I love college football. I love to see the break away running back, the fearless gun slinging quarterback, the last minute game heroics, the pageantry, tailgating, pretty girls, barbecue, crazed fans, loud stadiums, the rise and fall of emotions with the natural ebb and flow of the game … I love it all; but most of all – I love to watch the defense play.
I guess that puts me in the minority because most people like offense. You know the old saying, “Offense puts butts in the seats and defense wins championships.” But for me, I would rather see Walt McFadden run back a 101 yard interception than see Cam Newton throw a long bomb for a touchdown. Don’t get me wrong, I love both, it’s just that ‘Defense’ excites me more.
I love to see the opponent’s offense get frustrated and out of sync because a swarming defense has intercepted passes, hurried throws, caused turnovers, and rang up numerous quarterback sacks. I love to see the opponent’s offense back on their heals playing timid because the ‘D’ keeps coming at them from every which way they turn.
I love to see goal line stands that save the game, defensive linemen that terrorize quarterback’s, and defensive back’s that make receivers pay for crossing the middle. Yes bone crushing, jaw rattling tackles that can be heard in the stands. Yes D E F E N S E is where it’s at for me; defense is what excites me.
At the beginning of last year though, most “experts” were not very excited about the Auburn Defense. Admittedly they had their deficiencies, most glaringly in the secondary and Auburn finished in last place in the SEC in pass defense. However, they finished 1st in the SEC and 9th in the country against the run. That figure is especially significant when you consider that the Tigers played eight bowl teams (more than any other team) and faced 6 downhill running teams, only yielding 119 yards per game including just 69 yards to the Tide and their 2009 Heisman running back.
Most importantly when the chips were down they always found a way to come through. Whether it was T-Sharvin Bell sacking Greg McElroy in the Iron Bowl to preserve a victory or the ‘D’ making a goal line stand in the BCS Championship game.
As proud as the Auburn faithful were of their defense in 2010, the 2011 defense has a chance to be better. Yes, I know the Tigers lost eight starters including the Lombardi winner off last year’s unit. And I realize that Auburn’s ‘D’ will be populated with mostly sophomores and freshmen with precious little collegiate game experience.
Yet I also know that Auburn may have the most talented defense that it has fielded in recent years. If the Tigers can get by the first 3-4 games of the season with all that youth gaining valuable playing time – then opponents need to watch out for this group.
Everyone will be looking to see how the D line (Auburn’s 2010 strong suit) will fair this season. Although the big names are gone, coaches are high on Gabe Wright - the nation’s No. 1 DT coming out of high school, Jeffrey Whitaker - the No. 5 DT coming out of high school, sophomore Kenneth Carter, junior Jamar Travis, and possibly freshman Angelo Blackson. This group of tackles has the potential to be a phenomenal and fearsome unit.
Look for sophomore ends Nosa Equae and Corey Lemonier to be book end pass rushers in the mold of the 2009 SEC sack leader Antonio Coleman. Equae took over the starting role toward the end of the season last year and he is poised to have a breakout year in 2011. In addition, Ladrious Owens a red shirt freshman should see playing time, as well as talented and possible backups sophomore Craig Sanders, and juniors Dee Ford and Joel Bonomolo.
The back seven begins in the middle with Josh Bynes’ back up from last year, sophomoreJake Holland who will be calling the plays. Hard hitting head hunter junior Daren Bateswill probably fill the RLB slot with a strong backup from sophomore Harris Gaston. SeniorEltoro Freeman will most likely get the nod at Left side LB, although junior Jonathan Evans may challenge him for that spot.
Before the season is out, we will probably see the biggest breakout player of the group in true freshman Erique Florence who was one of the top five safety prospects in the nation coming into Auburn.
Can such a young group be as good as last year’s defense? As a unit the Tigers are long on talent and short on experience. They will have to play seven ranked teams including a murderous road schedule.
Nevertheless if these guys can get a few successful games under their belt, then the 2011 Tiger ‘D’ may be better than the BCS Championship Defense. Only time will give us the answer, but my money is on the Tigers.