SEC: Robenson Therezie

Opening spring camp: Auburn

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
10:00
AM ET
Schedule: The reigning SEC champions will begin their title defense on Tuesday when they open spring practice in Auburn, Ala. They will work out every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday before wrapping up with the A-day scrimmage on Saturday, April 19 at 1 p.m. ET.

What’s new: After a complete overhaul of the coaching staff last offseason, Auburn’s current coaches will all be back for a second year on the Plains. There were rumors involving head coach Gus Malzahn (University of Texas, Cleveland Browns), as well as some of his assistants, but now that the dust has settled, they will be one of five coaching staffs in the SEC that will remain intact next season.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCan Gus Malzahn and QB Nick Marshall improve on Auburn's successful last season?
On the move: Word out of Auburn is that there’s a strong possibility that wide receiver Trovon Reed moves to cornerback this spring. The former ESPN 300 star, who caught nine passes for 98 yards as a junior, hinted at the move in January via Instagram, but Malzahn refuted the rumor, calling it “premature.” The news will likely become official Monday when Malzahn holds his pre-spring news conference. The other name to watch is Johnathan Ford. There has been talk that the sophomore cornerback will return to his natural running back position, but the staff has also considered moving him to safety this spring.

On the mend: Safety Joshua Holsey injured his knee in practice just days before the Texas A&M game and missed the rest of the season. It was a costly blow to an already thin Auburn secondary, and with the loss of three seniors back there, his return next season is paramount. However, he’s questionable for spring and will likely not participate in any contact drills. Offensive lineman Jordan Diamond is also expected to be no-contact per Malzahn. There’s been no word on the progress of wide receiver Jaylon Denson, who tore his patellar tendon early in the season against LSU, but he’s considered doubtful for spring practice.

New faces: Auburn will have five early enrollees this spring but none bigger than wide receiver D’haquille Williams. He was the nation’s No. 1 junior college player, and he has the size, skill and potential to make an immediate impact for the Tigers. The next month will give him the opportunity to get acclimated, work with the quarterbacks and learn the offense. His teammate in junior college, Derrick Moncrief, is also expected to push for early playing time at either safety or the Star position. He’s the lone newcomer on defense.

Question marks: Auburn’s defense struggled at times last season, but it still improved under first-year coordinator Ellis Johnson. The stats prove it. However, Johnson will be the first to tell you that his unit needs to play better if the Tigers want to have any chance of duplicating last year’s success. It won’t be easy, though, as they need to replace five starters on defense including the team leader in sacks, Dee Ford, and the team leader in tackles, Chris Davis. With plenty of depth up front and budding stars like Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, the defensive line shouldn’t be a problem, but the secondary is a different story. The coaches will have to mix and match back there before reinforcements arrive this summer.

Key battle: When Greg Robinson left early for the NFL, it didn’t come as a surprise -- he’s a surefire top-five pick -- but it left a gaping hole at left tackle for Auburn. Malzahn said that offensive line coach J.B. Grimes will open it up to Shon Coleman, Robinson’s backup last fall, and Patrick Miller, a former starter at right tackle. But there’s more. The second-year coach also mentioned Avery Young and Robert Leff as possibilities to win the job. Young is the one to keep an eye on. He’s entrenched as the starter at right tackle after taking over midway through the year, but there’s a good chance the staff moves him over to left tackle at some point this spring, especially if neither Coleman nor Miller emerge as the favorite.

Breaking out: On Friday, I wrote about running back Peyton Barber and defensive end Elijah Daniel (read here), who could both emerge this spring, but junior wide receiver Ricardo Louis is another player who falls in the same category. He’s more established than the other two, finishing second on the team last season with 28 receptions for 325 yards, but he has yet to live up to his potential. With Williams now on campus, along with ESPN 300 wide receiver Stanton Truitt, it might be now or never for Louis.

Don’t forget about: On the subject of breakout performances, who can forget what Justin Garrett did last spring? He impressed the coaches so much so that he earned a starting role on Auburn’s defense heading into the fall. The problem was that he never made a start. Multiple injuries kept him off the field and prevented him from ever truly making an impact last season. The junior accepted a medical hardship and is now eager to return this spring, finally healthy. The coaches loved his versatility at the Star position, and if he can replicate what he did last spring, he could push Robenson Therezie for playing time.

