Fast forward two games and things look a lot different. With injuries to Sen'Derrick Marks, Michael Goggans, Antoine Carter and Antonio Coleman keeping them less than 100 percent, the Tigers have allowed back to back big games on defense. The bumps and bruises are things that tackle coach Don Dunn says have finally had an impact on the defense.
"I think a lot of the stuff has caught up with us, the nicks and bruises," Dunn says. "Not to make excuses because you can't. You've got to play with what you have. We just got in a little rut here and we've got to get out of it and go back to what we were doing earlier, getting off blocks and tackling better. All the fundamental things that have kind of lacked the second half the other night."
Even with the injuries the Tigers have been getting more physical in practices since Tony Franklin was fired as Auburn's offensive coordinator. In recent seasons going the best against the best has been a fixture at practices but not in 2008. That ended the week of the Arkansas game and Dunn says he thinks it will help the defense down the road.
"We went good on good today (Sunday) which I think will help us with the speed of the game," Dunn says. "We went against our offense, our first team. That's helpful. It has been rare this year because of the philosophy of the way we were doing things on offense. Now we're getting back to doing inside against the offense and blitz, the things you need to do. It changes everything, enthusiasm, morale, it's just good. A lot of excitement."
One player that doesn't need any more work is sophomore Zach Clayton. Because of the injuries Clayton has played all four defensive line spots for the Tigers in the last two games. Dunn says that the Opelika native is what you look for in a defensive lineman.
"He brings a smile to my face," Dunn said. "If everybody gave effort like Zach Clayton we wouldn't have some of the problems we have. He's just 100 percent every snap. He's playing three positions, nose, tackle, and end, and hasn't missed a beat. He's just a good hard-nosed football player. It means something to him. He's done a good job. He gives great effort. He just flies around."
A defensive end when he arrived at Auburn, Clayton moved inside to tackle this season but because of injuries has played both spots for the Tigers. Dunn says having a guy that can do both has been huge for this team.
"It's invaluable because we don't have anybody else," Dunn said. "We would have to move a linebacker or bring a kid up off a redshirt. We don't want to do that. It has been a blessing to have a kid that can do that."
Despite being in a backup role in both spots, Clayton has managed to be one of the leaders for the Tigers in making negative plays. With just 13 tackles, Clayton has six tackles for a loss and three sacks. One of those came against Patrick White Thursday night at West Virginia. Dunn says Clayton's play comes as no surprise though because he does everything to put himself in position to come up big time and time again.
"He's got a lot of talent," Dunn said. "He makes some big plays. He made that play the other night coming off the end. I don't know if anybody else could have done that. He has a great change of direction. The main thing about him is his motor runs. He plays hard every play, every snap."