AUBURN, Ala. - They gave up some big plays and made some mistake against Ole Miss, but when the Rebels moved close last Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn defenders stopped them cold.
In the final 8:29, the Rebels had the ball twice trailing 27-22 and once trailing 30-22. On those three possessions, they made one first down and netted 6 yards in 12 plays. The Rebels last chance was snuffed out when junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright sacked quarterback Bo Wallace on third down and freshman Carl Lawson got him on fourth down.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson looked on proudly as time ran out on a 30-22 victory that pushed the Tigers to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference. They play FCS foe Western Carolina (1-5) for homecoming at Jordan-Hare Stadium next Saturday.
"I am very proud of those guys and the way they fought," Johnson said. "We still have a lot of things to clean up, but I (liked) their effort and attitude, their confidence level even when the dam broke a couple of times. The response was all one of confidence.
"We still make some mistakes that we've got to clean up. That's coaching, and we have to get that straight."
Some unlikely contributors played major roles for Auburn's defense.
There was Lawson, who had two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.
"He really is starting to feel more comfortable with his assignments," Johnson said. "He's able to turn himself loose. He's always been physically reckless, but when you do that and you make a mistake or go the wrong way, it can be a bad situation. He's just getting more and more comfortable. He made some good plays for us, some big sacks."
Third-year junior weakside linebacker Anthony Swain took over when Cassanova McKinzy was injured. In the first significant playing time of his Auburn career, he led the team with eight tackles.
"He's one I'm really proud of," Johnson said. When Kris (Frost) had the ejection, I had to move him to Mike that week as an emergency backup. He spent the whole week at Mike and never got to play. I moved him back to Will, and he's played behind Cassanova. We take the Will out when we go to our dime package, so I don't rotate Cass as often.
"Anthony hasn't played a lot of plays, and it's not because he's not ready to play. I thought he just played outstanding for the number of reps he's had in games and playing two different positions over last two or three weeks. He was very productive, only had a couple of missed assignments. Neither one of them was critical. He had an outstanding game."
Senior Nosa Eguae moved from end to tackle. He was credited with three tackles, 1 ½ tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.
When he walks in the room, you think he looks like a defensive end," Johnson said. "But he looks more natural in there (at tackle) with his technique and fundamentals. He played very solid. He's a little undersized, but he plays with great leverage. He played a good game."