All eyes on: There are plenty of talented players and key pieces on Auburn’s 2014 roster, but the Tigers will go where Nick Marshall takes them. The senior quarterback was absent last spring after transferring from junior college and arriving in the summer, but it didn’t seem to faze him during the season. He threw for 1,976 yards, rushed for 1,068 yards and combined to score 37 touchdowns. Now he’s a legitimate Heisman candidate heading into the upcoming season. The scary part is that he’s still improving as a passer. That’s the area where the coaches want to work with him this spring, but with all of his receivers back and the additions of Williams and Truitt, it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t take the next step as an all-around quarterback.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was greeted by crowd of television cameras as he stepped out of the shiny black Chevy SUV that had escorted he and several of his teammates to the Newport Beach Marriott on Friday morning for the Seminoles’ offensive news conference.

Sipping on his Starbucks, Winston was once again unfazed as the center of attention.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsHeisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston threw 38 touchdown passes this season and just 10 interceptions.
After a whirlwind awards tour, which included a trip to New York to claim his Heisman Trophy, Winston was again lighting up the stage with his engaging personality. He was the focus -- not just for the media, but also for Auburn’s defense. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson conceded that the Tigers “have not been, by all standards, a really good defense this year.” That’s going to have to change on Monday night against the Seminoles if the Tigers hope to win the Vizio BCS National Championship, and according to Ellis, the difference in the game will be the defense’s ability to pressure Winston into uncharacteristic mistakes.

“It's going to be a big factor,” Ellis said. “The play in the box, they have tremendous skill out on the edges, but the pressure in the box is going to be one of the biggest keys to any defensive success that we have. There will be some other things in the game we can't control, kicking game, offense, all are going to contribute. But as far as us performing defensively and giving our football team a chance to win, there's got to be pressure on the quarterback.”

Somehow, pressure doesn’t seem to get to the 19-year-old first-year starter.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, on plays Winston is pressured (knocked down or hurried), he completes an AQ-high 62 percent of his passes and is averaging 11.1 yards per attempt. The AQ average for a quarterback when pressured is 35 percent and 4.7 yards per attempt.

It’s a statistical mismatch in Florida State’s favor, but Auburn’s hybrid safety, Robenson Therezie, isn’t deterred.

“With our game plan I feel like when we execute and do our jobs, I feel like we can keep him outside his comfort zone,” Therezie said. “With our front four, I don't think he's seen the front four he's about to face on January 6th. It's a completely different front four than he's ever faced. With our secondary, I don't think he's seen the secondary that he's seen all year with our secondary. It's completely different from all the other leagues he's played in.”

The good news for Auburn’s defense: It has had a little experience with elite SEC quarterbacks. Now the bad news: Against the offenses of Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and James Franklin, Auburn allowed 7.3 yards per play.

"I think seeing those type of players, week in and week out, definitely gets you ready," defensive back Jermaine Whitehead said. “I mean, seeing previous Heisman winners gets you ready for a guy that just won the Heisman. Playing against those guys a couple years now, watching them grow and watching how they transpired over the years, the depth of exactly what Winston has the capacity of ...

“I think being in those situations, also, has shown us how to be resilient, not give up when they make a big play. We understand that their college football team is one of the best in the country, and they’re going to have big times in the game, and how we respond is going to be the test of the game.”
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Florida State’s wide receivers and Auburn’s secondary.

Florida State’s wide receivers: It’s not a deep group, but there may not be a more dynamic set of receivers in the country than what Jameis Winston has at his disposal at Florida State.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is a physical presence who can also break free and make big plays.
Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Greene is one of the nation’s most consistent threats, and while he’s not imposing physically, he runs precise routes and rarely drops a pass. Shaw is the lone senior in the group, and he’s averaging 18 yards a catch and has topped 89 yards receiving seven times. But it’s Benjamin who should keep Auburn defenders awake at night.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Benjamin is as physical a receiving threat as there is in college football. He excels at jump balls, is physical at the line of scrimmage, and loves blocking downfield. His career has been marked by inconsistency, but he was red hot to end the regular season, with 17 catches for 458 yards and eight TDs in his last four games.

Even if Auburn manages to corral all of Florida State’s deep threats, tight end Nick O’Leary is a wild card. O’Leary has 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is one of Winston’s favorite targets. As the big three receivers draw attention downfield, O’Leary provides a dangerous weapon underneath and is capable of picking up big chunks of yards after the catch.

And, of course, the key to all of it is Winston, the Heisman winner and one of the country’s most aggressive quarterbacks. Winston completes 55.8 percent of his passes of 15 yards or more (second only to Baylor’s Bryce Petty among AQ QBs) and has 19 TDs without an INT in the red zone this season.

