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?
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.
“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.”