Running nearly 70 plays with many of the defensive starters not in action, the offense was once again stifled by a defense that has had the upper hand for the majority of the time since practice opened nearly two weeks ago.
"At times I thought it was good--it just wasn't as consistent as I would have liked it to be," defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said following the scrimmage. "We wanted to really come out here and test a lot of young guys for backup roles to see who we could count on because two weeks from today we're going to count on those guys to give us some rest during the football game.
"We're really looking for consistency. We didn't do a whole bunch, just played hard. We wanted to see how they played when they got tired."
Tired is something these players have been the last three days of practice as very humid conditions have been the order of the day. Because of that the coaching staff has pushed the players to see how they respond not only to adversity but to being tired, something they'll feel late in ball games this season. Saturday gave them a taste of that and one defender said it was a good test for his unit.
"I think we played good," sophomore linebacker Mayo Sowell said. "We made some mental errors and need to be a little bit more physical. We were pretty physical today. I think we did pretty good in dealing with the heat at 70 plays, but we can do a lot better."
Linebackers Lemarcus Rowell (56) and Mayo Sowell (57) take a break following a play along with defensive end Ben Grubbs (90).
In addition to the heat and physical nature of the practices, senior cornerback Roderick Hood noted that some of the young guys are trying to work through the nerves associated with big-time college football. Just practicing in front of more fans than many have played against, Hood said it's important for them to control their emotions inside the lines.
"We made a lot of mistakes out there today discipline-wise," Hood said. "I feel that we're coming along, but we have to get focused. We know what to do, we do it in practice, but in game-type situations when we get fans out we forget what we're supposed to do. We've just got to get more disciplined."
Mixing a starter, Hood, in with a majority of the second-team defense to comprise the first unit Saturday morning, Chizik and crew allowed just 83 yards on 29 carries for the day. Starting tailback Carnell Williams played just one series but had 20 yards on two carries before turning the reins over to backups Ronnie Brown, Chris Butler and Tre Smith.
The pass defense was even better as the quarterbacks completed 11-of-25 for 206 yards with one touchdown, a 10-yarder to fullback Brandon Johnson from quarterback Daniel Cobb. The work by the young guys impressed the head man on Saturday.
"Defensively, again we held out seven or eight starters and basically played our young guys and our second-teamers," head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Those guys have made a lot of improvement. We're tackling a lot better."
One of the players that has come on strong is Sowell. A part-time starter last season when injuries hit the linebacking corps, Sowell is currently running second-team but is playing his best football since he's been at Auburn. He said just sitting back and watching during drills this fall has helped him tremendously and he's ready and waiting for another opportunity to come his way.
"Hopefully, this year I'll play whenever I can," Sowell said. "If DT (Dontarrious Thomas) gets tired I can go in and get him for a couple of reps. I'm just trying to learn as much as possible and get all the experience I can this year from backing him up and watching him. So, whenever it's time for him to go, I can step right in and fill his shoes. Now I'm just learning from him."
Perhaps the most dominant player on the field in Saturday's scrimmage was defensive tackle Tommy "T.J." Jackson from Opelika. The true freshman has been everything and more he was expected to be so far this fall and his coordinator said he, along with several other true freshmen, are making some noise and could be in line for a great deal of playing time.
"He's definitely made a step in the right direction," Chizik noted of Jackson. "We really believe that if he stays healthy he's really going to help us. At linebacker Antarrious Williams has really come on. We've been pleased with him. Lemarcus Rowell in the last couple of days has come on as well. I think with those young guys it's a matter of keep repping it over and over again and then finally the light comes on."