Auburn’s secondary: In the last three games, Auburn has had a difficult time defending the pass. Aaron Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. AJ McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. And in the SEC championship game, James Franklin threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Tigers are about to face the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.8).

It’s a group that remains confident in their ability, but they know they have a steep challenge ahead of them.

The most notable name is cornerback Chris Davis, but that’s more because of his field-goal return to beat Alabama than his pass coverage. Still, he’s the No. 1 cornerback and the team’s best chance of shutting down an opposing wide receiver. It’s the cornerback opposite Davis, Jonathon Mincy, who teams have been able to pick on this season.

Mincy was defending Amari Cooper when the Alabama wide receiver hauled in a 99-yard touchdown pass in the Iron Bowl. He also had no answer for Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. If he draws the assignment of defending Benjamin, which is what he wants, it could be a long day for the Tigers.

The X-factor could be Robenson Therezie who plays the Star position in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense. He leads the team in interceptions (four) and is fourth in tackles (55). He’ll primarily focus on covering the slot receiver, but he might also be asked to cover O’Leary at times or even blitz from time to time. Auburn isn’t going to stop Winston, but Therezie could make life a little more difficult for the Florida State quarterback.

Hale: Big edge Florida State

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

What to watch in the SEC: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
10:15
AM ET
Almost nobody thought these two teams -- neither of which even reached bowl eligibility a season ago after going a combined 2-14 in SEC play -- would be here when the season started, but here we are. No. 3 Auburn (11-1) and No. 5 Missouri (11-1) will meet in Atlanta on Saturday with an SEC championship, a BCS bowl berth and maybe a spot in the national championship game at stake.

Let's take a look at five things to watch in Saturday's showdown at the Georgia Dome:

Possible hangovers: One could hardly blame Auburn if it entered this game a bit flat. Gus Malzahn's Tigers are coming off consecutive miracle wins against their biggest rivals: Georgia and Alabama. Chris Davis' missed field goal return for a touchdown against the top-ranked Crimson Tide resonated outside the sports world, considering that it was a subject on conversation on “The View” and the “Today” show and not just on sports highlight shows. Likewise, an emotional win against Texas A&M prompted the home fans to empty onto the field after Missouri clinched the SEC East title last Saturday. If one of these teams starts slowly Saturday, it could easily find itself facing a big deficit early in the game.

Defending the run: If Missouri is able to slow down Auburn's powerful running game (No. 5 nationally at 318.2 YPG), it will be in a small group of defenses that has been successful in that endeavor this season. Alabama -- which entered last week's game ranked fourth nationally against the run -- couldn't do it, as Auburn ran 52 times for 296 yards. In fact, Auburn has run for at least 200 yards in all but one game this season. Tre Mason (237 carries, 1,317 yards, 18 TDs) is the league's top rusher at 109.8 yards per game and quarterback Nick Marshall (140-922, 10 TDs) is eighth at 83.8 YPG. Meanwhile, Missouri -- which is 14th nationally against the run (119.1 YPG) has yet to allow 200 yards in any game. Let's not forget about the other side of this token, however. Missouri's offense performs with more balance than Auburn's, but its running game has been extremely productive, as well. Missouri ranks second in the league in rushing offense (236.2 YPG) with Henry Josey (153-951, 13 TDs) leading the way and ranking ninth in the league with 79.2 yards per game.

Auburn secondary against Missouri's big wideouts: Auburn has done a good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but its secondary has been erratic at best. The Tigers surrendered 277 passing yards and three touchdowns to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron last week -- including a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper -- and gave up 415 yards to Georgia's Aaron Murray in the previous game. Overall, Auburn ranks second-to-last in the SEC against the pass (256.7 YPG), which is a scary sign with Missouri's big, talented receiving corps on deck. The Tigers have the No. 5 passing offense in the league (252.6 YPG), featuring L'Damian Washington (44 catches, 824 yards, 10 TDs) and Dorial Green-Beckham (49-686, 10 TDs), who rank seventh and 12th, respectively, in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Senior Marcus Lucas (50-596, 2 TDs) ranks 10th with 4.17 catches per game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Zumapress/Icon SMIMichael Sam and Missouri's defensive front will be tested by Auburn's powerful run game.
Containing quarterbacks: Marshall's emergence has been one of the leading factors in Auburn's revival after last season's dismal results. Not only is he poised to become a 1,000-yard rusher, but he has made some enormous plays in the passing game -- and not just the miracle pass for the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to Ricardo Louis against Georgia. He hit Sammie Coates with a crucial game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute against Alabama, went for 339 yards -- including the game-winning touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining -- against Mississippi State and made some huge throws in the road win against Texas A&M. He has fumbled 11 times this season (and only lost four), however, so Missouri's turnover-happy defense (SEC-high 27 takeaways) will most certainly look to generate some momentum off Marshall turnovers. On the other hand, Mizzou's James Franklin creates major matchup issues of his own. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound quarterback earned the nickname “Frank the Tank” with his physical running style, although it would be understandable if he hesitated to put his shoulder down Saturday after missing four games with a shoulder injury suffered against Georgia. Franklin was a combined 30-for-47 for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Ole Miss and Texas A&M since returning from the injury and also rushed 26 times for 122 yards in those two games, so he appears to be back to the form that makes him so difficult to corral.

