With a sack and defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage setting the tone, Auburn's defense smothered a solid ULM offensive attack to the tune of a 34-0 shutout Saturday night in the season opener for the Tigers. The Warhawks were held to just 220 yards of total offense in the Auburn win. Rhoads said they were hoping to get off to a big start and the sack and caused fumble by Antonio Coleman that led to a touchdown by Michael Goggans was just what the doctor ordered.
"Not a bad way to start," Rhoads said. "You're looking everywhere trying to make sure everything is right. They line up in an empty set and we had an idea of what the play might be. I saw the guy going deep and he just had to hold it too long because we had good coverage on that guy. Bam, bam we're in the end zone."
Facing an offense featuring a solid running game and a veteran quarterback, Auburn had to be ready to multiple formations from the ULM attack. Rhoads said that was a challenge early on for his club but he thought the defense did a good job of fixing some early mistakes and settling into the game.
"I thought we maintained our composure," he added. "We score and come back out and they start moving the ball down the field on us and did it for a couple of drives. We gave up some plays, but we adjusted. We adjusted to the crowd. We adjusted to the communication that was necessary. It was a very hard first game from the standpoint of all the different formations, all the different adjustments that it took to be aligned right just to have a chance for success. I thought the kids adjusted to that well over the first eight to 10 minutes of the football game."
One of the concerns of the preseason on defense were missed tackles both in practices and scrimmage situations. That wasn't a problem Saturday night though as the Tigers missed very few chances at ULM ball carriers and the result was a dominating defensive performance.
"I think we tackled okay," Rhoads said. "I don't know if we tackled great. I'll be anxious to see the tape. There were times I looked out and we were running what I call towards grass. We were running towards where a guy is running to instead of running to the fundamental areas we're supposed to in order to secure tackles. I thought we tackled a lot better than we did in the spring and I thought we tackled better than we did in early August. That was a positive."
Another huge positive was the number of players Auburn got into the game on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to the starters and veterans that were expected to play, freshmen such as Neiko Thorpe, D'Antoine Hood, Mike Slade, Spencer Pybus and Jomarcus Savage all got extensive playing time on defense. Players such as Josh Bynes, Zach Clayton and Gabe McKenzie also got in on plenty of action. Rhoads said that will be important down the road for this team to continue to build depth behind the starters.
"We got a lot of guys in," Rhoads said. "You would like to maintain that over the course of a season. I think there are two things that come out of that. You stay in good condition for a ballgame and you stay in good condition for a season. If you're playing the same guys you get tired the last third of the year. The other thing is team morale. All those kids are out there laying it on the line every day and they practice so hard. To get in the game means the world. They know they have to earn that opportunity and it's good to get them out there and receive a little reward."