Names like Ben Grubbs, Gerald Williams, Lamel Ages and Lemarcus Rowell were just some of the players involved in keeping Western Carolina off the scoreboard.
Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said it was good to see the young guys get in the game and come up with some big plays, including two fourth-down stops to secure the shutout.
"We knew we were going to have to play a lot of young people," Chizik said following the game. "We didn't start three of our starters (defensive ends Reggie Torbor and Jay Ratliff and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas sat out with minor injuries). We took Mayo (Sowell) and moved him down to a defensive end so we just kept it relatively simple and let the guys go out there and play. Just from looking at it I was pleased, there didn't seem to be very many mental errors."
Defensive end Ben Grubbs (90), linebackers Mark Brown (52) and Mayo Sowell (57) and safety Donnay Young (10) drive a Catamount runner to the turf during Saturday's game. Auburn held the Southern Conference foe to under 100 yards rushing for the game.
Starting in place of Thomas, who was out with a sprained knee, redshirt freshman Antarrious Williams may have been the defensive MVP for the Tigers on the day. With numerous tackles and a fumble recovery that kept the shutout intact, the Columbus, Ga., native said following the game that he was happy with his performance and the defense as a whole. Holding the Catamounts to just 14 first downs and 261 yards of total offense, Williams said the defense could use this as a confidence boost heading into the conference opener against Vanderbilt next Saturday.
"I knew I had to go out there and work hard and do the best that I could," Williams said of earning his first career start. "I just wanted to show coach that I could get the job done and be solid backup. We just wanted to go ahead and get the shutout since we gave up so many points in the opener and show people that we can play. Now we're just going to have to work hard and get better."
While the younger guys were on the field for much of the game on defense, the veterans were on the sidelines making sure they stayed in the game. With one blown assignment or a missed tackle possibly being the difference in keeping the Catamounts out of the end zone, cornerback Roderick Hood said that they were just proud to see the zero stay on the board the entire game.
"Coach Chizik told us he wanted us to come out there and play hard and try to make the best of it," Hood said. "Anytime the defense goes out there and puts a shutout on the board it gives us confidence. We're eager to do it next week, too."
Strongside linebacker Karlos Dansby also talked about the young guys, but his thoughts were on the potential strengths this game brings to the defense as unit down the road in the tough Southeastern Conference.
"It was real important," Dansby said. "We're only going to go as far as our depth will take us. We've been telling them all week and the week before; we're going to need you. There is going to come a time in a game where we're going to need our backups and you're going to have to come in and be ready to play. They came in tonight and showed us that they're ready to play."
Not a young player, but one whohas bounced around from defensive end to defensive tackle and now back to end, junior Dexter Murphy got the start Saturday evening with both Torbor and Ratliff held out of the game. Playing as well as he's played in his career, Murphy was in on several plays in the Catamount backfield and filled in admirably for position coach Terry Price against an offense that used a variety of unusual "Emory & Henry" offensive sets to try to confuse the Tiger defense.
"We all wanted to bounce back and we made it our goal all week," Murphy said. "We wanted to let everyone know that the Auburn defense was back. It was a big deal for us to keep that shutout. When they did that it kind of made us stay in the game more because we had to stay on our feet. When they did stuff like that is made us stay focused."
Keeping his head in the game no matter the situation has always been a trademark of defensive tackle Tommy Jackson throughout his high school years at nearby Opelika. But the true freshman said following the game that his performance really made him feel like a college football player for the first time. After playing a few snaps against USC on Monday night, extensive action Saturday allowed him to get a true taste of what this game is all about.
"I was still feeling like, ‘Whoa, I'm in college' and basically I was a bit scared. They (coaches) were just telling me, 'Make sure you come off the ball, keep coming.' It's hard. College is hard, but I want to keep trying and keep coming. Maybe as the season progresses I'll get better and do better.
"I hope they can rely on us (young guys) because this was fun. We had fun doing it. But we want to keep working at it. You can't stop working because of one good thing. The defense and the offense played so great. The offense kept putting up points and the defense kept stopping them. That was so cool to be a part of something like that. I was just glad to be there."