Defense has been critical to Tigers Success

Much of the talk leading up to Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game will revolve around Auburn's stellar offense, but the punishing, stingy Tigers‚ defense has been just as critical to the team's unbeaten season.

So, while Tennessee will have to greatly concern itself with a fantastic offense led by quarterback Jason Campbell and running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, dealing with less-heralded defenders like linebackers Travis Williams and Antarrious Williams and safety Junior Rosegreen will pose an equally difficult challenge.

The Tigers rank first nationally in scoring defense, allowing a mere 9.6 points per game. They have given up just 49 points in the first three quarters of games this season.

Crafting an offensive game plan to attack the talented Auburn defense won‚t be fun for Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. The Vols didn‚t have much luck in the regular-season meeting with the Tigers.

The success of the Auburn defense is more remarkable when considering it lost five starters from last year‚s team to the NFL. While Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville worried about his defense in spring practice, he became much more comfortable in preseason after watching his unit on the field.

"Normally in the spring, your defense wins most of the scrimmages," Tuberville said during an SEC teleconference. "But our offense really dominated. Normally, if your offense wins in the spring, your defense is behind. In the SEC, you can't win when your defense is behind."

The Tigers quickly proved to their coach that there was no need for concern. Auburn, which has allowed just one rushing touchdown, ranks fourth nationally in total defense, ninth in pass defense and 10th in rushing defense.

Auburn has allowed just one rushing touchdown in the last 53 quarters. Auburn opponents have been outscored 194-32 in the first half this season.

Travis Williams leads the aggressive defense with 68 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Safety Will Herring has 54 tackles, safety Junior Rosegreen has 49 tackles and five interceptions and linebacker Antarrious Williams has 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three sacks. End Stanley McClover has 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Cornerback Carlos Rogers, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, ranks second in the SEC in career pass deflections. Auburn has recorded an SEC-leading 35 sacks and has 14 interceptions and 87 tackles for loss.

"We are not big, but we are very physical," Tuberville said. "We practice very hard. The biggest difference in this team and last year is we are more athletic. Our philosophy was to put speed and athletes on the field and not worry about size."

Auburn enters the SEC Championship game with an 11-0 record and 8-0 conference mark. The Tigers are the sixth SEC team to go 8-0 in league play since the conference began divisional play in 1992.

The Tigers, who did not play last week, opened workouts for Saturday's game on November 27. "It was good to have a week off," Tuberville said. "We needed it. Now our tanks are filled up and we are ready to go. We went in full pads and had a lot of contact. It was a physical practice."

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