Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead races to the end zone with his interception against Arkansas
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead knows a little something about playing pass defense. He intercepted a pass in the season-opener. He returned it for a touchdown, too.
So when he speaks about playing good receivers, we should probably take note. Take note of this: Jermaine Whitehead says trying to cover new teammate Duke Williams would be a handful.
Arkansas found that out when Williams caught nine passes for 154 yards in last Saturday's 45-21 Auburn victory.
"He's one of those guys who is also big, but he can also run. He kind of gets you the best of both worlds," says Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Williams was a matchup problem for Arkansas. A wide receiver by trade, he often lined up as the slot receiver. Slower guys can't keep up. He'll be looking for more when Auburn plays host to San Jose State at 6 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"Duke is a great receiver, probably on any other team he'd be an outside receiver, but we have such a great cast around him that he has to play on the inside," Whitehead said. "That's a hard position to cover because he can go either way. He runs all his routes full speed and he's a hard guy to stop."
So is wide receiver Sammie Coates, last year's leading receiver; and big-play Ricardo Louis; and Melvin Ray, who is only averaging 26.4 yards a catch in his career. Auburn fans know them. They were introduced to Williams last weekend.
"It's very difficult, especially a team that plays a lot of man coverage and leaves that slot guy one-on-one," Whitehead said. "Duke is a playmaker. He'll make a play with two or three guys on him. You have to respect our whole offensive scheme now. We're passing the ball a lot more. I think we proved we can put the ball in the air this year."
Ray, like Williams, caught a touchdown pass against Arkansas.
"Melvin is the grown man of the group," Whitehead said. "He's the guy who is going to do everything every down. He's the blocking guy, the deep-ball guy, he's going to put eyes on the ball and make sure the ball is always in. He's just a guy who runs great routes. He's hard to cover one-on-one. I can expect big things from Melvin. He does everything right, and everything comes his way he makes a play."
"The thing about Melvin that stands out," said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, "is he was probably our most consistent receiver all fall camp. I mean he came to work like a professional. I don't remember any bad days he had."
Whitehead, all the while, scored more points in the second half than Arkansas. That was the time when the Tigers held the Razorbacks to 2 yards rushing and three first downs after a first half that produced a 21-21 tie.
"We gave up two passing touchdowns that really shouldn't have never happened," Whitehead said. "But we went back to the drawing board and we knew exactly what was going on at the time. It was just a matter of eyes, it wasn't the scheme, it wasn't the players, it was 'the lights are on, let's make a play.'"
"It's definitely a statement game for our secondary. We definitely feel we need to get some interceptions and turnovers to put ourselves in a great position to solidify us being a great passing defense. So we can't wait to go out there and showcase our talent this week."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine