Defense Comes Up Big In Tiger Win

Facing an offense that has changed dramatically since opening the season at Georgia Tech, the Auburn defense came through with a solid performance Saturday afternoon, scoring two defensive touchdowns in a 31-6 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn, Ala.--After playing basic offensive football to open the season, the Vanderbilt Commodores came out Saturday and threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Auburn Tigers. While it had worked on defending it, the Auburn defense was caught off guard not by the option plays themselves run by the Commodores but by the amount and different looks they were presented on Saturday. While not entirely pleased with what he saw, coordinator Gene Chizik said his troops did some good things in the win.

"It was kind of a game where we had to adjust to a lot of option things we hadn't seen," Chizik said. "It got sloppy for a while until we could get some things adjusted, but they made some big plays at some big points in the game. I still think third downs are a little suspect with us trying to get off the field. Overall, I thought it was pretty good."

Safety Roshard Gilyard and linebacker Mark Brown crunch Commodore ball carrier Kwane Doster while linebackers Travis Williams and Dontarrious Thomas converge.

One area of concern coming into the game was the lack of pressure on the quarterback from the Auburn defense. The lack of a pass rush was something that Chizik thought wouldn't be a problem this week because of some protection weaknesses the Tigers saw in the Commodores offensive line. To further ensure Auburn's success, he broke out the blitz packages available to him using outside linebacker Karlos Dansby. That led to one of the bigger plays in the game when the junior stripped Cutler of the ball on a blitz and then picked it up and ran it in for the first score of the game in the first quarter.

A sack and fumble also sealed the Auburn victory as Mayo Sowell forced a Cutler fumble in the fourth quarter that Spencer Johnson scooped up and ran in for the final score of the day. But it was Dansby's play that set the tone for the Tigers.

"When we had them in situations where we knew they were going to throw the ball we just felt like we could take advantage of some of their protections," Chizik noted. "We were successful on that with the first one that Karlos got. It wasn't for the option, it was mainly for the throwing game. Then they started running the option so much that we had to get away from that a little bit.

"It was definitely a tone-setter," he said of Dansby's play. "It was a passing situation and we felt like we could take advantage of the protection they were in. We knew he would come free. He just made the play and made the play on the ball. But that's kind of what he does. That's Karlos' game right there."

The beneficiary of the pass rush up front was an Auburn secondary searching for some answers after a disappointing opener at USC and then a cake walk last weekend against Western Carolina. Facing one of the top receivers in the SEC in Dan Stricker, the group held him to just three catches for 33 yards as they slowed down a Vanderbilt passing attack to the tune of 127 yards on 13-of-24 passing.

"Vandy did a great job," senior cornerback Roderick Hood said following the game. "They did a great job on the option. We knew they were going to gain yards, we just had to hold them and hold them. We were going to try to get them to rush things and that's what we did. We got them in a situation where they had to throw the ball deep and we just tried to make plays on it."

With an interception on the day along with free safety Travaris Robinson, Hood came back to finish strong after being bumped from the starting lineup by senior Horace Willis. A first-time starter for the Tigers, Willis played solid on the day and had one of the biggest plays of the day for the Tiger defense.

Holding on to a tenuous 14-6 lead with just 24 seconds remaining in the first half, the Tigers had their backs to the wall on defense. Facing a third-and-seven at the Auburn 11-yard line after driving the ball 69 yards, the Commodores split Stricker out wide on Willis. Knowing what was coming, Willis stayed stride-for-stride with the All-SEC performer. When he made his cut to the outside, Willis cut underneath and knocked Cutler's pass away forcing a Vanderbilt field goal. Keeping the Commodores out of the end zone, the Tigers had the momentum and would walk away with the game in the second half.

"I knew they were coming to him," Willis said of Stricker. "We had been working all week trying to get Carlos Rogers on him. They came out and we knew they were going to switch them over. With 24 seconds left in the half and no timeouts, he's their guy. I knew all eyes were on me. I broke on it, knocked it down. It felt good."

The Auburn defense left Jordan-Hare Stadium feeling good after holding a second straight opponent without a touchdown. The task gets tougher this Thursday night when the Tigers travel to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but this defense feels good about themselves going into the battle.

"We have a lot of confidence in each other," Rogers said of the defense. "The first game we were kind of down, but we came back last week and pitched a shutout. We allowed two field goals this week, but we feel pretty confident about what we did out there as a group."

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