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'Big-time players' - Auburn's underclassmen ready for leadership role
Kerryon Johnson, a junior in 2017, is one of several returning playmakers on Auburn's offense.
Jan. 3, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

NEW ORLEANS- Jeff Holland twice had Baker Mayfield within his grasp, but both times the Oklahoma quarterback eluded Auburn's pass rusher.

"He's a great quarterback," Holland said. "We didn't execute up to our standards."

"It probably would have been a safety sack," said fellow defensive lineman Montravius Adams. "If he would have gotten that, I'm sure the game would have been a little bit different. At the end of the day, they came out and played a better game. And they finished."

Mayfield's supreme scrambling forced Auburn's secondary to cover Oklahoma's receivers for extended periods on several plays, resulting in 296 passing yards and 2 touchdowns in the Sooners' 35-19 Allstate Sugar Bowl win.

"Most of the time, our D line will snatch any quarterback down," said safety Tray Matthews. "He must have had a whole bunch of water on, because he was real slippery."

Adams believes Auburn's defensive line can still be a difference-maker in 2017, even with himself and perhaps junior Carl Lawson on their way to the NFL. Lawson has not announced whether he'll return for a fifth season.

"They all have to go through a little learning curve," Adams said. "They'll get better. Right now, I feel they're good. A couple guys just have to mature and grow up a little bit. With them being with Coach G (defensive line coach Rodney Garner) and Coach Steele, I feel like they're in great hands."

Holland, a junior in 2017, is ready for the challenge.

"I just have to come in and be a leader," Holland said. "From this day on, help my team. Let my team know that they can trust me and they can depend on me."



"It's going to be tough," Matthews said. "But we have some guys who will come in and step in and play that big role that they did, or at least help. It's kind of hard to top what Mon and Carl did this season."

"It's going to be the same," Holland said. "We're going to be great. Coach G will always strain us to be great players. Fight hard and be big-time players. I know it didn't look like it tonight, but we're a great defensive line. And I know everyone knows that."

Offensively, of the nine Auburn players who caught passes in the Sugar Bowl, eight were freshmen or sophomores. Only senior Tony Stevens will not be eligible to return in 2017.

"I think the sky is the limit for us," said sophomore tight end Jalen Harris, who caught a touchdown on a jump pass from Kerryon Johnson on the game's final play.

"These seniors, they instilled in us a lot of great tips to learn from and go by," Harris said. "If we can keep that same type of leadership next year, I think we're going to be pretty hard to beat."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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