After hearing for weeks that Penn State and Johnson would run over them, the Tiger defense stepped up to the challenge Wednesday and showed what they are capable of when healthy. That was particularly evident up front where the front four controlled things for much of the game, giving up just 170 yards rushing in the game. Defensive tackle Coach Don Dunn said that he got everything he asked from his group against a physical Nittany Lion offensive unit.
Auburn's defense proved its worth on New Year's Day.
"I'm very proud of the defensive line," Dunn said. "Going into Sunday's practice Demarco (McNeil) and Tommy (Jackson) were battling injuries. Tommy had a severe groin pull and didn't practice the last three days. Demarco's knee locked up. I'm real proud of all of them. This was a great win. We were real worried about Larry Johnson and them being able to run the football. I don't know what they had yardage-wise, but I felt like we stopped the run pretty well. We got some pressure on them the second half as well."
Despite being held to just 3.6 yards per carry, a far cry from his 8.0 yard average during the regular season, Johnson wasn't complimentary of the Auburn defense following the game. The coach's son didn't sound like it in the post-game as he talked about the speed of the defense, but how they didn't want it straight ahead. He also said Auburn's defense was built to defend the pass and the Penn State coaches should have given him the ball more often. Either way Jackson wouldn't take the bait on the war of words following the game.
"How many yards rushing did he have," Jackson asked jokingly. "I'm not going to sit up here and sling mud, but I'll say he's a good back but we won the ballgame. We did what we had to do. If he wants to talk that stuff he can have it."
Senior free safety Travaris Robinson agreed with Jackson's assessment. After bouncing around his career from position to position, the Florida native said it felt good to go out in style with a win over Penn State.
"It's probably the disappointment talking because he didn't win," Robinson noted. "We can't control what the coaches call over there, we just control what we're doing. They ran a lot of option and misdirections at us. We just wanted to go out there and execute our defense properly. We tackled well and we rallied to the football just like we had talked about all week. We executed today and now the torch has been passed to the rest of these guys. Now we expect them to win SEC championships and national championships around here."
While his teammate was showing up Johnson on the field by running for an Auburn bowl record yardage day, Robinson said that winning the game on the scoreboard was very important to this senior class. Winless in bowl games since the Peach Bowl in 1997, closing out on a high note was something they all agreed was vital to set the stage for a run at a championship in the years to come.
"I talked to the defense before the game," Robinson said. "We had an intense meeting before the game and even last night. Guys broke down in there and just expressed our feelings about this game and what it means to us. Every year in the past we've been to a bowl game and we've lost and that sent us on a bad note going into the offseason. That's all we talked about. We just wanted to start something different. It's up to these guys to go on and take it to the next level."