Baton Rouge, La.—Just over three weeks ago the 19th-ranked Auburn Tigers went into a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks as double-digit underdogs with a defense ranked as one of the worst in the country and played tough defense in a win over Steve Spurrier’s team. After showing more positive signs in a loss to Arkansas, the Tigers answered the bell again last weekend in a win over the Florida Gators.
One of the biggest reasons for the defensive turnaround has been the play of the front four led by Corey Lemonier, Nosa Eguae, Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter. In addition young guys such as Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright, Devaunte Sigler and Craig Sanders have stepped up their game as well.
Blackson said while his role has diminished some with the defense now getting off the field with more regularity on third downs and not playing as many snaps, it hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm for what the team is accomplishing.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into, but we went into the game prepared,” he said of Florida. “We went into the game knowing that we could hold these dudes. From the beginning of the game, we knew that the defense was going to have to win the game. We kind of prepared ourselves for it to come down to that. I didn't play very many snaps (six), but I was cheering Jeff up, keeping him in the game, helping him out, getting him pumped. It was a whole basically team defensive effort.
“We were ranked the last defense in the NCAA. It's more than enough motivation to come out there and beat a good team like Florida. That was pretty much the motivation, playing a good team. We practiced hard. We worked hard. We prepared hard, so you've got to get a victory out of it.”
Coaches would always prefer to allow freshmen to get their experience at a slow pace, but that wasn’t something this Auburn team could afford to do this fall on defense as Blackson and his fellow youngsters had to grow up on the run. Taking their lumps early in the season and finally beginning to put things together, Blackson said the young guys are finally realizing what it takes to be successful on this level.
“We're a lot more physical than we were,” Blackson said. “We're a lot more mental. We know our assignments, we know our alignments, we know what to do. As an individual, you play better when you know what you're doing. Basically getting all the mental stuff down helps you play faster, slows the game down a whole bunch. Then you just go play, you just go ball.”
Auburn will have to take another huge step forward on defense as the Tigers face off against a powerful and talented LSU offense on Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Even without running back Spencer Ware, who is expected to miss the game because of a suspension, the Bengal Tigers still have plenty of weapons for Auburn to try to slow down. Blackson said Auburn’s chances will come down to how hard they work every play.
“They're very physical,” Blackson said. “Coach made the statement that they can be beat just like everybody else. If we come off and know what to do and play physical, they can be beat. They're not Superman on the line, they can be beat. They can be outworked. We've just got to get in our minds as a defensive line front to just outwork them. We can take them down.”
With a pair of losses already this season, but ahead of where many of the pundits predicted this team would be, Auburn will attempt to pull off a huge upset this weekend on the road as a 21-point underdog. Blackson said this team is focused on winning no matter the circumstances or how many people tell them they don’t have a chance.
“Five-and-2 is not where we should be,” Blackson said. “We should be 7-0 or whatever. It is what it is. We come out we play our butts off every game. We're working to beat every team. Losing is not acceptable, as Coach Chiz always says.
“We're not out there to try to get through. We're trying to win every game. We're trying to outwork everybody. Unfortunately we lost two, but that's just more motivation to come back and keep beating these good teams so we can get back into this race for the SEC championship game we're trying to get into.”
Saturday's Auburn vs. LSU game will kick off shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday and will be televised by CBS.
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