Auburn, Ala.--All season long the Auburn defensive coaches have preached the fact that defensive excellence starts up front. Fortunately for coordinator Will Muschamp and defensive tackle Coach Don Dunn, the Tigers have been very good much of the year on the front four.
That play continued Saturday night in a 17-3 victory over Ole Miss as the Tigers limited the Rebels to just 70 rushing yards and got constant pressure on quarterback Seth Adams. Dunn says that was just another case of the guys getting the job done.
"Pat Sims did well," Dunn says. "He had a lot of production points. Josh Thompson was his usual steady self against the run. Mike Blanc played. Jermarcus Ricks had 20-something snaps and Zach (Zach Clayton) played. I was real pleased with them. I would like to play them more, but there were just some situations where we go with our dime and nickel package that gets Josh and the other guys out. Pat Sims is the only one I have in on that. I'm real pleased with them. They are working hard and doing everything we ask."
No player has been a better example of that than Sims. A physical presence on the inside this season with 20 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, and two sacks, the junior is one of the reasons why Auburn's defense is currently second in the league in scoring defense (15.8 ppg) and total defense (292.7 ypg). Dunn says Sims has not only come on as a player, but also as a person and that has made a huge difference in his game.
"He did get a lot of penetration," Dunn says of Sims against Ole Miss. "That's what they're supposed to do. I wish he was doing it the whole game, but he did some nice things there at the end. Even though he didn't make the tackle, but on our side he made it bounce and we stopped them. They threw the pick right after that. Their job is to penetrate and they've done a good job of that against the run.
"I tell Pat this every week ‘every day is a new day for him'," Dunn adds. "I love him to death, but he's just like my own son. There are good days and bad days with him. He has really matured. I think him playing and being successful, like in the bowl game last year, I think that kind of turned the light on for him. He's done everything we asked, knock on wood. He's a good kid. I credit his parents. They've been up here a lot supporting him. His dad was here Thursday and came over and visited with us. That counts."
Pat Sims and Sen'Derrick Marks collapse the pocket against Ole Miss.
With nine games down and three to go in the regular season, Auburn finds itself with a chance to once again be in the hunt for a possible BCS berth at the end of the year and much of the reason for that is defense. Dunn says while this defense isn't loaded with superstars or names that people across the country know, they just go about their business and play the game the right way.
"I just think a lot of it is attitude and the way they work," Dunn says. "No one really cares who gets the credit. We don't have any really super, super stars. They all just work together. They all compliment each other. Moving Sen'Derrick (Sen'Derrick Marks) to end really helped us. Will has done a good job of getting the best guys on the field. He does a great job of game planning and getting the right people out there to match up with other people's personnel. I just think they want to be successful and they work together very well. We've had better players on defense, superstars, but they've done a good job for us."
That holds true on the defensive line where Quentin Groves got much of the hype before the season, but it has been the other players that have stepped up their games with Groves going down with an injury during the Florida game. Antonio Coleman, Sims, Marks, Thompson and the entire front has upped its game and the results have been as good or even better than expected.
"I think it's probably one of the better ones from top to bottom," Dunn says. "I have had some good ones, one or two good ones, but I think all of them have a chance to be very good. They all bring something different to the table. Pat can play run and pass. Josh is primarily a run stopper. Jake Ricks can do both. Mike Blanc is more of a run stopper. It gives us some options that we haven't had before. They can all play goal line. It's good to have some big bodies and most of them are young except for Josh, which is even better. I just see them getting better and better. They are starting to understand how to prepare for games, film study and doing the little things away from the practice field that they have to do."
This week is a week where the Tigers could possibly rest Sims, Thompson and many of the veterans on defense and play younger players a majority of the snaps. Tennessee Tech comes in with a solid offense for the I-AA level, but in the midst of a four-game losing streak that culminated in a 59-52 loss to Samford on Saturday. Dunn says that while it may look like an opportunity to clear the benches, the first responsibility is to play well and win the game.
"I hope so," Dunn says of playing some young guys more extensively. "We told them today that you've got to think of Appalachian State and The Citadel cost a guy his job (Jack Crowe at Arkansas). You can't take them lightly, but hopefully we'll take care of business. We're going to prepare just like we did for Florida and LSU. Hopefully we'll get a chance to play those guys.
"I have tried to rotate them even more," he adds. "Will (Will Muschamp) wants me to rotate them even more and so does Coach (Tommy) Tuberville. It doesn't matter who we're playing. That gives them confidence. You never know. We could lose one or two in a play and then they would have to play. I need to play them more than I have to be honest with you. I've got to do a better job of getting them in there."