Defensive playmakers: Few defensive players, if any, have made a bigger impact around the SEC this season than Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, while fellow defensive lineman Markus Golden is fourth with 13 TFLs and Kony Ealy (9.5) and Shane Ray (9.0) aren't far outside the top 10. If Auburn's typical form holds, Mizzou won't have much of a chance to add to its SEC-leading sack total, but its defensive front will be the determining factor in whether it can handle Auburn's running game. Aside from defensive end Dee Ford (eight sacks, 12 TFLs), Auburn doesn't have many defensive players whose individual stats jump off the page. But a deep defensive line and playmakers like Robenson Therezie, Ryan Smith and Davis have combined to deliver some clutch plays when the Tigers needed a boost the most.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The mark of a good football team is not just winning, but winning on the road.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIAfter finishing the road portion of their schedule on a strong note, Gus Malzahn's Tigers close out the regular season at home against two tough opponents.
Auburn took care of business on Saturday, beating a dangerous Tennessee team in Knoxville. The 55-23 victory was the team’s third straight triumph away from home, but the Tigers still remember their first road trip of the season and the quarter that continues to haunt them to this day.

Auburn started the season 3-0 and looked to have its confidence back. But that quickly changed when the Tigers arrived in Death Valley for a road test with LSU. They fumbled on each of their first two possessions, and LSU capitalized. Before the players ever broke a sweat, Auburn was down 14-0 in one of the most hostile environments in college football.

“The first quarter we were on the verge of being terrible against LSU, and I think everybody saw that,” head coach Gus Malzahn said.

But once the initial storm passed, the Tigers played pretty good football and actually outscored LSU in the second half. Though they lost that game, they learned from it. They tasted defeat on the road, and since that point, they have yet to leave a visiting locker room without celebrating a victory, picking up wins at Texas A&M, Arkansas and most recently Tennessee.

“Our first road game, we turned the ball over,” defensive back Robenson Therezie said. “We understand [it's important] not turning the ball over, and just those little things that we have to fix in order to win a road game because we know they’ve got all the momentum, all their fans making noise and everything.

“At the same time, we’ve just got each other, and we just have to focus on the little things -- not turning the ball over, playing good defense -- just to win.”

The good news is Auburn will not play in a visiting stadium until next season. The bad news is the Tigers still have two Top 25 teams on their schedule. Still, the players are elated to return home for the team’s last two regular-season games.

“It’s very exciting,” cornerback Chris Davis said. “I told them before we went out, ‘This is the last road game, let’s take advantage of it.’ We’ve got two more tough games at home that we end with, so for this to be the last road game, it’s a good road win for us.”

And Auburn will have no trouble getting up for its last two home games. On Saturday, the Tigers host No. 25 Georgia, and on Nov. 30, No. 1 Alabama comes to town in what has turned out to be a much-anticipated Iron Bowl.

“That’s very exciting for us with Georgia next week, then you get a bye week, and then come in with Alabama,” running back Corey Grant said. “To finally be done with the road games and be home for big games is something to look forward to.”

“Now it’s time to turn up in Jordan-Hare Stadium,” Therezie said. “It feels good.”

There’s a lot at stake for Auburn in these last two regular-season games. Win both and the Tigers are headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. A loss could take them out of contention for a BCS bowl game.

Malzahn knows it will be a challenge, but he’ll have his team ready.

“Anytime you're playing good teams, you have to play your best football,” he said. “We talked about improvement in each practice and each game, and I feel like for the most part we've done that all season. We're going to have to continue to do that because you're talking about two of the better teams in all of college football.”

