With the offense struggling to maintain any consistency, the Auburn defense was hung out to dry time and time again but continued to make plays. In the second half Tennessee's first drive began at its own 35-yard line. Of the seven remaining possessions in the game, the Vols' worst starting spot was at their own 42. Four of the possessions began inside Auburn territory. All it amounted to was one touchdown and a failed two-point conversion attempt.
With the game on the line Auburn's defense came up time and time again and Rhoads said he couldn't be prouder.
"It was gutsy, gritty and determined," Rhoads said. "They answered every single call that they had and didn't waiver and didn't flinch. They had that look in their eye. We talked this morning that this was going to be a 60-minute football game and to expect adversity. They weren't surprised and weren't shocked and they played the game accordingly."
Playing off the Tennessee receivers somewhat in the first half, Auburn held quarterback Jonathan Crompton to a dismal showing of 52 yards on 5-14 passing. With the game on the line in the second half the Tigers clamped down on the Tennessee receivers and it showed on the stat line as Crompton was just 3-9 for 25 yards in the final 30 minutes. For the game Tennessee completed just 8-24 passes for 67 yards and managed just 191 yards of total offense.
"When it became a matter of when they were going to need to get down in the red zone and into field goal range and get points, we didn't want to give them one first down," Rhoads said. "We had to tighten things up a little bit, both zone and man. The kids responded and executed their jobs."
Even when Auburn gave up a touchdown in the second half the defense still made a big play. Going for two points to tie the game, Tennessee sent versatile receiver Gerald Jones in motion with Jerraud Powers covering. Seeing the play in front of him, fellow cornerback Walter McFadden jumped the route to keep Jones from scoring and tying the game. Rhoads said it was just a case of players making a play.
"There is something in common in two-point plays where they are trying to get enough space to get something in the open," Rhoads said. "There are a couple of schools of thought. It depends on what is right at the time on whether you play zone or man against it. They ran a motion and a rub route. The kids did a nice job of reacting to it and coming off and playing the football."
Defensively Auburn was led by sophomore linebacker Josh Bynes with 11 tackles. Playing in place of the injured Tray Blackmon, Bynes was all over the field for the Tigers. Safety Zac Etheridge followed with six tackles while fellow safety Mike McNeil added five stops. Defensive end Antonio Coleman had four tackles and a sack of Crompton. Those were just some of the stars on defense Saturday for Rhoads and it's a list he said was too long to go through.
"The whole group," Rhoads said. "There is no way to single out anybody. With that kind of effort and that kind of production there is no way to single out anybody. The entire group was playing.
"They executed," Rhoads added. "They had a great sense of urgency to get to the ball when it was caught. There was a resolve about this group and how they were going to play today. They battled hard in practice. We didn't have an excellent week of practice because we were tired. They battled through that and that's the mark of a good football team."