Auburn, Ala.--After giving up an average of 19 points a game this season, Auburn’s defense almost pitched its first shutout Saturday as it held Vanderbilt scoreless for three quarters.
The second-string defense finally gave up a touchdown late in the game after two pass interference calls against Auburn put the Commodores almost on the goal line.
It was the lone touchdown of the game for Vandy. Auburn won 35-7.
“It came from a week of good practice,” linebacker Chris Evans said. “We came out Tuesday and practiced real good. We had a game plan in order, and we executed. I think everybody’s trying to do their own job and just get out there. It’s assignment football.”
Afterward, head coach Tommy Tuberville called Evans “a warrior,” saying he’s held the defense together. He’s had to; the junior linebacker has been one of the few experienced players to remain healthy enough to start consistently. He’s played both outside and inside at linebacker this season, stepping in for his injured teammates.
Still, he’s almost speechless when asked about such high praise from his head coach.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “That’s a great compliment coming from Coach Tub.”
Evans is just one of a many defensive players who have stepped up to fill the role of injured players.
Many of Auburn’s big-name defensive stars watched Auburn win from the sidelines.
Linebacker Tray Blackmon re-injured an ankle in practice last week and didn’t play.
Senior defensive end Quentin Groves, one of the more vocal team leaders, is waiting on four dislocated toes to heal. He paced the sidelines during the game, screaming encouragement to his teammates, but could not play.
Safety Aairon Savage was benched with a twisted knee.
*Others, including linebacker Merrill Johnson, are all waiting for injuries to heal.
Rookie after rookie has been tapped to play and even start this year as Auburn’s defense has tried to deal with a spate of injuries. Defensive ends Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans, linebacker Craig Stevens and safety Zac Etheridge are all freshmen in the playing rotation. Etheridge starts at strong safety. Freshman Ryan Williams lost his redshirt and played at cornerback Saturday. Freshman Bo Harris got his first start Saturday at linebacker. He found out last Sunday that he would start against the Commodores.
“I had to start first-team and second-team during practice,” Harris said. “I did a couple of good things today, but I did a couple of bad things, too. We came out and ran around the ball, but we (freshmen) still have a lot to learn. I know I busted a few plays, so we still have a lot to learn.”
Still, despite a few busted plays, Auburn’s defense stifled Vanderbilt’s offense and almost manhandled leading receiver Earl Bennett. At halftime, Vanderbilt had just 66 yards of total offense; Auburn had 324. The Commodores finished the game with 221 yards of total offense. They netted 133 rushing yards and 88 passing yards.
Bennett, who entered the game leading the SEC in both double-digit catches and more than 100 yards a game, was stopped cold by Auburn’s defense. He caught just four passes for 31 yards.
“We were pumped up. We were pumped up. We were ready,” said cornerback Patrick Lee, who grabbed an interception Saturday. “That’s all we were saying in the locker room--three and out. Three and out. We prepared real hard.”
Lee said the defense didn’t let all the injuries and inexperience faze it.
“We’ve got good guys backing them boys up, so we knew we could still do it,” Lee said.
Lee’s interception was his second this season. He said he wants more. “It felt great,” he said. “I need to catch the ball more so I can have more. I thought I was going to be able to score a touchdown, but the quarterback got in my way. I was so mad. I thought I could outrun him, but he had a little speed on him. I left all my blockers behind.”
Sophomore defensive end Antonio Coleman got his first start against Vandy. He was so excited, he said, he took two cold showers Saturday morning.
“Actually we went to Georgia (to the team hotel) and I woke up at like 5 o’clock and took a cold shower,” he said. “Then I looked at the time on my phone and I was like man, it’s only 5 o’clock, so I hopped back in the bed and then got up later and took another cold shower. That’s what Coach Muschamp says to do--take a cold shower and get your piss out. So then we just came out and did what we had to do.”
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