By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's Josh Holsey could have talked about his interception, but he knows the secret of how he and his defensive back buddies have had success defending third-down plays this season.
"Want the truth? We have one of the best pass rushes in America," Holsey said. "On third down, you know those guys are going to get to the quarterback and affect pressure, and it seems like no one can run the ball on the interior on the front seven. Our D-line is really great. Third down is money down. We harp on being off the field in third downs."
Auburn is fourth in the SEC, and 23rd nationally, in defending third-down plays. The Tigers will be looking for another series of important stops when they play at Mississippi State at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.
Versatile quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will test Auburn's defense with these facts: He's eighth in the SEC in rushing and 10th in passing. The Tigers have 11 fan-pleasing sacks, and also 41 sometimes-overlooked quarterback hurries. Carl Lawson has four of the sacks, 10 of the hurries and is part of a defense ranked fourth in the SEC.
Holsey said the defense is simply following the lead of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, saying the defense is gaining confidence.
"It's more Coach Steele, though," Holsey said. "It's like second hand now, second nature. When you know what to do, it makes it easier when you are on the field. When you are making a big game plan and you always worry about messing up you aren’t going to play as well. He always tells us, 'If you make a mistake, it's on him.' The only thing he wants you to do is to play 110 percent and give a lot of effort. When Coach tells you that, you don’t have to worry about making a mistake.
"Everyone is feeding off one another. One game leads to another game and we see how good we can be.
"You could tell way back in spring, even when I wasn't practicing, they were really intense. Fall camp he really harped on effort. Effort is like his main thing. He always said we are going to lead the nation in effort."
Auburn's offense wins praise, too.
Rhett Lashlee has watched Auburn's offense score 14 times in his first two games as Tigers' play-caller. New story: https://t.co/KrvugymlI6 pic.twitter.com/IvsX90cWFw
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) October 7, 2016
Holsey said he and his secondary mates are looking for more turnovers. Auburn only has two interceptions: One by Holsey, one by Javaris Davis.
"I've already told them I'm going to lead the team in interceptions, and I'm going to do that," Holsey said.
Holsey is doing all of this after not one, but two surgeries to repair ACL tears in his knees.
"It's just hard work," he said. "I've been working really hard, praying a lot. I guess it's just kind of paying off with everything that I've been through. I've been working to just keep improving and keep playing better. This is the best year I've probably had since I've been here."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine