Young Defenders Play Big Role For Tigers

Auburn had to rely on several young defenders to play big roles Saturday night against Vanderbilt.

Nashville, Tenn.--Up 13-0 Auburn was in good shape for a victory against the Vanderbilt Commodores behind a defense that is considered one of the best in the country. Then two of the players the Tigers can ill afford to lose went down and things changed in a hurry. With cornerback Jerraud Powers and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks going down late in the second quarter things became dramatically different.

After the first three Vandy drives accounted for just 10 yards of total offense and a Powers interception, the Commodores began to find a rhythm behind backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams. On the next six possessions Vanderbilt had 229 yards of total offense, two touchdowns a missed field goal and a field goal blocked by the Tigers.

One of the ways Vanderbilt had success was through the air as Adams came through again and again against a secondary without Powers. With freshman Neiko Thorpe exposed to his first real action in prime time the Commodores made the plays in the passing game to make the difference in winning and losing.

"They just kept on hitting them across," Thorpe said. "We would check to it but they would get some good plays."

Up front things weren't much better as Adams diced up the Auburn defense for 54 rushing yards on 13 attempts. Fellow quarterback Chris Nickson added 40 yards on five attempts. The rest of the Vanderbilt team had just 12 rushing yards but sophomore defensive tackle Zach Clayton said they didn't get the job done on a consistent basis and it cost them Saturday night.

"We played well but there are always areas where you can improve," Clayton said. "We'll go back tomorrow and figure out where we need to improve."

Along with Powers before he went down with an apparent hamstring injury, Clayton was one of the few bright spots on defense. Playing at both end and tackle the sophomore had four tackles, two of them for losses, and one sack for a 10-yard loss. He said losing is never easy and this one was particularly tough to swallow.

"It's extremely tough," Clayton said. "No loss is easy to take. We've got to regroup and focus up and get ready for next week….we've got Arkansas next week. We've got to prepare and have a good week of practice and bounce back."

Going into the Arkansas game with question marks surrounding their two best defensive players, the Tigers have to find some answers in a hurry with the Razorbacks coming to town. Both Clayton and Thorpe said all you can do it work hard and try to get the job done.

"I'm proud of the way everybody played really," Thorpe said. "Sometimes it doesn't turn out the way you want it but I'm proud of the way we played.

"It's always tough when you lose good players," Clayton added. "You've got to close ranks and fill in positions and work the best that you can."

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