Auburn's defense thriving despite injuries, youth Print
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Tuesday, 16 October 2007 13:51
NCAAF Headline News

 AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Like many defenders, Auburn's Evan Brock was left shaking his head after an evening spent trying to stop Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Arkansas' terrific tailback duo.
Broken tackles? Brutal stiff-arms? Long touchdown runs? Nope, that wasn't what surprised Brock.
``I didn't expect it to be that easy,'' the Tigers' safety said.
It's hardly an easy task, but Auburn's feisty but short-handed defense made it look that way. In the process they spoiled another night for a Heisman Trophy contender and continued to carry the team back into the SEC West hunt leading up to Saturday night's game at No. 5 LSU.
McFadden had 43 yards. Jones had 42. The Razorbacks had no points in the first 58 minutes of Auburn's 9-7 win.
``I thought they were going to break a lot more tackles and outrun a couple of guys to the sideline,'' Brock said.
That performance came a few weeks after Auburn battered Florida's Tim Tebow - who still put up decent numbers - in another road win.
The Tigers have done all this with a speedy, swarming defense and a fiery coordinator who might get more TV air time than any of his players. Four starters have missed considerable playing time with injuries.
The biggest factor?
``Tackling,'' coach Tommy Tuberville said. ``You go back and look at the Florida game, they got very few yards after we made contact. (Against Arkansas), I think we missed six tackles. I've never heard of that, and I've been on some good defenses before.
``We've got speed to match teams like that,'' he said. ``Not a lot of people are going to outrun us. We might not be big. We try to be physical, but we keep as many speed guys on the field as we can.''
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who once held the same job at LSU, certainly tries to be physical, too. He can frequently be seen on the sideline drenched in sweat, hollering and with a wide-eyed, intense stare.
One rant was even posted on YouTube after the Arkansas game.
``I think everybody's seen it,'' defensive tackle Josh Thompson said. ``It's more funny than anything. We know how he is, we see it everyday. But the public usually doesn't see how he is. It was funny to us.''
He described Muschamp as having ``I guess a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality.'' Tuberville's not quite sure of the proper description.
``Is it fiery or crazy?'' he said. ``I stay out of his way, especially when the team's done well and they're coming off the field, because he's jumping on everybody. That's what it's about. It's about enthusiasm and enjoying it.
``He coaches hard from the time the ball kicks off to the end.''
It's been effective. The Tigers have held Florida and Arkansas to an average of 33.9 points and 260 yards below their season averages coming into the game.
They're ranked in the nation's top 12 in total, scoring and passing defense in Muschamp's second year at Auburn.
The numbers are more impressive because of the circumstances.
Linebacker Tray Blackmon just returned to the starting lineup against Arkansas from an ankle injury and wound up being SEC defensive player of the week.
Star defensive end Quentin Groves, who has more career sacks than any other current college player, hasn't played in the past two games with a toe injury. Starting linebacker Merrill Johnson has been sidelined most of the season with a shoulder injury but is expected to return against LSU. Safety Aairon Savage has barely played with a knee injury.
``If we can stay away from injuries, we're going to have a good team by the end of the year on defense,'' Tuberville said.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers also isn't ready to tout this defense as being among the nation's elite - yet.
``Right now, I'm not sure how good we are,'' Powers said. ``We look pretty decent, but I'm not sure we can be compared to like the greatest defense in the country right now.
``I would say probably LSU has the best defense in the country. So we're just trying to get to those guys' level.''
 

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