Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn junior Gabe McKenzie made the switch from tight end to defensive end less than two weeks before the season opener many wondered why now? Wasn’t it too late for McKenzie to make the move. Apparently not.
Playing in all four games for the Tigers on defense, McKenzie has seven tackles in limited action. Last week against LSU he had one of the biggest plays of the game with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half.
Expected to play an even bigger role at defensive end this week against a physical Tennessee running game, McKenzie says the Tigers are trying to get over a tough loss to LSU.
“Everybody knew that it was a hard-fought game,” McKenzie says of his team's 26-21 setback last Saturday. “We knew they were going to come in and play. They had two weeks (to prepare for Auburn with the off week because of the hurricane), but we came out and played. That’s over now. We’re looking at the rest of the year.
"In 2007 Florida lost one and won the national championship. Last year LSU lost two and won the national championship. It’s over, we’ve recovered from it, and we’re looking at Tennessee now.”
This Saturay Auburn’s defense will try to find the magic once again after giving up 23 second half points to LSU. Much of the damage, surprisingly, came on the ground as LSU ran for 178 yards. McKenzie says the work this week in practice has been about finding out the reasons why that happened.
“The LSU game we had a couple of busts on lining up,” he says. “When everything was straight we were doing good against the run. I think everything is fine now. We’ve polished things and corrected it so it should be okay.”
Gabe McKenzie was a backup tight end last season.
Auburn has to be ready to see power again this week as Tennessee comes in with a physical offensive line and a pair of strong tailbacks in Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty. The two have combined for 322 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. McKenzie says Auburn is expecting an onslaught on the ground from the Vols this weekend.
“They’re going to do whatever they can to try to keep the game close,” McKenzie says. “They’re a real power team. They’re going to run the ball at us a lot. They’ve got a couple of guys on offense that can make plays.”
With a third of the regular season in the books McKenzie is no longer a rookie at defensive end. He admits that no longer does coach Terry Price treat him with kid gloves like he did when he made the move over. Now he’s treated just like everyone else at the position and McKenzie says that’s fine by him because now he feels like one of the guys.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable every week,” McKenzie says. “I’m watching film and watching practice and getting with Coach Price and learning little stuff every week. I’m just getting more and more comfortable.”
McKenzie and his teammates will kick off their third SEC game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday as they look for a fourth straight victory in their series vs. Tennessee as the teams meet for the first time since 2004. The game will be televised by CBS.
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