Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't the defense Coach Will Muschamp expected to see when the game was on the line Saturday against LSU. With starting cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and top reserve Patrick Lee both out of the contest freshmen Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden were both pushed into action against the high powered LSU offense.
With them on the field along with little used walk-on Zach Gilbert, Auburn went toe-to-toe with LSU and came out standing. Gilbert says that the players all had the confidence they could get the job done if called upon and Saturday that's just what they did.
"When we got in two-a-days camp, like coach says we're renegades," Gilbert says. "I walked on and not too many people recruited Jerraud. We came together as a family and I know those boys can play. All of us are scrappy. We're not very tall but we have heart. Everybody trusted in them. There was no doubt they could get the job done."
The youth on defense didn't stop there as redshirt freshman Aairon Savage played a great football game from his safety position. Throw in defensive end Antonio Coleman and linebackers Merrill Johnson and Craig Stevens and you have a very young group. Coleman says that it didn't take him long after arriving at Auburn last fall to know this group of defenders had a chance to be special.
"We came in together and I could tell when we went through redshirt workouts every morning that we were going to have a good team," Coleman says. "When J (Wilhite) went down I talked to Jerraud and told him to keep his head up. We had his back. We put pressure on Jamarcus. All the young guys are growing up. Like coach says we're not freshmen any more. We have to step up and fill in the shoes."
Coleman is a speed rusher that has shown an ability to play the run tough.
Out to prove something to himself and former high school teammate Jamarcus Russell, Coleman was another freshman that had a good day in limited action. Playing behind Quentin Groves, Coleman had several quarterback hurries on Russell and was active on defense. He says that this week the defense focused on improving and that was evident on Saturday.
"All week we just talked about how they were talking ‘we weren't going to touch them'," Coleman says. "All week we just focused on ourselves. As the week progressed it seemed like they were focusing on us while we were focusing on ourselves. Our coaches just told us to focus on what we had to do. We figured if we got one touchdown the defense would hold. We played a solid game all night and came out with the win."
In the end it came down to the players making the plays when it mattered most. That would seem to be the theme of the day for the defense but Gilbert has another explanation. He says that you can credit this victory to Auburn's first year coordinator and his coaching staff because of the work they put in preparing for LSU's offense.
"I have so much faith in that man," Gilbert says. "He's a genius. He's a genius defensive coordinator. He makes the right calls with the right personnel. He knew their styles and we believed in the game plan. I didn't think they were going to score any points. We held them to three and that's great. Hats off to Coach Muschamp and the defensive staff. The players just believed in it and played hard."