AUBURN, Ala. — It took a walk-on defensive lineman, in fourth-quarter garbage time, to do what the Auburn defense hadn’t done yet this season — score points of its own.
Throughout the first five weeks of the season, Auburn’s defense has fielded questions about the offense’s inability to put up big numbers. The players and coaches have downplayed that notion, suggesting the Tigers can score points on the defensive side of the ball, too.
Those questions were avoided Saturday. The offense hung 56 points, and the defense provided 2 of its own when Gary Walker speared Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Garrett Smith into the ground in his own end zone.
“I think our defense really responded well. They did a great job (Saturday),” coach Gus Malzahn said. “I know coaches challenged the guys to play their best game.”
Walker’s emotion as he charged toward the sideline — and his teammates’ equivalent reactions — showed a two-part excitement: a walk-on’s contribution and the defense’s addition to the scoreboard.
But that wasn’t the only moment Auburn relished following the 58-7 victory.
Several players called it the defense’s most complete performance start-to-finish this season, especially with the chance to get younger players involved.
“I feel like everybody from freshmen to seniors, at every position, had their best game,” junior linebacker Tre’ Williams said.
It also marked the first time since the Clemson opener that Auburn recorded multiple takeaways.
The Tigers have excelled defensively this season (it ranks 15th in the country in scoring defense), but if there’s one category they’ve lacked, it’s been turnovers. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has said for weeks that turnover creation is priority No. 1 for the defense.
Auburn capitalized on that Saturday, in a couple of big ways.
The first came in a much-needed situation after a Sean White fumble in Auburn territory. It took only one play for Williams to force a fumble that Rudy Ford recovered at the Auburn 21.
“It was definitely an energizer,” safety Tray Matthews said. “It was just a great feeling because we wanted turnovers, and we finally got some.”
Javaris Davis made a tough interception along the sideline in 1-on-1 coverage in the third quarter that electrified the Auburn sideline, as well.
“There was a lot of good stuff out there defensively, especially after the turnover,” Malzahn said. “When they got the turnover after the sudden change we had, that was a huge play in the game.”