Midseason report: Auburn

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
10:00
AM ET
Of the four first-year head coaches in the SEC, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is having the best season to this point. His Tigers are 5-1, ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2011 and coming off a game where they set a school record with 712 yards of total offense against Western Carolina.

Auburn certainly looks to be ahead of schedule with their rebuilding efforts.

The offense has thrived under Malzahn. The Tigers lead the SEC in rushing at 287 yards per game. Their trio of running backs -- Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant -- have all rushed for over 100 yards in at least one game this season. Even quarterback Nick Marshall reached the century mark with 100 yards rushing against Ole Miss.

Meanwhile, the defense has also shown signs of improvement. Although they’ve given up plenty of yards, the Tigers are ranked in the top half of the league in scoring defense. They have been solid in the red zone, and they’re making plays in critical situations.

The road ahead is not an easy one. Three of the Tigers’ next four games are on the road, including Saturday’s matchup with No. 7 Texas A&M. They finish the year with back-to-back home games against Georgia and Alabama. However, the Tigers are just one win away from bowl eligibility, a monumental step for a team who had just three wins a season ago.

Offensive MVP: C Reese Dismukes

When you lead the SEC in both rushing yards and fewest sacks allowed, it says something about your offensive line. For Auburn, Dismukes is the leader of that group. He also claims he leads his fellow offensive linemen with over 60 knockdowns this season, the only stat they keep track of on the line, but his impact goes far beyond the numbers. Every play starts with him, so if the offense falters, it’s on him. If they execute, that’s on him, too. Through six games, it’s safe to say Dismukes has helped trigger a lot of positive plays.

Defensive MVP: DB Robenson Therezie

Therezie wasn’t even a starter coming out of fall camp. The only reason he started the season opener was because of an injury to Justin Garrett, but he took full advantage of the opportunity. Therezie finished with seven tackles and two interceptions against Washington State, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Since that game, he’s found a permanent home at the Star position for the Tigers. He leads the team in both tackles (28) and interceptions (3), and he made a critical pick-six in Auburn’s 30-22 win over Ole Miss.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Before Saturday’s game, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said that this year’s Auburn team reminded him a lot of his own team from a year ago. The Tigers were coming off a dismal season, just like what Freeze encountered when he arrived in Oxford, and they turned to a new coach, Gus Malzahn, to right the ship.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstAuburn race to a win over Ole Miss and the schedule sets up nicely for the Tigers.
“To watch them play, it’s eerily similar to what we were going through last year, and there’s no question that they’re getting better each week,” Freeze said.

For the Tigers, it appears they might be slightly ahead of what Freeze faced with the Rebels. At the very least they were better on Saturday night. Auburn defeated No. 24 Ole Miss, 30-22, handing the Rebels their second consecutive loss after a 3-0 start to the season.

Granted, the game was at Jordan-Hare Stadium with Auburn was coming off a bye while the Rebels had to play at Alabama the week prior, but it was still a win over a top-25 team.

“We talked about getting better each week,” Malzahn said. “We knew we were going to have to play better than we did against LSU to have a chance to beat them, and we did. There were some mistakes that we can still improve, a few turnovers we have to correct, but our defense picked us up and we beat a good team.”

In Freeze’s inaugural season, Ole Miss finished 7-6 and won their bowl game, but the Rebels were 0-4 against top 25 teams.

Perhaps Malzahn is ahead of schedule in his rebuilding efforts. The Tigers already have two conference wins and are 4-1 with homes games left against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic with the Tigers already reaping benefits of Malzahn’s changes.

“It feels like a whole new team, a whole new Auburn team,” defensive back Robenson Therezie said. “We just keep going up -- just like Coach Malzahn talks about.”

Said offensive tackle Greg Robinson: "We really see that we have a chance. The better we get, the more work we put in, and we’ll continue to get better each week. We're just listening to what the coaches say, because they really have our best interests. I think we just need to buy into the fact that we have to get better each week to be able to beat the harder teams we play later on in the year."

There’s now even talk that Auburn could pull an upset over Georgia or even Alabama when the two top-10 teams visit the Plains in November. But don’t start asking Malzahn about either one of those games just yet. After hosting Western Carolina this week, they’ll face road games at Texas A&M, Arkansas and Tennessee in three of the next four weeks.

“We’re not looking ahead,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to the next game, and I’m just proud of our guys. We’re going to get better each week, and I think we have a chance to continue that.”

AUBURN, Ala. -- When Ole Miss was shutout by No. 1 Alabama last week, everybody chalked it up to the Crimson Tide’s stingy defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace and the Rebels would surely get back on track against Auburn and the SEC’s 13th-ranked defense, right?

