Auburn's defense gives and takes away

By John Zenor
AP Sports Writer / October 19, 2010

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AUBURN, Ala.—No. 5 Auburn's defense has both given generously and taken away freely.

The Tigers remain unbeaten not only because of quarterback Cam Newton and a prolific offense but also because of an opportunistic defense.

It has mostly gotten attention by serving up heaping helpings of yards and points, but that's only part of the story.

Auburn (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference), which hosts No. 6 LSU on Saturday, has forced four fourth-quarter turnovers against No. 19 South Carolina and three to No. 21 Arkansas over the past four games.

"Defensively, I keep using the word resilient," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said on Tuesday. "Here's what I like about our defense: They keep fighting. They're into the game.

"We've made a habit of making games really close, but a good amount of the time defensively, when we seemingly haven't been playing well, somebody steps up at the end of the game and has been able to make a play."

That was linebacker Josh Bynes in last weekend's 65-43 win over Arkansas, when he had two fourth-quarter interceptions. The Tigers set up three of their four touchdowns in the final quarter with turnovers to overcome a 43-37 deficit.

By the way, they also allowed 30 first downs and 428 yards passing, most of them from backup quarterback Tyler Wilson after star Ryan Mallett was injured. The 108 combined points was the most points ever scored in a non-overtime SEC game.

Only the finish would qualify as a badge of honor for the defense.

"I think it just shows that whatever the situation is, we just know how to find a way to come together and find a stop when we need it as far as just playing together as a unit," linebacker Craig Stevens said.

Auburn's defensive backs were helpless at times against the Razorbacks and receivers like South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, who had 192 yards. The much-maligned secondary sustained a blow when safety Aairon Savage was lost possibly for the season with a leg injury that required surgery.

He'll be replaced by senior Mike McNeil. Even with the sixth-year senior Savage, Auburn's pass defense ranks 108th nationally in giving up a league-worst 272 yards passing per game. The Tigers are 10th in scoring defense, allowing 29.5 points on average.

"Auburn has a good defense, but it gets a lot of points scored against it," LSU receiver Russell Shepard said. "I like to hear that number (43 points). The style of defense Auburn plays is bend, but don't break. We have to make them break. We have to make things happen on the perimeter."

Auburn might be a good opponent to try to make that happen, or it might be a chance for a beleaguered secondary to gain some confidence. LSU's 140.3 passing yards a game is last in the league.

Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae brushes aside his defense's ugly numbers.

"It's all about wins and losses," Eguae said. "We don't worry about stats."

It helps to be able to count on the nation's No. 6 scoring offense and a Heisman Trophy contender in Newton.

The run defense has been reliable, too, with tackles Zach Clayton and Nick Fairley, who leads the league with 13.5 tackles for loss. That's a key number considering LSU's spotty passing offense and sturdy running game led by Stevan Ridley.

"They have a great defensive line," LSU guard Josh Dworaczyk said. "That's the strength of their defense. We have to be prepared for their speed, their power, their all-out aggressiveness."

Auburn's defense has definitely gotten better at the end. Auburn has allowed 51, 50 and 49 points in the first three quarters, and 21 through seven games in the fourth.

"We haven't always played great defensively throughout the course of the game from the beginning to the end," Chizik said. "It's hard to do that these days, especially with the explosive offenses that we've been up against.

"We talk to them all the time about, don't look at the scoreboard, don't look at the stats, don't look at any of that stuff until the clock says :00. They've really, really sunk their teeth into that."