Auburn's defense makes name for itself

Saturday, January 1st 2005, 3:28 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ OK, Auburn. Maybe it's time to hang up this ``no-name'' defense tag.

It doesn't quite fit anymore. Not with Carlos Rogers, the nation's top defensive back, outspoken safety Junior Rosegreen and undersized but feisty middle linebacker Travis Williams.

The third-ranked Tigers (12-0) do, in fact, have some stars now to go with the impressive stats but Stanley McClover isn't ready to shuck the no-name label.

``That's our name. We've been going (by that) the whole year,'' the defensive end said.

Auburn enters Monday night's Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech (10-2) with the nation's top scoring defense, a group that also ranks fifth in total yards allowed and eighth against the pass.

The defenders pinned the ``no-name'' label before the season almost as a sarcastic answer to all the skeptics who wondered how they'd fare with the loss of five of their seven starting linebackers and linemen. It became more of a mantra.

Besides Rogers and Rosegreen, all the big-name defenders were gone, including NFL draft picks Dontarrious Thomas, Karlos Dansby and Reggie Torbor.

``There were a lot of questions, as far as how good our defense was going to be, (because) we lost this person and that person,'' Williams said. ``This year we played as a team, and by playing as a team, we had more All-Americans, more All-SEC players. If you play as a team, good things will happen.''

Indeed, the Tigers have 24 players with a tackle for loss, 13 have recorded a sack and eight have forced fumbles. Williams leads the team with a relatively modest 76 tackles. Nobody else has more than 57.

Rogers was a first-team Associated Press All-American who won the Jim Thorpe Award. Rosegreen, a second-team All-American, and defensive tackle Tommy Jackson joined him as first-team AP All-Southeastern Conference picks while Williams made the coaches first-team.

Safety Will Herring said Auburn's defensive success is about more than talent.

``It's just our attitude, our desire to get to the football,'' Herring said. ``The heart of our defense is Travis Williams. He just had the motto all season: meet at the ball.

``We feel like we've really lived up to it this year.''

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said the Tigers have developed their confidence as the season has gone along.

``Our guys know this defense,'' Chizik said. ``They believe when they step on the field they know what to do and they're going to do it.

``They have a certain swagger. I think they developed it. I don't think we had it at the beginning. I think we have it now.''

But the Tigers have had one major blemish defensively, and it happened in their latest and biggest game so far. That's when Tennessee rushed for 228 yards, shattering Auburn's 16-game streak of allowing fewer than 150 yards on the ground.

The Volunteers also scored three touchdowns on the ground after the Tigers had allowed only one in the first 11 games. They're still tied for fewest allowed in Division I-A with four.

Gerald Riggs gained 182 yards on just 11 carries, including an 80-yarder in the third quarter when the Tigers all of a sudden looked out of synch and unsure of themselves.

``We knew where the problems were that night, and we certainly addressed that shortly after it happened,'' Chizik said. ``It was one of those things where one or two guys were out of place.

``We know where the problems were, our players know where the problems were, and I hope we just don't have that letdown in the Sugar Bowl.''