AUBURN, Ala. — Dee Ford didn't take long to make his presence known on Saturday.
The senior defensive end saw his first action of the season against Mississippi State and finished with six total tackles, three solo and three assisted. He was also in on a pair of quarterback hurries — both in the first half — that forced incomplete passes from Bulldog signal-caller Dak Prescott.
Despite finishing tied for the third-most takedowns on the team, Ford wasn't pleased with his season debut.
Simply, he didn't believe his technique nor his fundamentals were satisfactory.
"I played decent," said Ford, who missed Auburn's first two games to heal from a knee injury which he suffered in the second scrimmage of fall camp. "I don’t feel like I played at the level that the team needs, but that all comes with knocking the rust off. We’ll get better." Ford speculates he was on the field for "about 30" plays, which is exactly what he expects given how much defensive line coach Rodney Garner rotates his players.
While conceding how much work he needs to put in to get back to an All-SEC level, Ford took a different attitude toward returning to the field.
Obviously, he said, it was hard to sit out the first two games of the season. But coming back too soon wasn't a risk he or the coaching staff was willing to take.
"The biggest thing is I felt good a lot of the time, but you just never know, because practice doesn’t simulate a game," he said. "You don’t want to chance something. So as good as I felt (before) Washington State, we just couldn’t chance it that early, because I heal very fast."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was happy to welcome Ford and "Star" Justin Garrett — who was also held out of the the Tigers' first two games with a nagging ankle sprain — back into the fold. Garrett collected two tackles, including one for loss.
"They are both really good football players," he said. "We'll have to watch the film to see how well they graded out. The fact they were on the field, their leadership and the playmaking ability (they bring) really helps."
While those two key pieces got reacclimated to the defense, another Tiger was removed. Senior corner Chris Davis was held out due to a foot injury that occurred last week against Arkansas State.
"He just wasn't ready to go," Malzahn said. "He's a great competitor, one of our better players. ... We had other guys step up, and that's a really good thing moving forward."
Walter Gilbert Award
Lee Griffith received the Walter Gilbert Award in an on-field ceremony prior to kickoff Saturday. The honor goes to former Auburn athletes who have made their mark after graduation. Griffith, a successful businessman in multiple ventures, lettered for Auburn at center in 1960, when the Tigers posted an 8-2 record.
The Gilbert award is given in memory of its namesake, a three-time All-American center who went on to become the vice president of Texaco's European oil operations.
Update on Bi-City natives
Gabe Wright, a Carver graduate, had multiple snaps at defensive tackle Saturday. However, he recorded no tackles, with the only number on his stat sheet coming on a quarterback hurry.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Auburn backup and Central alum Jonathan Wallace didn't enter the game at all after seeing playing time in specific packages last week versus Arkansas State. Mississippi State's Artimas Samuel, once a Carver Tiger, spent all of his time on the sideline as well. The freshman tight end has yet to take the field for the Bulldogs this season after transferring from Hargrave Military Academy.
Auburn had a rash of changes to its starting lineup before kickoff. Three were carryovers from previous weeks: Robenson Therezie in for he aforementioned Garrett, as well as Ben Bradley sliding into Jeff Whitaker's place at defensive tackle and Nosa Eguae replacing LaDarius Owens at defensive end.
The new additions had Ryan White filling in for Davis at cornerback, and in the only alteration offensively, Trovon Reed started at receiver in Quan Bray's spot.
Despite his injury, Davis served as one of Auburn's captains Saturday along with junior center Reese Dismukes. ... Cody Parkey made three field goals Saturday, giving him 31 for his Auburn career and putting him in ninth place on the school's all-time list. His 47-yard field goal in the third quarter also tied a career-long for the senior.