Sep 4, 2013
Nosa Eguae and the defensive line took the battle to Washington State (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Rodney Garner started new defensive ends, threw freshman players into the fray and rotated all sorts of defensive linemen in and out of the lineup on a hot, humid night.
The plan worked for Auburn's defensive line coach in last week's 31-24 win over Washington State, and now he'll take a lineup with real-world experience into Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game against Arkansas State in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It’s a competition," says defensive end Nosa Eguae. "That’s been preached here since January, since December, as far as competing every single day, whether it be a workout, whether it be in the film room, whether it be on the practice field. And we know the game field is not different. We’re going to be competing out there, and we’re going to do whatever we have to do to make sure the outcome is victorious – as far as playing the best players and doing those types of things."
Eguae, a veteran, didn't start. But he played a lot. Garner used nine defensive linemen, including freshmen Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. Two players he didn't use were veterans Dee Ford and Jeff Whitaker, both out with injuries. They won't play this Saturday, either, but the talk about them playing in a few weeks has turned more hopeful.
"I’m not a trainer, but I can definitely tell they are both getting close to helping us win football games again," Eguae said.
Ford, because of his pass-rushing ability, had the most preseason accolades. Whitaker has been a familiar face for three seasons. "For us up front, it’s a big thing to go out there and make sure we play for him and that we go out there and we compete for him, because we know that he wants to be out there with us," Eguae said.
Eguae, too, missed time with injuries since the Gus Malzahn coaching staff arrived. The injuries, coupled with Garner's coaching staff, has opened up the rotation in the defensive line.
"I think we're developing up front is some real quality depth," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Auburn's defensive line was asked to help contain Washington State's crazy, pass-happy offense. The Tigers got two sacks, but Eguae says it otherwise pressured the Cougars' passing game. Even Johnson said his game-day worries about the defensive line changed once he saw the game film and how quickly Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday had to pass to avoid the pressure.
"As we looked at the film, he was throwing the ball very quickly at times," Johnson said. "We were a step or two away. A couple of other times, as we were peeling our defensive ends on the backs releasing out of the backfield, it took away some of our pressure."
Beside, Eguae said, "We’re never going to get as many sacks as we want."
Still, Auburn, after allowing 17 first downs and 21 points in the first half, held Washington State to 11 first downs and 3 points in the second half.
Auburn is going from the extreme of facing 65 passes in the opener to playing a team that rushed for more than 500 yards in a blowout win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Arkansas State will arrive with the memory of Malzahn's mantra of the run, something he stressed when he was the head coach there last year, coupled with a passing game that was kept under wraps in the opener.
"I feel like it’s back to more of the offenses we’re used to seeing," Eguae said. "The offense that Washington State runs is something we don’t see a lot in the SEC. It’s going to be fun, and we’re looking forward to it definitely up front."
Eguae's scouting report: "Their offensive line has guys that have played a lot of snaps. They are a group that looks like they play well with each other. Their receivers are guys that make big plays and they have a quarterback that can throw it. They are a good team."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow hiim on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine