AUBURN, Ala. — Interested observers had Saturday circled on their calendars for four months. In Auburn's A-Day game, Will Muschamp's defense would finally be on public display for the first time since he was hired to coordinate the unit last December.
And Muschamp and his players didn't disappoint.
There were only 38 combined points in Team Auburn's 24-14 victory against Team Tigers. It was a far cry from the past two editions of the annual spring intrasquad game. In 2013, there were 49 points scored (Team Blue won 35-14). Last year, that total was bumped up to 61 points (Team Blue won again, 58-3).
So yes, Saturday was different.
"This is the lowest scoring spring game that we've had," coach Gus Malzahn said in his postgame press conference. "There were so many punts. I thought they did some really good things."
Only seven points came against the Tigers' first-team defense, which was matched up against the No. 2 offense. And even the defensive backups didn't let the starting offense dominate, as they forced a pair of punts.
“We had a very good day. We still have things to work on," said safety Tray Matthews, who won the game's defensive MVP award after collecting five tackles, forcing a fumble and snagging an interception. "We’ll get in the film room Tuesday or Monday and Muschamp will still have things to say. He’ll probably yell at us, but we had a pretty good day”
Matthews still thought it could have been better, though. Sure, defenders took an immense amount of pride from allowing the fewest points in an A-Day game in Malzahn's three years on the Plains. But Muschamp had an even loftier goal for Saturday: Prior to taking the field, he challenged his players to pitch a shutout.
"He wants everything done his way. He wants the defense done his way. He wants every technique done his way," Matthews said. "If we buy into what he's got going on, we’re going to be all right. We went out there and played hard.”
If they didn't give 100 percent, well, Muschamp wouldn't let them leave the sideline.
"It’s rubbed off on everybody," Matthews said of the coordinator's boundless energy. "If you don’t play to his level, then you’re not going to play. Everyone that’s on the field when he’s coaching, they’ll have the same intensity he has."
Michael Sherwood, a walk-on forced into starting duty at cornerback due to the plethora of injuries in the secondary, deemed Saturday's outing a "great one" for the defense. He pointed out that they made a few errors, but was confident they'll get those fixed when they return for preseason camp.
After getting the base concepts installed this spring, Sherwood believes it's all downhill from here.
"I think overall, as a team, as a defense, we've learned to play to the level Muschamp expects," he said. "I think we’re going to be good.”
How good? Rising junior lineman Montravius Adams' expectations are high — some might say absurdly so for a unit that permitted 398.8 yards per game last season and allowed their final seven FBS opponents to score at least 30 points.
"I just expect us to be a top-5 defense in the SEC and the nation. That’s my expectation for this season," Adams said. "Everybody loves Coach Muschamp. He’s bringing that energy and changing the question to the whole offense and defense, so we’re going to be a top contender."
Matthews wasn't ready to make those kind of bold proclamations yet. Instead, he was satisfied with letting their play Saturday speak for itself.
“We’ve improved tremendously, man. The intensity is way up there," Matthews said. "Everyone is running to the ball. Muschamp showed us a clip from a practice last year, and it was just a whole different mind-set. Guys are running to the ball, flying to the ball like their hair is on fire, man. It’s a big difference.”