Dallas, Tex.--Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was expecting it. He told his Auburn defense to be prepared for it because it was coming. Still when Nebraska's offense took the opening drive of the game 80 yards on 15 plays for a touchdown it looked like it might be a long day for the Tiger defense.
In the end it was the other way around as Auburn held a potent Nebraska offense to just 241 yards of total offense and 14 points as the Tigers took a 17-14 victory. Muschamp says that he warned the defense to be prepared for anything early but after that it was their game to win.
"I knew the first series would be a little herky-jerky because of the script," Muschamp says. "Once we settled down we played well and played hard and that's what we've done all season. If we put our kids in the right spots we'll be okay.
. The guy is on a script for his first 15 plays. I told everybody to calm down. I told the kids coming into the game that if we can just get through the first 12 to 15 plays we're going to be fine. He's going to show all of his motions and all of his shifts and after that it's over. All of these West Coast guys are programmed."
Muschamp explodes with energy on the sidelines after a big stop by his defense.
The program lasted just a bit longer as the Cornhuskers gained 120 yards in the first quarter. From that moment forward Auburn's defense dominated the day. With the exception of two busted plays and one busted call by an official Muschamp says the day was perfect for his defense.
"They are an outstanding offense," Muschamp says. "They are averaging 430 yards per game and we held them to 230. They are averaging over 30 points per game and we held them to 14. Our kids played hard and played outstanding from the first drive. It was third downs more than anything. On third and 25 we give up a shovel pass. It was something we had worked on. On the touchdown pass it was my fault. I missed a personnel going into the game and we had a little confusion and just didn't get lined up. They put together one other drive that included a 25-yard gain on a draw. It was something we had worked on but obviously not hard enough. Other than that we played well.
"The only other drive they have we stop them on a third down and they call us for substitution," he adds. "The official apologized to be at halftime for calling it. That's how bad of a call it was. Then they hit the draw on us for 25 yards. We just don't fit the run right and they've got a good back in Lucky. He and Brandon Jackson are both outstanding players. Other than that we stone them the entire game."
In the second half Auburn took a three-point lead early in the third quarter and Muschamp's defense made the lead stand by playing lights out. That's the way it has been all season for the first-year coordinator as time and time again his defense has been on the field to close out a victory for the Tigers. He says he wouldn't have it any other way because that's the way a defensive player should want it.
We've got a lot of confidence that we're going to go out and make stops," Muschamp says. "We've done that 11 times this year. We've been on the field to win the game five times this year. Our kids believe it's going to happen. We're going to pressure, we're going to go after them and we're going to play man-to-man. That's what we do. We did a good job of pressuring the quarterback. We hit him late (in the game) and that's what we wanted to do.
"That's the way we have to play in order to have success," Muschamp says. "We've got to create momentum for our football team and sometimes that causes you to gamble a little bit to pressure. You can't bet with the big boys unless you gamble a little bit."
Gambling is something the Tigers didn't do a great deal of this season. Playing with many of its top players injured or suspended for much of the season Auburn persevered on the way to winning 11 games. Muschamp says that a Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska is the perfect way to end the season for a team that refused to quit no matter the odds.
"It's a New Year's Day win and I'm happy for these kids," Muschamp says. "We work them harder than anybody in the country. I believe that. We demand a lot. We demand discipline in our program and Tommy (Tuberville) does an outstanding job of it. I told the guys last night how much fun this has been this year."