Dallas, Tex.--When the Auburn Tigers opened fall practice in August they were one of the teams favored to win the Southeastern Conference and also expected to be in the national title hunt. Now as they prepare to finish the season in the Cotton Bowl against Nebraska linebacker Karibi Dede says the team has been forced to go back and re-evaluate the season they've had. In the end Dede says that things aren't as bad as they seemed during the year.
"College football is such a special game," Dede says. "Looking at the possibility of winning 11 games and some people on the outside still see it as a disappointing season, I think the time off really gave us a chance to reflect at the season and to build our confidence back. I think a lot of people after the Georgia game kind of fell off and said that we weren't very good. I think over the break we saw that if we pull together on offense, defense and special teams there's nobody we can't beat."
That confidence will be tested by one of the country's top offenses on New Year's Day when the Tigers face a Nebraska offense that put up some huge numbers in 2006. Led by quarterback Zac Taylor's 3,071 yards passing and 25 touchdowns the Cornhuskers averaged just under 32 points per contest. Dede says that although Taylor has been outstanding this season the job of the defense will be to stop a running attack that averages 175 yards a game.
"In games that they've lost they've had some trouble running the ball," Dede says. "In the games they've been successful they've had fairly good running days. Their quarterback is actually the Big 12 Player of the Year so if we focus so much on the run we'll have to be aware of what he's doing. Oklahoma and USC played great run defense. That made them one dimensional and gave them a better chance to beat them."
Dede is looking to add another victory to an already record setting total by this year's senior class.
Something that should help Auburn's defense in the Cotton Bowl is the fact that much of what Nebraska runs on offense is the same as Al Borges' style that the Tigers see every day in practice. How they go about it is a much different story though as Nebraska will shift as much as any team in the country prior to the snap of the football. Dede says that makes it important for the defense to be ready and alert at all times regarding personnel and the final formation from Nebraska.
"They motion and shift all over the place," Dede says. "In that aspect we haven't seen that a lot but the actual plays they run and the style of offense is very similar to ours. They do a lot of routes where they will isolate one half of the field and they'll give the quarterback a read on that side. Depending on what coverage we're in they'll have a spot designated for the ball to go. Also they'll roll to the quarterback's right and things like that. They're not so much a stretch the field type of team but they are more about keeping the chains moving and if it's not there checking down to the running back. Those are the kinds of things we'll have to stop."
Despite struggles this season under first year coordinator Will Muschamp, Auburn enters the Cotton Bowl ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense and 25th in the country in total defense. Dede says that the defense gradually picked up on Muschamp's system and now he feels confident that their best football is ahead of them and he's hoping to see it in his final game in the orange and blue.
"It's funny because you look at a season from different perspectives," Dede says. "Sometimes you look back to the beginning. When I do that I think that he was almost talking another language during two a days. Sometimes coordinators come in and use your terminology that's more of a permanent change. Last year David Gibbs used our terminology and was gone in a year.
"When Coach Muschamp came in and used his own terminology I knew he was going to be here for a while. We had to learn his terminology and it was like another language. Now it's all come together. He can pick things we haven't done since the first or second game and bring them back. We're on the same page. It's bowl time now and everything is in. We're very confident and comfortable in the defense."