AUBURN, Ala. — Marlon Davidson understands the correlation between time and improvement on the defensive line.
The true freshman’s experience through the first half of the season has been invaluable in his growth as a player.
But before Davidson could start to excel, he struggled.
“Six weeks ago to now, I’m a totally different person. I couldn’t do none of the things that I can do now back then. I was just learning. I used to get beat up, but it’s a learning process and a physical process I had to go through when I got here. Now I’m just doing my job.”
In Auburn’s 38-14 blowout of Mississippi State in Starkville, Kevin Steele’s second defensive line group (made up of Byron Cowart, Derrick Brown, Jeff Holland and Maurice Swain Jr.) saw significant playing time in the second half.
The unit stumbled a few times, allowing 2 Bulldogs touchdowns and costing Auburn a shutout.
Mississippi State earned its points on Keith Mixon’s 37-yard reception and Fred Ross’ 8-yard score late in the game, but Auburn’s backup defensive line gained beneficial experience.
“We had a couple of issues in terms of getting our eyes where they needed to be and getting lined up,” Steele said. “We did mix and match some players out there, but that’s no excuse. We’re not going to do that. So we’ve got some teaching moments in it.”
Auburn’s defensive line starters suffocated Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald in the first half. After one of his best career games against UMass, Fitzgerald passed for 61 yards in the first half.
Fitzgerald finished with 186 passing yards, and the Bulldogs converted on more third- and fourth-down attempts in the second half. Steele saw his unit progress throughout the game, though.
“Well, they got better. There’s some good teaching moments on there,” Steele said. “I don’t think they affected the quarterback quite as much as that first group did, obviously, and they were up until late; late we were pretty good in the run game with them. There was good video on them. There were good teaching moments, and they got better; they improved from weeks past, and that was our goal, to try to make sure everybody improved weekly, and they did do that. There were some good, meaningful snaps where they needed to be in there where, OK, we’re calling the whole game plan and we did, and they’re having to adjust and play. That was probably the thing that stuck out the most, that they applied the game plan.”
Steele’s unit started to address mistakes at practice on Tuesday night. The coaching staff expects the corrections to strengthen the defense as a whole, preparing more players for the rest of Auburn’s SEC schedule.
Seniors, including Montravius Adams, understand the significance of a deeper roster.
“I mean, it means to us that everyone can stay fresh throughout the whole season,” Adams said. “I remember, like a little bit last year, players kind of get tired. With us having all this depth that we’ve got, I mean, there’s no excuse for not playing to the best of your ability.”