Defense And Kicking Game Big For Tigers

Auburn used defense and the kicking game to earn a victory on the road against rival Alabama.

Auburn, Ala.--All week long the talk around the Auburn camp was of simplicity. Simply Auburn wanted to run the football, stop the run, win the turnover battle and win in the kicking game. Check, check, check, check, victory.

Auburn accomplished all its goals Saturday and although the victory wasn't as crisp or as dominating as Auburn would have liked, it tastes just as sweet the next day. Coach Tommy Tuberville says that the defensive performance against Alabama wasn't a thing of beauty but the Tigers played well enough to get the win and that's all that matters.

"Defensively we gave up a few big plays and a few too many third down conversions, other than that we played a pretty good ball game considering we didn't do a whole lot," Tuberville says. "We were going to make them beat us and execute and get away from some of the things we've done that might have helped us is we would have done them but we didn't want to take the chance of giving up a lot of real big plays. It worked real good for us."

Defensive end Quentin Groves earned the coaches' player of the week honors on defense for his play with two sacks that caused fumbles against Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. While Groves' play was huge on Saturday it may have been the play of senior linebacker Kevin Sears that was the most important aspect for the Tigers' defense along with the superb play of Will Herring, Karibi Dede and Tray Blackmon, Auburn's starting linebackers.

Auburn's biggest linebacker, Sears played well against the run and Tuberville says his size cause the shorter Wilson some problems in the passing game as well. After a season filled with disappointment and frustration, Tuberville says he was happy to see Sears finish on a high note.

"He had a great game," Tuberville says. "He was possessed. You could tell he knew that this was going to be his last go around against Alabama. He's a big guy in the middle that sometimes we miss and have missed when people try to run the ball. Kevin was one of the reasons why they got away from running the football a little bit. He was playing the middle inside out and was very physical. That big body in there made a little bit of difference."

Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite brings down Javier Arenas on a punt return Saturday.

Special teams play also proved to be huge for Auburn Saturday as kickoff return man Tristan Davis continued his ways with two very big returns to give the Tigers solid field position following Alabama scores. Kickoff man Matt Clark again boomed kickoffs out of the endzone with just one returned by Alabama all game long. Punter Kody Bliss continuously pinned Alabama deep with his booming punts, averaging 50 yards on six kicks.

"Tristan Davis' kickoff returns were outstanding," Tuberville says. "He's got to be close if not leading the nation in kickoff returns after last night. Kody Bliss is the best punter I've ever been around. He really did a good job."

With their 10th victory of the season and with two wins over Top 10 teams, Auburn is in good position when bowl bids begin to sort themselves out in two weeks following the SEC Championship game. The overwhelming talk is that Auburn will either wind up in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl or Tampa for the Outback Bowl and there is still an outside shot at a BCS bid depending on how the year finishes out across the country. Tuberville says no matter where they wind up he believes the Tigers will be a very enticing team for the bowls to choose.

"I would imagine we're going to be pretty good," Tuberville says. "Any time we beat our rival and of course won as many games as we've won people are going to want us. We're going to end up being ranked somewhere in the Top 10 probably by the end of the next week with so many people playing in front of us and so many big games. Hopefully we can get in the Top 10 and that would even help us. It doesn't make a lot of difference. Our guys deserve the opportunity to go off somewhere and have a good time and have the chance to play a good team."

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