Still another level for Auburn's defense

September, 6, 2008
9/06/08
5:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

AUBURN, Ala. -- Cupcake time is over for Auburn.

At least, that was junior defensive end Antonio Coleman's assessment following the No. 10-ranked Tigers' 27-13 victory over Southern Miss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It's debatable whether the Golden Eagles really qualify as a cupcake. They did roll up a school-record 633 yards of total offense in their season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette. But they're also not an SEC school.

And it's all SEC from here on out for the Tigers. That is, until they travel up to No. 8-ranked West Virginia on Oct. 23. The Tigers open SEC play next weekend at Mississippi State.

"We know it only turns up from here, but we're going to turn it up, too," Coleman said. "We wanted the shutout and didn't get it. I think we might have lost some of our intensity there in the second half after they scored. You can't do that no matter who you're playing. But two games in, we're playing pretty good on defense and are going to get a lot better."

Southern Miss' 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter was a downer for the Auburn defense, and the Tigers didn't finish the game on either side of the ball the way Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville would have liked.

But this is a defense that's going to keep the Tigers in every game they play this season.

"We're playing good defense right now. I want to see us when we start playing great defense," said junior defensive end Michael Goggans, whose development on the opposite side of Coleman has only solidified an already imposing front four.

The Tigers lost a pair of defensive linemen to the NFL last season (Quentin Groves and Pat Sims) and haven't dropped off a bit. If anything, they're even faster.

"Every guy we lost last year, we had a guy to step in right behind him that played almost to the same level they did," Auburn junior defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "We had guys to fill in at each position that we can count on to go out and get the job done."

Auburn held Southern Miss to 37 yards rushing. That's after Southern Miss had 427 yards on the ground last week.

"Holding them to 37 yards [rushing] is huge," Tuberville said. "It forces them to throw the ball down the field. They made some plays, but we also picked a few passes off, and that was the difference in the game."

Jerraud Powers and Zac Etheridge each had interceptions. Powers' was a diving pick on a deep ball after Southern Miss had pulled within 27-13 midway through the fourth quarter.

"We got a little bit too conservative in the second half [defensively], but their receivers are as good as any we'll play," Tuberville said.

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