"There were no surprises whatsoever," Rhoads said. "It was a physical battle. It was a battle that we counted on being a 60-minute football game. Thankfully we were able to answer it and play all 60."
Led by Tray Blackmon's six tackles along with a key late interception from junior cornerback Walter McFadden, Auburn's defense came up big time and time again Saturday night as it held the Bulldogs without a third down or fourth down conversion for the entire game. With many of those coming late in the game in Auburn territory, Rhoads said the effort of his team was off the charts.
"You play against that kind of competition and you play as hard as you do with that much on the line and there is never a snap you can rest, you are going to get physically tired and we did," Rhoads said. "That's why I'm so proud of Walt on that last play. Here's a guy that was dead tired. I was so close to substituting Neiko (Neiko Thorpe) at that point in the game but you've got a veteran player that said ‘coach I can answer' and he certainly did."
Four times in the second half Mississippi State started drives at midfield or inside Auburn territory thanks to turnovers and an inefficient offensive performance. Despite being called on time and time again, Rhoads said his defense remained on top of things because they never got down on their teammates and instead picked up the slack.
"You don't ever put that kind of burden on a kid when you're in a team sport like this," Rhoads said. "What you do is work to accomplish, I learned a long time ago in this profession that nothing comes successfully when you're negative. We preach to our kids about staying positive. Control what you can control and do your job to the best of your ability. When we had some of those adverse situations whether it be turnover or field position we just reminded them to be positive and they certainly were.
"It goes down to will and attitude of the kids to give yourself a chance to execute," Rhoads added. "As long as you're in the right frame of mind you're going to go out there and play. Our kids were and they executed."
The numbers speak for themselves. In the running game MSU just 28 yards on 30 carries. Quarterback Wesley Carroll completed just 10-25 passes for 78 yards and an interception. Bulldog power back Anthony Dixon had just five yards on seven carries. All in all it was a beautiful defensive performance and Rhoads said he couldn't ask for anything more.
"I couldn't be any prouder," Rhoads said. "The effort was outstanding on every play and every series, including some adverse situations. They just kept answering. You usually have a pretty good feel when you see their eyes in the huddle before they take the field in a situation like that and we had good eyes all night long."