Oxford, Miss.--The theme for the Auburn defense coming into Saturday's game with Ole Miss was turnovers and big plays. Coordinator Will Muschamp says that his team gave up too many long gainers to the Rebels but they did their job when they got the ball back twice on interceptions from Eric Brock and Aairon Savage.
"You look at big plays and turnover ratio," Muschamp says. "People talk about what affects winning, big plays and turnover ratio because you change field position on big plays and turnover ratio changes field position. Those turnovers were big. We needed some momentum going our way a little bit and those kids were able to come up with those plays."
The first interception was perhaps the biggest play of the game for the Tigers. Trailing 10-7 and having just gone three and out on offense Auburn needed something positive to happen. That's where Brock stepped in.
Already on this day Brock had been the victim of a backside route where he missed the tackle to give the Rebels a first down. At halftime Muschamp says they did a little tweaking with the coverages and that was well as Brock's intuition proved to be just the right potion to force a mistake out of Ole Miss quarterback Brent Schaeffer.
"We had worked on the over route throughout the week," Muschamp says. "They hit it on us with the three-deep zone and he missed the tackle on the guy. We were in a man-free coverage and he was our rat, low player. He dropped back on it and was in perfect position. He was exactly where we needed to be. We made an adjustment on how we were playing it. We were in man-free and the kid made a heck of a play."
Later in the quarter Savage came up with Auburn's second interception and officially bring the defense out of a first-half funk. In the first 30 minutes Ole Miss ran 21 plays for 174 yards. In the final half of football the Rebels ran 24 plays for just 82 yards with 41 of those yards coming on one play on the first drive of the third quarter.
Linebacker Tray Blackmon punishes Brent Schaeffer.
A redshirt freshman, Savage wasn't the only youngster to energize the defense on Saturday as fellow classmate Tray Blackmon continued his coming out party with his first memorable road performance. Despite an illness that kept him off the practice field for much of the week the LaGrange, Ga. native once again showed his talents with five tackles and half a sack.
"Tray had tonsillitis early in the week and missed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday," Muschamp says. "He was actually in the hospital at one point. Tray is a playmaker. He's a football player. Football comes easy to him. He's one of those guys. He's still learning but he's still young and he's going to be a good football player for us."
Auburn will now get back to work to correct the mistakes made in Saturday's victory. While they are numerous, Muschamp says that he believes the Tigers made strides on defense against Ole Miss and that's the goal every week.
"You take those plays away and the penalties and we played for the most part pretty well but it's not consistent enough," Muschamp says. "It's not where we want to be. We need to continue to improve. We took another step forward today I think. We'll go back and look at the film and decide what we need to do better."