Where was Auburn’s Defense in the Arkansas Game ?
There has been much written about the high scoring SEC West shootout between Auburn and Arkansas. Razorback Coach Bobby Petrino was quoted in an Arkansas paper as saying “the game was like a heavy weight boxing match.” Anyone that viewed the contest could not help but agree with that analogy. It was a 15 rounder that saw each opponent delivering punishing blow after punishing blow. In such a bout the victory often goes to the one that is the most resilient and has the most heart.
Arkansas came into the game with the number one passing offense in the conference and Auburn came in with the number one running offense in the conference. Both teams played to their strengths with Arkansas gaining 428 yards in the air and Auburn totaling 332 yards on the ground. The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of offense for the night. However, as much as has been written about the offensive exhibition, it was in the end, a game won by the defense.
Some might wonder how anyone could make that claim when Auburn’s Defense was burned for 43 points. By now everyone in the CFB world knows that Auburn and Arkansas set a new SEC record Saturday night for most points ever scored (108) in regulation play. That’s not the usual formula for a defensive win. Nevertheless, the game was quite possibly the most entertaining in the history of Jordan-Hare.
The nationally televised high scoring affair boosted Auburn into the number four slot in the BCS rankings. Likewise it made Cam Newton the most talked about prospect for the Heisman on all the weekend sports talk shows. Yet the difference in the game was the play of the defense and the special teams which are full of defensive players.
‘Special’ is definitely the right word to use to describe Auburn’s special teams. Both coaches lauded their performance. Petrino said, “We got beat in the kicking game.” Auburn had “a huge advantage on special teams. It was a big difference in field position, and it made a big difference in the outcome of the game.” Coach Chizik who usually is low key in speaking about how good his Tigers might be, said (Auburn) “may have one of the best special teams around.”
Demond Washington and Onterio McCaleb combined for 221 yards on kickoffs and McCaleb’s return led to a Newton touchdown, Antonio Goodwin blocked a punt to set up a touchdown, Steven Clark averaged 40 yards with his two punts plus he had good hang time allowing the coverage team to get down field, and Wes Byrumproduced deep kick offs that were excellently covered by the kickoff units (the average starting field position on four of Arkansas’s possessions was the 16 yard line). Add to that the three field goals and eight perfect extra points and Byrum had another great night.
Early in the game the defense also appeared to be getting off to a good start until Nick Fairley‘s hit on Ryan Mallet sent the quarterback to the locker room with a concussion. Enter Red Shirt Sophomore Tyler Wilson. Wilson came into the game and gave his best Bret Farve impersonation by picking apart the Auburn secondary.
Until the fourth quarter the defense was just barely hanging on. Secondary CoachPhillip Lolley speaking on the post game radio show remarked that whatever Auburn did, Wilson could not seem to be slowed. He said, “We gave him several different looks. It didn’t seem to matter if we were in zone coverage or man to man, it seemed Wilson could make the plays.”
Auburn ISP side line reporter Quentin Riggins said,” There was a great chess match going on between Auburn Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof and Arkansas OC Garrick McGee.” Finally Roof signaled middle linebacker Josh Bynes to show blitz and at the very last minute sneak toward the middle in zone coverage. The move allowed Bynes to intercept Wilson twice in the fourth quarter and set up two Auburn touchdowns.
Josh was named the ‘Tiger Player’ of the game for his performance. Bynes said the defensive rally really started when Zach Etheridge scored on a 47 yard fumble recovery that was caused by Mike Blanc. With the third fourth quarter touchdown, the beleaguered defense had shut the door on Arkansas’s high powered offense for good. Checkmate, game out of reach, game over.
No one can deny that the 2010 Auburn offense has definitely arrived in a big way. On the other hand the defense is still in need of some shoring up in future recruiting classes. Even so, this unit inspired by the play of their offensive brothers, has no quit in them.
They have shown a lot of heart and Coach Chiz says, “They are a resilient bunch. When it was the fourth quarter and when we had to make plays and when we had to get turnovers, we got three.” Consequently it’s more than ironic that the highest scoring game in SEC history, came down to the defense providing the knockout blow in a truly heavy weight match.
As in most heavy weight matches it was a victory that was not without cost. Defensive back T’Sharvin Bell went down with a pulled hamstring and team leader Aairon Savage sustained another serious leg injury that required surgery Monday.
Now an already thin defense will have to close ranks, as Coach Roof works his magic of shuffling players around to face the Tigers next great challenge – The Bayou Bengals. Can they do it again? If heart has anything to do with it … The answer is a resounding yes.
Lets go Big Blue, beat LSU !
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