Bigger Challenge for Auburn's Defensive Line

Josh Thompson and Sen'Derrick Marks talk about the play of the Auburn defensive line.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a huge night for Auburn defensive tackle Josh Thompson. Not only did he hit New Mexico State quarterback Chase Holbrook to cause an interception, he proposed to long-time girlfriend Renee Steptoe following the game in front of his teammates and thousands of fans still left in the southwest corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It was a fitting end to a very well played game by Auburn's front four as Thompson, Sen'Derrick Marks, Pat Sims and the rest of the gang played solid football for the Tiger defense as they held the Aggies scoreless in the second half after giving up 20 first half points. Thompson says it was a tough game, but he feels like the defensive line did its job.

"I think we played really hard, really well," Thompson says. "They were a high-powered offense that threw it a lot. They tried to run it some but we stopped the run pretty good. Across the line we just played really well."

That started early in Saturday's game when Sims picked up an Aggie fumble and raced 21 yards for Auburn's first score. While New Mexico State would come back to answer on its next drive, the defense got an early taste for blood and came back for more later in the game with Thompson in the center of things.

In the third quarter Auburn broke the game open thanks to a defensive play caused by Thompson with the Aggies backed up near their own goal line. Breaking through to get pressure on Holbrook, Thompson hit the quarterback causing his throw to fall into the hands of Marks who nearly took it to the house for another defensive score.

"I should have dove into the end zone ,but I couldn't get there," Marks says. "Actually I didn't see the wide receiver when he cut me. It was a bonus. I enjoyed it the little time it lasted."

The two turnovers by the defensive line were two of six forced by the Tigers on the night. That is something that has been a point of emphasis for the defense dating back to spring practice and Thompson says it's great to finally break though and have a big night on that front.

"It was huge," Thompson says. "We have been preaching it for about two weeks now ever since we didn't get any against South Florida. It's huge to come up with turnovers. That does nothing but help the offense and defense out. It's a confidence booster and real good for our whole team atmosphere."

Helping to keep the defensive front fresh, Coach Don Dunn rotated bodies regularly throughout the game. It paid dividends as the reserves played well, particularly Zach Clayton. Thompson says the substitutions allowed the defenders to stay fresh and be ready to finish strong if needed.

"Starting in the middle of the third quarter they pretty much took us out and let the young guys get some more experience so they can fill in once we get in the big games," Thompson says. "I think they played really, really well."

With a six-man rotation in the middle the Tigers were able to play full speed the entire game against an offense that is designed to wear down a defense with its no-huddle, fast-paced style. Marks says he feels like Auburn held up well because they were prepared for an all-out running game. In the end it was the Tigers that ran away with things Saturday night.

"It's tough, but game planning through the whole week we knew that was coming," Marks says. "There were a lot of quick passes and screens, a lot of stuff where we had to run to the sideline. It was expected. I think we played well."

The Tigers will have to play well in almost every phase of the game this Saturday night as they face their biggest challenge so far this season with a road game vs. the 4-0 Florida Gators who are ranked third and fourth in the major polls.

The Gators are ranked sixth nationally in score offense at 49.3 points per game. The Gators have racked up 500-plus yards in each outing in wins vs. Western Kentucky, Troy, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Kickoff time is set for 7 p.m. CDT from Gainesville with television coverage on ESPN. Mike Patrick, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe will provide the coverage from Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Auburn leads the series 41-38-2, but the Gators hold a 23-8 edge in games played in Gainesville where they have not lost a game since Urban Meyer took over as head coach starting with the 2005 season.

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