Coleman Steps Up In Time Of Need For Defense

Auburn senior defensive end Antonio Coleman had a huge game for the Tigers in a win over Ole Miss.

Auburn, Ala.--Jevan Snead knows what to be for Halloween now. He can dress up as Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman, because Coleman has to be the scariest thing Snead has seen in a long, long while.

Coleman was all over Snead Saturday in Auburn's 33-20 win over Ole Miss, hurrying him, pressuring him and dropping him to the ground as Auburn's defense applied the pressure that has been woefully missing the past three games. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt may have nightmares about Coleman, too.

"Coleman played on a different level today," Nutt said. "He was on a different level than what we saw on film. We had a hard time with him, then we tried to chip him a little bit. It takes away a receiver."

That was the plan, Coleman said.

"They had a great quarterback," he said. "We had to get pressure on him or he would have picked us apart."

Coleman didn't let that happen.

He harassed Snead all day, and helped Auburn's defense hold the Rebels to only seven points for much of the game.

"He played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. "He did a good job of leading the kids on the sidelines. He was very, very productive. He rushed the passer extremely well today. I'm very proud of him and happy for him."

Coleman had five total tackles against the Rebels, including four solos for a loss of 15 yards. He sacked Snead twice for a loss of 11 yards and hurried him four times. He also forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt that Auburn defensive back Demond Washington ran back for a defensive two-point conversion.

"I was in the zone today," Coleman said. "I can't take all the credit, though. Those guys on the defensive line were helping me out. Those guys got a lot of pressure; the guys in the middle were pushing the pocket. We played better. We gave up a lot of big plays that we've got to work on, but we got out and played good enough to win."

If you ask him, that win was long overdue.

"It was a long time coming," Coleman said. "I just got out there and had fun. We just fooled around and made plays. After three losses straight, we're glad to get this victory today."

He was glad, but not surprised.

Last Sunday, just hours after returning from LSU on a three-game losing streak, Coleman said he knew things would be different this week.

"I could see it Sunday when we met with (head) coach (Gene) Chizik," Coleman said. "All the seniors, we talked about going out and having fun and that's what we did Sunday in practice. We were flying around, having fun. The coaches kept telling us, just keep your heads up; it's not going to be like last year. We're not going to go down. If you have fun in practice, I guarantee you will win on Saturday – and we did."

After three straight losses and a defense that didn't even begin to resemble Auburn's stalwart, bend-but-don't-break style of old, a team might start questioning its game plan.

Coleman said that didn't happen. Roof said it couldn't.

"You evaluate," Roof said. "We're always looking for how can we say something better or coach something better, but at the same time you've got to stay with what you believe in because that's what you've repped and that's what you've pounded into their heads. You just can't let go of the rope. You've got to keep plugging. You've got to get back to work."

Thursday night, Coleman stood before his team during an emotional players' meeting and asked his teammates to put it all on the line Saturday - for him and for the rest of the seniors.

"I told them, I only have a few more games to play," Coleman said. "I said if they play for nothing else, play for me."

Saturday's defense definitely played with more energy and put more pressure on the passing game than it has in the past.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said the pass pressure was a big part of Auburn's victory.

"If that's not the best we've been on third-down defense, it's one of the best," Chizik said. "It started with the front four. Antonio Coleman got a lot of pressure."

The game was an unusually emotional one for Coleman. Not only was Auburn trying to break a three-game losing streak in one of his last remaining home games, he was also playing against his former position coach, Terry Price, now at Ole Miss, and without teammate Zac Etheridge, who left early in the game after colliding with Coleman on a tackle.

Coleman said after the game that he didn't even know he had gone helmet to helmet with Etheridge; he only knew his teammate went down and didn't get back up. Watching Etheridge lying face down, unmoving, was unnerving, Coleman said.

"It was scary," he said. "I was thinking back to last spring when I was like that. The first thing I thought of was pray for him. He's a great guy. He's a leader on this team. It was tough. I had to go to the sidelines and pick the guys up. Mike Slay (who replaced Etheridge) hadn't played that much for us, but he stepped in and did a pretty good job."

Coleman prayed for Etheridge with his teammates and rallied them on the sidelines after Etheridge left the field for the hospital.

"I heard he was doing alright," Coleman said. "I heard Coach Roof say they would probably let him out (of the hospital) tomorrow. We're family. We win together and lose together. When people get hurt, we care. It's not all about football. It's about people and how they feel and what happens. We love Zac to death and after we get out of this we're going to go see him."

Coleman is all too familiar with injuries. He currently wears a soft cast on his hand in games.

"I usually have my thumbs wrapped up in the cast," he said. "The last two games I had my thumb out and you can tell the difference."

Despite injuries and losses and any other obstacle, Coleman says Auburn's defense is back on track.

"We got our swagger back," he said. "We have to get back on a winning streak. We're not going out there and lay down for them. Not while I'm a leader on this defense. I'm always going to fight, even if we're getting blown out 50-zip. It's just like at LSU last week. I told these guys, keep your head up. We're still gonna fight. We're not going to give up." ***

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