Auburn football: Tigers' defensive line ready to shine in national spotlight
There could be a variety of reasons Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Co. decided to come back to Auburn for the 2019 season: improving their NFL Draft stock, a shot at a SEC and national titles, playing together again one last time. Only they know their true motivation.
Yet I am going to throw one factor that led to their return: playing in a game like they will on Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
All eyes in the college football world will be on what happens between No. 7 Auburn and No. 10 Florida in The Swamp at 3:30 p.m. ET and with that comes a chance to enter the national picture.
The winner will take a major step toward Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game, but Brown and the Tigers’ front four can prove to everyone who hasn’t watched Auburn this season that, yes in fact, they are one of the top defensive fronts in the nation. Not Alabama, not Clemson, not Ohio State.
It’s their chance to state their case for No. 1.
Kevin Steele’s defensive unit has already shown that they are a force to be reckoned with. Against Mississippi State this past weekend, Kylin Hill, one of the top rushers in the country heading into the game, was bottled up, held to 45 yards on just 17 carries. In his first 4 games? He averaged 137.75 yards and was the SEC’s leading rusher.
While Florida doesn’t have a rushing threat like Hill — Lamical Perine leads the Gators with 197 yards and 3 touchdowns — the Tigers will still have their hands full with a plethora of backs and wide receivers who can provide a ground attack.
But it isn’t just about stopping the run. Since taking over for the injured Feleipe Franks at quarterback, Kyle Trask has shown that he is efficient in the pocket, completing 77.3% of his passes for 647 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He has also been sacked 5 times.
This is where the Tigers can make life difficult for Trask. A pocket passer who doesn’t have the scrambling ability of a player like Franks, pressuring the quarterback and making him uneasy in the pocket will be high on the minds of Brown and his mates. Pin their ears back, dominate the Gators’ offensive line like they have other opposing lines and Trask will get familiar with them.
“That actually makes me a little more happier, having a guy that wants to sit back there and throw the ball,” Davidson told reporters this week. “That leads to more sacks for me.”
There’s a reason Gators coach Dan Mullen has called out his offensive line. He knows the problems this Auburn defensive line presents.
Brown, who would have been a high draft pick had he left early for the NFL, has already solidified his positioning among NFL teams and their scouts. The 6-5, 318 pound senior already has 4 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks while making 13 total tackles. He has set himself up for a rich payday next April.
Davidson, Nick Coe, Tyrone Truesdell and Big Kat Bryant sometimes live in the shadow of Brown, but they have all been as good or almost as good as Brown. They might not get the national press, but you can believe that Trask plus the rest of the Gators offensive players and coaches are extremely familiar with what they can do and how they can totally disrupt a game.
“I think that’ll be a big factor in the game — who can make the other quarterback more uncomfortable,” Gus Malzahn told reporters.
Hill and Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader found out. So did Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Kellen Mond of Texas A&M.
Now, it is time for all of college football to take notice and realize that this defensive line is among the elite of the elite. That is what is possible on Saturday in Gainesville.