenders only sacked Russell one time during the game. Those numbers don't mean anything at all to Muschamp though. He's just concerned with one number and Saturday that number was three.
"When you give up three points in this league you've done an outstanding job," Muschamp says. "Our kids just play hard and lay it on the line. I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a group in my life to be a part of."