September 20, 2009

Defense hangs tough

A 58-yard pass. A 71-yard touchdown run. A total of 219 yards.

And all that in just the first quarter.

West Virginia had Auburn on the ropes. The Tigers' defense was reeling but never went down. They could have thrown in the towel but stood tall despite an awful start.

"Our kids didn't let that get to them. They kept fighting and playing," AU defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "There's going to be some good and bad that happens in every football game. It's just a lot of bad happened to start the game.

"I think it's a credit to out our kids to hang in there and keep fighting and finding a way to win instead of finding a way to lose."

That way to win came from turnovers. Auburn's defense forced six turnovers including five interceptions. Four of those interceptions came in a decisive fourth quarter.

Senior defensive tackle Jake Ricks got the ball rolling when he picked off quarterback Jarrett Brown and returned it 21 yards to the WVU 19-yard line. Three plays later, Chris Todd hit Darvin Adams for the go-ahead touchdown.

"Coach was looking for somebody to make a special play and I felt like I was in the right place at the right time," Ricks said. "When we were down 14 points we never started pointing fingers. We stayed together.

"We told each other, 'Come on, let's go.' And that's what we did."

The Mountaineers next drive came to an end at AU's 9-yard line when Walt McFadden picked off a pass. After a 10-play, four-minute drive and a punt by AU, WVU still had a chance with the ball at the AU 20-yard line and 3:53 left. But linebacker Craig Stevens iced the game picking off an attempted screen pass at the 15-yard line and taking in for the touchdown.

The first four of WVU's fourth quarter possessions ended with an interception including the final one as Josh Bynes picked off backup quarterback Geno Smith with just a little more than two minutes left.

WVU wound up with 509 total yards but it was AU's defense that rose up with the game on the line. Not surprisingly, Roof was pretty proud of the resiliency shown by his defense Saturday. But he wasn't surprised. It's exactly how he expected them to respond to adversity.

"It's not something that just happens on gameday. It's something you work on," Roof said. "We coach the mentality that we just keep playing and eventually something good will happen -- and it did."

Going into the game, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said he wanted to test his team against the Mountaineers to see where they stood in his first season on the Plains.

It certainly wasn't a perfect performance on either side of the ball Saturday night but Chizik got his answers.

"It is a sign of a football team that is believing and coming together when you can overcome some of that adversity," Chizik said. "We are growing as a football team.

"We didn't play well tonight in so many ways, but we won the game, and at the end of the day, I am so proud of our guys because they had to fight and claw and scratch back to win it. That is who they were tonight."

Quick-hitters:

***Brown threw four of the interceptions and had a fumble, which marred an otherwise outstanding performance. The senior completed 18-of-32 passes for 221yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries.

"There is no question. He is a great quarterback," Chizik said. "We said all week the thing that makes him really, really explosive is not only does he have a great arm, not only does he have great accuracy with his throws, he has great scramble ability."

***WVU RB Noel Devine finished with 128 yards on 15 carries including a 71-yard TD in the first quarter. Devine was held to just 38 yards on 11 carries over the final three quarters.

***Stevens, who was second on the team with 11 tackles, on his first career interception that he returned for a TD and put AU up 41-30:

"I knew once I came off the blitz and didn't feel anyone pick me up it was going to be a screen," Stevens said. "He ended up lobbing the ball and I tipped it. It fell back in my hands and I've always said once it gets in my hands I'm getting in the endzone."

***Bynes led Auburn with 12 tackles including 10 solos to go along with his interception.

***LB Eltoro Freeman started his first career game against WVU, finishing with one tackle.

***DT Mike Blanc forced his first career fumble on a sack of Brown in the first quarter. Blanc added two tackles and a quarterback hurry.

***CB Neiko Thorpe had his third career interception in the second quarter. Thorpe added seven tackles. McFadden's interception was the fourth in his career.

***CB Demond Washington had five tackles and his first career sack in the second quarter.

***P Clinton Durst had a big game with five punts for a 44.0 average.

***The start of the game was delayed one hour and three minutes due to a heavy thunderstorm that moved through the area. The pre-game eagle flight was cancelled.

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