Auburn, Ala.-—Saturday's game was a tale of two halves for the Auburn defense as they came out struggling early against the explosive offense of New Mexico State but finished with a flurry as they pitched a shutout to end the game on a high note. For defensive coordinator Will Muschamp things could have been much better but he was pleased with the finish of his defense.
It wasn't good early though as New Mexico State piled up 161 yards in the first quarter and by halftime they had 262 yards of total offense and 20 points. Unhappy with the way his defense was playing, Muschamp says at the break they didn't make any adjustments but instead focused on not making mistakes. In the end that was the only thing they were lacking as they devoured the Aggies in the final 30 minutes to win going away. Still it wasn't enough to declare it a perfect game by any stretch says Muschamp.
"We just made some mistakes in the first half," Muschamp says. "It was pure execution. On a third and three we match the routes perfect and bust a three-deep zone. It was a good ole three-deep zone. Been playing it for a hundred years. Obviously that comes down to execution and comes down to coaching. Our players didn't understand to stay in three-deep zone. We've got a third and 20 in cover two, they run a wheel route, and the guy runs right by our guy. On the goal line they run the same route South Florida ran. We had prepared for it. We were in the coverage we wanted to be. We didn't off the number one receiver in time to help the safety. That comes down to coaching. That comes down to obviously your kids didn't know how to execute what you're supposed to do.
"We made zero changes at halftime," he adds. "We came in and told them to quit making mistakes and you won't give up any more points. That's what happened. As much as the ball is in the air they're going to have turnovers. We knew that was going to be a matter of time. We knew turnovers were going to happen for us. It's just a matter of execution. It wasn't a matter of what was called. It was a matter of executing what was called…we've got to do a better job of executing."
One thing that was a positive for the Tiger defense was they finally forced a multitude of turnovers. Coming into the game Auburn's opponents had turned the ball over just four times compared to 12 by the Tigers. Saturday night was a complete reversal as Pat Sims' fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter was just a sign of things to come. By the time it was over Auburn had forced six New Mexico State turnovers, including two interceptions by cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Muschamp says it was great to see Wilhite back and being the playmaker he can be for the Tigers.
"We caught the ball," Muschamp says. "We worked on ball drills the same amount we always do. We did no more than we normally do. It was good to get John back. John is a good player and has played a lot of good football for us. He's a playmaker. He had two picks tonight and played well in the running game on some of the speed sweeps and different things we saw. That's what seniors are supposed to do. Seniors are supposed to make plays. We're expecting that out of him. It's good to get him back."
A big part of Auburn's success on defense Saturday night came from the fact that they played a large number of linemen throughout the contest to try to keep the starters as fresh as possible. Reserves Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc, Jermarcus Ricks, Antoine Carter, Michael Goggans and Brandon Haley all saw action in addition to the regular rotation up front. Muschamp says it was big to get all of them involved as much as they did.
"There is nothing more tiring than rushing the passer," Muschamp says. "You've got to roll guys so you don't get guys pooped out and get them into positions where they can be successful. That's what we were able to do."
Auburn now turns its attention to the Florida Gators and a tough road test against the defending national champions. While nobody will confuse the Gators with New Mexico State, Muschamp says the Aggie offense presented a tough challenge for the Tigers and he's happy to get through the game with a victory.
"They are a good offense," Muschamp says. "We knew that going into it. Holbrook is an outstanding quarterback. 28 (Chris Williams) is an outstanding receiver. He can fly. He's faster than I thought he was coming into the game. We went to some double stuff on him in the second half to help the kids get their hands on him a little better. We just made the right adjustments."