Auburn, Ala.--Part of an Auburn defensive line that has been banged up the last two games in losses to Vanderbilt and Arkansas, junior defensive end Gabe McKenzie is one of the few Tigers who hasn’t fought through injuries in recent weeks.
With fellow defensive ends Antonio Coleman, Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans bothered along with tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, Auburn is hoping a week off to rest helped get them closer to full speed. McKenzie says that will be important in facing an explosive offensive team like West Virginia.
“Everybody got a little rest,” McKenzie says. “People went home and relaxed a little bit. We’ve got a good team ahead of us. They are a fast team with explosive players but if we come out and do our job we’ll be okay.”
Perhaps the most dangerous player in college football the last four seasons has been WVU quarterback Patrick White. A native of Daphne, White is close to eclipsing the 4,000 yard mark for rushing and McKenzie says he’s always been a threat even dating back to his high school days.
“When I was a sophomore or junior we played them and went for it on fourth and one and didn’t get it,” McKenzie says. “The next play he went 70 yards for a touchdown. That’s what kind of player he is. He can break out at any time because he’s fast. You’ve got to put a hat on him and find a way to shut him down. You have to try to take the ball out of his hands and make somebody else win the game.”
With West Virginia, even if you slow White you’ve still got to deal with talented sophomore running back Noel Devine. McKenzie says that the duo are definitely a challenge to stop in the running game, but like always that is where the defensive plan starts.
“Just like every game we’ve got to stop the run,” McKenzie says. “We’ve got to slow down their speed guys and give them ball to the offense and let them do their job.”
Something in Auburn’s favor is having first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads on the job. Familiar with WVU’s system after facing them while at Pitt, Rhoads was the architect of an outstanding performance last season that saw the Panthers shut down the Mountaineers. McKenzie says that has been a big help as the Tigers prepare for Thursday night’s game.
“With him being the defensive coordinator when they played them last year he knows the things they do,” McKenzie says. “He knows how to stop them. He’s prepared us for fast counts, slow counts, a full backfield. He’s addressed a lot of stuff. We’re going to be very prepared.”
As healthy as they’ve been since early in the season on the defensive front, the Tigers are looking to hold down West Virginia enough to allow their own offense to get untracked. McKenzie says while it will be difficult, winning this game against the Mountaineers is just what this team needs to turn the season around.
“When we’ve been healthy we’ve been one of the top defenses in the country,” McKenzie says. “We’ve got all of our guys back so we’ve got an edge on that. The week off gave everybody a chance to get some treatment so everybody will have a chance to play.
“It would put us back on our feet and on a roll,” McKenzie says of possibly getting a win. “These next five games are all going to be big and we’re going to try to win them all.”
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