The defense responded quite emphatically Saturday in a 49-24 victory over Mississippi State in the SEC opener. While allowing 24 points may not seem impressive, it's what the defense did in the second half that is impressive.
Auburn surrendered an early 14-0 lead as Mississippi State scored a touchdown and field goal, then added a blocked punt for a score. The Tigers were looking at a 17-14 deficit going into the half.
However, with an electrifying 48-yard run by freshman Onterio McCalebb and a one-yard run by Kodi Burns from the wildcat formation, Auburn scored twice in the final 3:08 of the half to take a 28-17 lead into the locker room.
The final-minute heroics by the offense provided plenty of motivation for the defense. All Tiger defenders did in the third quarter was shut down the Bulldogs with one first down and 37 yards total offense. Mississippi State added a late score after Auburn had moved out to a 42-24 lead, but the contest had just about been decided at that point.
"We preach the importance of how you respond," Roof said after the victory that puts Auburn at 2-0 on the young season. "We know bad things are going to happen. That's everybody in every football game. It's not about what happened, it's how you respond to it. We responded well. We've got a lot of things to clean up, but I was proud of how we played after a few bad things happened."
Roof credited the Auburn offense for taking some pressure off the defense.
"Our offense had a great night, but overall it was team football--a great team win. It always feels good to win when everybody works together. There are different phases, but there's only one team," Roof explained.
The Auburn defense allowed Mississippi State only 297 yards total offense. What Roof was most proud of were two takeaways, one resulting in a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by All-America candidate Antonio Coleman to give Auburn a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
"It was great to get a defensive score. A.C. (Coleman) did a great job. We zone blitzed and he dropped back right were he was supposed to be. He told me he made a nice little run," Roof commented with a smile.
"We've got to get some more takeaways. We've had two in each of the first two games, but we need to keep working to get better in that area." Redshirt freshman T'Sharvan Bell had a late interception for Auburn's second turnover of the night..
Roof was pleased to welcome Eltoro Freeman at linebacker and Zach Clayton at defensive end for the first time this season. Freeman, a highly-regarded junior college transfer, was able to get back in action after dealing with a hamstring injury.
"It was good to have Eltoro back for his first Division I football game," he said. "I thought he did some good things and played with a lot of energy.
"We just need to keep working with him to get some things corrected and I think we'll get them corrected," Roof said of Freeman who finished with six tackles, including one on his first play after entering the game in place of starter Adam Herring.
Clayton, a junior, picked right up where he left off last year. "Zach is an old hard hat. You know what you get with Zach. I have a lot of respect for the way he plays," Roof commented. Clayton recorded three tackles.
Roof said sophomore tackle Nick Fairley, who had a big game in the win over Louisiana Tech, will play a more "prominent role" when Auburn hosts West Virginia next Saturday. Fairley played briefly against Mississippi State. Asked if Fairley was injured, Roof said he couldn't talk about the specifics regarding an injury.
The veteran defensive coordinator said going for an interception (by Demond Washington) that resulted in a long gain for a first down on a third-down play and a missed tackle on an option are the type mistakes the defense needs to correct. "But you have to give Mississippi State some credit," he pointed out. "Those guys are on scholarship, too. They are a well-coached physical football team."
Roof said he was thankful for the win, but also that the Auburn offense helps prepare the defense to play against offenses like Mississippi State and one the Tigers will face next week in West Virginia. He's also glad he doesn't have to play against the Auburn offense, except in practice.
"We know what they are," he observed. "We play against them every day and they present some big problems. But they sure get make it easier for us by simulating a speed like we see in games against spread teams.