Auburn football: Despite three interceptions in opener, Tigers’ secondary far from satisfied

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 2, 2013 

Passing Defense: B

This category is always a bit tougher to grade, because it's not only comprised of number of interceptions and the passing yards allowed and, but also of pressure put on quarterbacks. When it comes to yards, the Tigers have given them up in bunches, with its 267-yard per game average ranking next-to-last in the SEC, ahead of only Missouri's 284.2. But as has been true of the defense as a whole, while Auburn will give up the yards, it's much stingier when it comes to touchdowns. The Tigers have permitted only eight touchdowns through the air this year, which is tied for fifth-fewest in the league, and the eight interceptions Auburn has this year quadruples 2012's total. Oh, and senior defensive end Dee Ford's reemergence after battling an early-season injury has helped the Tigers get immense pressure on opposing signal-callers, as the team has already notched 20 sacks (tied for second-most in the SEC) this season.

TODD J. VAN EMST

AUBURN, Ala. — Football isn't a game that lends itself to correcting failures overnight.

Normally, it's a process, taking multiple games — if not a whole season — before one can fairly judge a team's merit in any single area.

Consider Auburn's secondary an exception, then.

The Tigers' defensive backs heard about their paltry 2012 interception total (one) nearly every day of the offseason. That single pickoff came from safety Trent Fisher, who returned it for a touchdown in Auburn's effortless 51-7 victory against Alabama A&M. The Tigers had only one other interception last season, courtesy of linebacker Daren Bates.

Auburn's secondary showed how last year was where it should be in its season opener on Saturday: in the past.

Auburn came up with three interceptions against Washington State signal-caller Connor Halliday, eclipsing last year's total in the span of a single contest.

The sterling performance served dual purposes: It was a weight lifted off the shoulders of the entire unit as much as a needed shot in the arm.

"It was great," said safety Josh Holsey, who had one of the three thefts. "It makes us feel more comfortable about ourselves and it lets other team know you can’t just come over here and toss the ball around on us."

The sophomore then explained how the play unfolded from his vantage point.

"I tried to go get it as high as I could," he said. "I really didn’t think (Halliday) was going to throw it because I was right there. When I saw it, I just ran up and tried to get it at its highest point."

Holsey's one interception was doubled by Robenson Therezie, who picked off a pair of passes, both at crucial times for the Tigers. His good work didn't go unrecognized, as the SEC named him the league's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

And to think he accomplished the feat in his first start as a collegian.

Despite being asked to replace A-Day MVP Justin Garrett at the the Tigers' hybrid "Star" position, Therezie didn't blink.

In fact, he said didn't even think about it.

"Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all," he said. "I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field."

On his first pilfer and Auburn trailing 7-0, Therezie grabbed a tipped pass at the Tigers' 48-yard line and returned it to the Cougars' 28-yard line. Four plays later, Auburn was in the end zone for the first time in 2013.

His second interception was even more critical. With the Cougars just eight yards away from the end zone and down 31-24 with 4:57 to go in the final quarter, Halliday threw a fade route toward the right corner of the end zone. It never made it to his intended receiver, as Therezie jumped up and snatched the ball out of the air, dashing Washington State's last scoring threat in the process.

Head coach Gus Malzahn was visibly pleased with Therezie, highlighting the Miami native's effort in his postgame press conference.

"He played really good," Malzahn said. "He played a lot of snaps out there and he was tired but he found a way, especially with that one in the end zone late."

Once a team tastes success, though, greed tends to set in.

That's why the Tigers couldn't care less about the three interceptions they collected.

Instead, disappointment reigned supreme.

"They're in the frame of mind now they're not frustrated that they didn't get any," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "They're frustrated that they didn't get more, which is the way you want it."

Related stories:

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee disappointed with offense, Ellis Johnson discusses Justin Garrett’s status

Auburn football: With breakout game behind him, Corey Grant hungry for more (w/video)

VIDEO: Gus Malzahn says Tigers have ‘got a lot of work to do’

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