Wrong.

The Auburn defense responded. After giving up 456 yards and 35 points to LSU two weeks ago, the Tigers took a week off and returned with a chip on their shoulder. They produced six sacks and two interceptions to help the Tigers upend Ole Miss, 30-22.

“There’s no doubt that they improved from LSU to here, against an explosive offense, and I’m very proud of them,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

It started up front. Auburn had as many sacks Saturday as it did all of last season. Veterans Dee Ford and Gabe Wright each had two sacks apiece, and true freshman Carl Lawson, the No. 2 player in the 2013 ESPN 300, added two sacks of his own.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
John Reed/USA TODAY SportsFreshman defensive end Carl Lawson had his coming out party with two sacks against Ole Miss.
“I feel like the pressure has been out on us by our coaches that it was time we stepped up,” Wright said. “In the LSU loss, we felt like the defensive line could have stepped up. I feel like we took a step forward tonight, and we’ll keep improving through the course of the year.”

“We did a great job,” Ford added. “We came into this thing with the motive to pressure the quarterback, and that’s what we did.”

The game was extra special for Lawson. He had shown flashes in practice but had not quite put it all together on the field. The 6-foot-2, 258-pound defensive end finally lived up to all the hype with his performance against the Rebels.

It was Lawson’s sack on fourth down in the final minutes that ultimately sealed the victory for the Tigers.

“I knew that we needed another stop,” he said. “Coach told me to go out there, and I had to pin my ears back and go to the quarterback, so that’s what I did.”

During the off week, the AU coaching staff tinkered with the defensive line and made some changes to the depth chart. It moved Nosa Eguae from defensive end to defensive tackle and made him a starter. Eguae thrived in the new role with three tackles and 1.5 for loss. As a team, Auburn finished with 14 tackles for loss.

“It was huge,” Eguae said. “In a game like this, we had to step up. We had to go out there and make plays. I feel like we did that. Guys continue to get better every single today, and it’s a testament of the work we’re putting in Monday through Friday. Guys are really buying into our system, and guys are reaping the benefits.”

The Tigers move to 4-1 on the season, just two wins shy of bowl eligibility, but their sole focus is on the next game.

“We’re on the rise, as Coach Malzahn says, but we don’t even need to think about that,” Lawson said. “We need to take it one game, one step at a time.”

Auburn uses open week to get healthy

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
4:00
PM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn has played four games under new coach Gus Malzahn, and although the Tigers are coming off a loss to LSU, the results have been fairly positive. They started 3-0, won their first conference game in nearly two years and stayed competitive in Death Valley.

With no game this weekend, the Tigers are planning for the future.

“The open date comes at a very good time for our team,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got four games under our belt for our coaches to evaluate our personnel, see where we’re at as a team and plan moving forward for the rest of the year to put our guys in the best place to be successful.”

[+] EnlargeDee Ford
AP Photo/Dave MartinDee Ford is slowly rounding back into form after recovering from an MCL injury.
But more importantly, the week off gives Auburn a chance to get healthy.

“I don’t think I’ve been around a team that had that many (injuries) this early and to main impact players,” Malzahn said. “Defensively, we’ve been playing without a lot of our impact players, and even when we get them back, they’re not quite 100 percent yet. But they’re getting there.”

Both Dee Ford and Justin Garrett missed the first two games due to injury but returned against Mississippi State. Ford, the team’s top pass rusher, sprained his MCL in fall camp but is slowly working his way back. Garrett sprained his foot in camp and has since moved positions from the Star to weakside linebacker.

Against LSU, Auburn was without cornerback Chris Davis and defensive end Craig Sanders as both players suffered ankle injuries prior to the game. Davis led the Tigers with 10 tackles against Arkansas State in week two and also serves as the team’s primary punt returner.

Additionally, running back Corey Grant, defensive back Robenson Therezie and linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy all missed time or were limited against LSU.

Needless to say, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Auburn.

“That may be the biggest blessing of the off week that we have a chance to get some of our guys healed up,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got guys that weren’t 100 percent that played anyway last week, so hopefully this week will help them get back to 100 percent. And the guys that haven’t played, we’ll have a chance to have two weeks before our next game and have a chance to get one of those guys back on the field.”

Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker is among those who have yet to play this season, but his status is a little more in question. The two-year starter suffered a knee injury in fall camp that required surgery, and the coaching staff said they plan to make a decision on his future in the coming weeks.

