Rhoads: Improving The Focus On Defense

Auburn first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads talks about the Tigers through two games.

Auburn, Ala.--Facing an offense that pounded out 51 points and 633 yards of total offense in its season opener, Auburn's defense figured to have its hands full on Saturday against Southern Miss. While they did give up their first points of the season in the third quarter, overall coordinator Paul Rhoads said he was pleased with how his unit played in game number two.

"We played about 40 minutes of pretty darn good football," Rhoads said. "We hustled. We were aligned. We matched the tempo of a fast-paced, no huddle offense. We gave up a score and they acted like they might shutout the entire season. They were deflated when they gave up the seven points. They relaxed after that and we paid for it. They snapped back around. We still had early part of the season mistakes, some miscommunication things. They are all correctable and they understand. We'll work to get it done."

Facing an offense that featured perhaps the best wide receiver group Auburn will see this season led by talented true freshman DeAndre Brown, Rhoads said he was pleased with how the secondary performed and in particular Jerraud Powers, who came up with an interception on a diving grab in the fourth quarter.

"Jerraud Powers played a very solid game," Rhoads said. "He had good numbers. He had a number of tackles for a cornerback. He had a big time interception. It wasn't just an interception. It was a big time play. He held off a big receiver with his body. He had to lay out and get it and 5 didn't have a chance to disrupt it. It was a big time play."

In addition to Powers, Rhoads singled out several players for their performances against the Golden Eagles. One of those was defensive end Michael Goggans, who in his first two career starts has played very well and continues to show he's capable of taking over the strong side defensive end position.

"I think Mike Goggans through two games had played very well," Rhoads said. "I think the linebacker corps overall is playing very, very solid as a unit. Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil, like those two corners, went the whole game. That's tough to do against that fast-paced of an offense."

With Powers and fellow starter Walter McFadden playing well and facing an offense that had big play capability, Rhoads elected to keep the starters in for much of the game rather than risking giving up an easy score. That meant Neiko Thorpe and D'Antoine Hood were relegated mostly to special teams duties last week. Rhoads said he anticipates that to change more and more as they get deeper into the 2008 season.

"The secondary position is one position we're thinnest at," Rhoads said. "We're thinnest at it because we're young. We've got bodies there and in truth we've got bodies I'm confident in. I did not think we were in a position Saturday afternoon with that offense and those receivers that I wanted to alter that rotation. I thought the guys out there needed to be out there.

"Neiko Thorpe is doing nothing but making me more confident in him in knowing I'm going to be able to spell those corners when needed. D'Antoine Hood has come along. He had a very good Sunday practice. The freshmen understand the position they're in and if they don't get better they're going to be on the sidelines cheering everyone on. They don't want to stand. Both of them are competitive and want to get on the field."

This week Auburn opens SEC play at Mississippi State against a Bulldog team that still struggles at time offensively. Tied for last in the SEC in scoring offense at 24 points per game, the Bulldogs are 10th in rushing offense (153.5) but an impressive fourth in passing with 221 yards per game. Rhoads said that right now his focus is on Auburn's defense and continuing to get better each and every week.

"I think we're improving," Rhoads said. "We're understanding the concepts. I think we're understanding the urgency we need to play with. I think we're understanding about everything that we're doing better. I don't think we're in football shape yet. I don't think we're tackling well enough yet. I think the learning process is ongoing and they understand that. I'm pleased with the maturity that this defensive unit has shown to this point."

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