Auburn, Ala.--For the entire week leading up to Auburn's game against Florida in The Swamp, Auburn's defensive coaches talked about the need for good play out of the front four and in particular the guys in the middle. They got just what they were looking for as Josh Thompson and Pat Sims both played solid football says Coach Don Dunn who also notes his back ups did a good job as well in helping to hold the explosive Gators down on offense.
"Josh Thompson probably had his best game," Dunn says. "Not a lot of stats but he pretty much dominated the inside. Pat had his good moments and bad moments. I played Jake Ricks and Zach Clayton also. I did not play Mike Blanc, he had an ankle injury early last week. He didn't practice very well and didn't do much at practice so I didn't feel comfortable putting him in there. Those four played pretty well. I thought we tackled in space better than we have all year and you have to with that team or they'll be gone."
In addition to playing well on defense, the Tigers got plenty of help from an offense that had its best performance of the season to this point. While it wasn't 55 points like it scored against New Mexico State a week earlier, Auburn did exactly what needed to be done in the game on offense and it led to a victory over the fourth-ranked team in the country.
"It was pretty outstanding," Dunn says. "Our offense did a great job. We didn't have a lot of snaps the first half. I think we had like 28 snaps. That's a plus. Our offense did a great job of keeping us off the field and keeping their offense off the field. I thought the effort from the whole team was excellent. We had a great week of practice. Everybody traveled well. For young guys that had never been on an airplane or a road trip they handled everything well and I was real pleased with them."
Just two games removed from a loss to Mississippi State, the second in a row for the first time since 2003, Auburn answered back both physically and emotionally in the victory over Florida. Dunn says as much as anything he's seen this team grow together through adversity and it was never more evident than in Gainesville Saturday night.
"We're growing up," Dunn says. "It's so funny that when our offense got in there and scored the kids on defense were so excited and vice versa. They just feed off each other. We're growing but we've still got a long way to go. We've got a lot of football to play but the confidence level has risen. When we went three and out early our confidence level grew on defense. The offense fed off us and we fed off them. We felt like we could score on them. The defensive guys kept saying ‘hey, we're going to get another one here'. The offensive guys said they were one or two steps from getting another one. We felt like we should have shut them out and not given them so many points in the fourth quarter but you hold them to 17 points that's pretty good."
Keeping the Florida offense under wraps was just another test for a defense that has been challenged maybe unlike any in recent Auburn history. Facing explosive offenses every week with the exception of Mississippi State, the Tigers have seen dual-threat quarterbacks Josh Freeman, Matt Grothe and Tim Tebow already this season with Chris Nickson due up this week for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Dunn says facing quarterbacks that can do so many things is something defenses are having to adjust to every week nowadays because so many teams are integrating that part of the game into their offensive packages.
"It's tough because they have three options," Dunn says. "They can throw it. They can run it. They can hand it off or pitch it. It's tough. I think more and more offenses are going to that. You look around the country and it seems like teams are really moving the ball and putting up a lot of points. Look at us. During the game I looked up and saw Kodi (Kodi Burns) scoring and I didn't even know he was in the game. They said he just ran a quarterback draw. It's tough. It's hard to prepare for those guys because you have to be so disciplined. They've got three options so it's tough."
Auburn now turns it's attention to the Commodores this week in a game that has become even bigger for the Tigers after the win over the Gators. Still in control of its own destiny to get to Atlanta, Auburn can't afford any more slip ups. Dunn says the toughest job this week is to get the guys back down and working hard, especially because of all the young guys on this team. With a job to do each week, Dunn says they've got to be ready to go this Saturday or they'll be sorry.
"You look out there at one time on defense we've got Jermarcus Ricks, Zach Clayton, the linebackers are all young, Antoine Carter, Antonio Coleman, Bo Harris, Michael McNeil and then Jerraud Powers is just a redshirt sophomore who has really turned into a good football player. Then on offense you've got three true freshmen in The Swamp. That's an amazing job but we've got to get it out of our system. If we don't Vanderbilt will come in here and kick our ass. I think it's the best team they've had since the 1980's. They've got a good quarterback and that receiver is unbelievable. They're 3-1 and beat the heck out of Ole Miss. It will be a challenge."