Auburn, Ala.--Following seven consecutive weeks of playing football, the Auburn Tigers (4-3) get a much needed break this week before taking on West Virginia next Thursday night on the road. Sophomore linebacker Craig Stevens says that because of the grind the team has faced getting some days off should get the team back healthy before facing the Mountaineers.
"It feels real good," Stevens says. "It gives a lot of people a chance to heal up. We've got a lot of injuries on the team so I think this gives us a chance to get people back healthy."
One of the top defensive teams in the nation the first five week so the season, Auburn's defense has struggled in back to back losses to Vanderbilt and Arkansas, giving up a halftime lead in both game. Part of the reason for that has been an anemic offense and injuries, both things Stevens says has played a part in the decline on defense this season. He adds he expects to see a fresher defense when the Tigers get back on the field.
"There is no doubt," Stevens says. "You see how we played early in the season. We've been out there a lot so far this season. I feel like it's had a major impact on the way we've been playing. I feel like when everybody gets back healthy we'll be all right."
With the offense struggling to score and the defense getting worn down the results haven't been good for the Tigers. Close losses to LSU, Vandy and Arkansas have put a damper on the season but Stevens says there is nothing you can do but move forward and continue working.
"It has been real hard," Stevens says. "It hard whenever you lose but especially close games, the games you know you can win. It's real tough on the team but we just push through it and go on to the next game."
Particularly tough for the defense to swallow was the loss to Arkansas and how it came about. Giving up over 400 yards of offense with running back Michael Smith gaining 176, Stevens says that made it tough to take as a defensive player.
"It was real hard," Stevens says. "That's our key goal is to stop the run. We did it a little bit but we gave up too many big plays on the defense. We've got to minimize that the next game."
Even slowing down the run will be a tough task when Auburn faces WVU. Led by talented senior quarterback Pat White, speedy running back Noel Devine, and a strong offensive line, the Mountaineers are one of the most dangerous running teams in the country.
Perhaps an advantage for Auburn though is having defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads on board. While the coordinator at Pittsburgh last season, Rhoads' Panther defense shut down West Virginia to win the Backyard Brawl and keep the Mountaineers out of the BCS Championship Game. Stevens says that experience and success against WVU lets the players know they have the right guy to get the job done in Rhoads.
"I had a chance to watch that game a couple of weeks ago and they did real good against West Virginia," Stevens says. "There were a couple of us that watched the game. It gives us a lot of confidence seeing that because he knows what it takes to stop them."