The team also confirmed this week that wide receiver Jaylon Denson would miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

“To lose a guy like Jaylon Denson is a huge blow, but it creates opportunities for other people,” Malzahn said. “The good thing is for the future we’re playing a whole bunch of young guys. That will do nothing but helps us for the future.”

Next up for Auburn is a home game with Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 5.
AUBURN, Ala. -- In 2012, the Auburn defense gave up 35 or more points in four of their last five SEC games. The Tigers were in the bottom half of the conference in most statistical categories, including total defense, sacks and interceptions. There was clearly a need for change, and the Tigers turned to some new faces, including renowned defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, to fix it.

Through two quarters Saturday, however, it looked as if Auburn’s defense still had its issues. Washington State racked up 264 yards through the air and 21 points.

[+] EnlargeMontravius Adams, Craig Sanders
AP Photo/Butch DillFreshman Montravius Adams (right) provided a spark for Auburn's defense against Washington State.
But after halftime, the AU defense clamped down. They still gave up yards to the Cougars, but they made stops when they had to, including a late interception from Robenson Therezie, and they held the potent air-raid offense to just three points. The end result was a much-needed victory, specifically for the players who were on the team last year.

“It felt great,” defensive end LaDarius Owens said. “It's been feeling great ever since the new coaching staff came in. It kind of gave us a new spirit, a new life. It felt good to see that produce us a win. It made us feel like, 'Alright, we're going at it the right way." It is something that we needed.”

Johnson knows as much as anybody how important a win like that can be to start the season. He was 0-12 last year as head coach at Southern Miss. What if Auburn had made a mistake here or there and lost the game? Would this defense revert back to old form?

“That was the most important thing that happened, in my opinion the whole night, is that when we had a chance to slip, we didn't,” Johnson said. “They stood right in there, played hard, finished the game and got it done. Obviously, they've had a problem doing that in the past.”

On Monday, Therezie was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, an honor he earned with an outstanding performance, but when the Tigers needed a spark in the second quarter, they turned to true freshman Montravius Adams, the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country coming out of high school.

On the first play of his college career, Adams burst into the backfield and sacked the quarterback.

“I was very excited,” Adams said. “I wanted to get the team together, so me making that big play helped the team. We all came together, and I think we started clicking a lot better.”

Before the sack, Washington State had scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives, but after the play, they never reached the end zone again.

Adams wasn’t the only freshman to make an impact for Auburn’s defense on Saturday. Johnson said there were times where he saw five freshmen on the field at the same time. The most notable were the three on the defensive line -- Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson -- who rotated in throughout the game.

The trio struggled at times with various assignments, but physically looked the part.

“When they get on the field, they look like they belong on the field,” Johnson said. “They're 18-year-old freshmen playing in the SEC, but they look like they fit right in. As time goes on, they get more comfortable in our scheme and start eliminating the mental errors, I think they'll really be a lot better and be more of a contribution.”

One of the keys for the freshmen is that they weren’t at Auburn last year. They didn’t have to go through a difficult and trying season without an SEC victory. They’re all used to winning games at the high school level, so it was no different when they won this past Saturday.

“We sang the fight song when all got to the locker room,” Adams said. “Everybody was just happy. It was a great way to kick off the season and set the tone for next week.”

But for the players who were on last year’s team, the win meant even more. The freshman might have been the spark, but now the rest of the unit has more confidence going into the rest of the season.

“A win, regardless of when it comes or how you get it, it always gives you confidence and faith for the future,” Owens said.

SEC Players of the Week

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
4:20
PM ET
The SEC league office has announced its top performers for Week 1:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Gurley ran for a career-high 174 yards on 12 carries (12.8 avg.) and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 38-35 loss to Clemson. His performance included a career-long 75-yard touchdown on his first touch of the game. It marked Gurley’s 10th 100-yard performance of his career.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Robenson Therezie, S, Auburn: Therezie had a career-high seven tackles and also intercepted two passes. He became the first Auburn player with two interceptions in a game since linebacker Josh Bynes in 2010 against Arkansas. His final pick came in the final minutes to thwart a Washington State drive.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Christion Jones, WR/RS, Alabama: Jones became the first Alabama player in history to have two special teams touchdowns in the same game. He had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Jones also caught a 38-yard touchdown pass and racked up 256 all-purpose yards in the game.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
  • La'el Collins, OT, LSU: Collins played 79 of 80 snaps (helmet came off) in LSU’s 37-27 win over No. 20 TCU. In his first start at left tackle, he helped pave the way for an LSU offense that ran 80 plays for 448 yards (197 rushing, 251 passing) against a TCU defense that returned nine starters from a unit that led the Big 12 in total defense last season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
  • Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas: Flowers recorded 4.5 total tackles, 3.0 for loss, including 2.0 sacks, with two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in Arkansas' 34-14 win over Louisiana. Flowers leads the SEC and ranks No. 7 in the NCAA with 3.0 TFLs
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

SEC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
9:00
AM ET
The first week of the season is in the books in the SEC, and it’s time to pass out some helmet stickers:

Arkansas’ offensive line: There were several candidates on Arkansas’ offense in the Hogs' 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each rushed for more than 100 yards. Quarterback Brandon Allen passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns and was sacked only once. When you’re putting up those kinds of numbers on offense and creating that kind of balance, then you’re obviously getting it done on the offensive line. The Hogs finished with 292 rushing yards, their most since churning out 326 yards against UTEP in 2010. First-year coach Bret Bielema is all about a physical running game and was especially complimentary of center Travis Swanson and the way he was able to pull on some plays.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Looking healthy and very much in command, Franklin rolled up 362 yards of total offense in leading Missouri to a 58-14 rout of Murray State. Franklin, who struggled through an injury-plagued junior season, finished 26-of-38 for 318 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 44 yards. It was the most yards he’s accounted for in a game since racking up 392 yards against Baylor in 2011. The best news for Mizzou fans is that Franklin looked a lot more like the 2011 version of himself than he did the 2012 version.

Christion Jones, WR/RS, Alabama: Jones became the first Alabama player in history to score two special teams touchdowns in one game. The junior receiver returned a kickoff 94 yards and a punt 72 yards for touchdowns. He also got into the act on offense by catching a 38-yard touchdown pass. Jones became the first major college football player to score a touchdown on a punt return, kickoff return and pass reception in the same game since Kentucky’s Derek Abney in 2002.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss: He might be small in stature (5-foot-7 and 167 pounds), but Scott delivered a mammoth play Thursday in the Rebels' 39-35 win over Vanderbilt. The senior running back left everybody in his wake on an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 to play, answering a Vanderbilt touchdown only seconds earlier. Scott finished with 138 rushing yards on 12 carries and averaged 11.5 yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 25 yards.

Robenson Therezie, S, Auburn: Starting in place of the injured Justin Garrett at the hybrid “star” position in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defense, Therezie intercepted two passes and had seven total tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 win over Washington State. Therezie’s final interception was a leaping grab in the end zone with Washington State driving for the potential game-tying score in the final five minutes. He returned his first interception 24 yards to the Washington State 28 to set up Auburn’s first touchdown. Therezie’s two interceptions in the opener matched Auburn’s total from all of last season.

Instant analysis: Auburn 31, WSU 24

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
12:02
AM ET


AUBURN, Ala. -- It wasn't easy, but Auburn used big plays in the first half and key stops in the second half to earn a victory over Washington State in Gus Malzahn's debut as head coach Saturday.

It was over when: Washington State had a chance in the final minutes to tie the game, but on fourth-and-5 from the Auburn 25, Connor Halliday's pass fell incomplete. The Tigers got the ball back, picked up a first down and put the game away.

Game ball goes to: In an unexpected lineup change, Robenson Therezie filled in at the star position for Justin Garrett. He turned out to be the star of the game, literally. Therezie pulled down two interceptions, including one late that killed a Washington State drive.

Stat of the game: Last year, Auburn finished the season with two interceptions. The Tigers matched that number in the first quarter alone. Add the late pick by Therezie, and they finished with three interceptions in the game.

Unsung hero: Running back Corey Grant wasn't even listed on the depth chart before Saturday's game. That likely will change. The former Alabama transfer ran wild against Washington State, finishing with 146 yards on nine carries and a 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

What it means for Auburn: It might not have been as convincing as the fans would've liked, but a win is a win, and Auburn already is off to a better start than last year. There were a lot of positives to take away, but there also were a lot of needs to address going forward. Either way, the Tigers are 1-0 under Gus Malzahn.

What it means for Washington State: Even though the Cougars have to fly back home with a loss, they looked much improved from a year ago and battled right down to the end. Halliday finished 35 of 63 for 344 yards and a touchdown, and the offense as a whole racked up 464 yards against Auburn.

SEC lunch links

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
1:03
PM ET
Some Thursday linkage:

Lunchtime links

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
12:00
PM ET
Checking out some links at the halfway point of the week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES