Auburn defensive coordinator has a special knack for motivating his group.
Coming off a tough loss to Ole Miss, Muschamp was able to rally the defense with a message for his seniors the following day – Saturday’s game against Texas A&M would be the last time suiting up for the Tigers on the road.
It struck a chord with the upperclassman, and resonated when the team regrouped Tuesday to start preparations for the Aggies all the way through the 26-10 upset win.
“He gives a good pep speech,” linebacker Justin Garrett said, with a smile. “We were kind of sad after the loss last week, and he came in and told the seniors this is your last away game. None of the seniors were thinking about that, it’s the last time we get to wear that white jersey this season. We came out ready to practice that Tuesday with a lot of energy, even though we were sad that Sunday, we realized our time was ticking down.”
Auburn’s defense played its best game in two years holding Texas A&M to 10 points – the lowest points allowed by the Tigers since last year’s win over LSU – 303 total yards of offense and forced three turnovers.
Quarterback Kyler Murray was knocked out of the game towards the end of the third quarter, but before the Aggies mobile freshman went to the locker room he struggled.
The coaching staff worried throughout the week about being able to contain the dual threat athlete, who they watched torch South Carolina the previous week to the tune of 350-plus yards total offense and two touchdowns.
Muschamp put together a game play that his players executed masterfully to keep Murray in check.
After orchestrating a strong opening drive that ended with a field goal, Auburn harassed Murray, making him uncomfortable in the pocket.
“We were really stressed in preparation for Kyler,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He is like a video-game type player. He can really make things happen when they break down. Will (Muschamp) had a good plan – to keep him in the pocket, and make him play like a typical quarterback. For the most part, we did that.”
In addition to three interceptions, Auburn’s defense forced the Aggies offense to turn the ball over on downs twice.
The Tigers stopped Kyler Murray on a fourth-and-one at their own 23-yard line late in the second quarter. Texas A&M had three chances to convert for the first down with only a yard to go, but Auburn’s defense came through with three straight stops for no gain.
Cassanova McKinzy and Jonathan Jones teamed up for the final stop at the line of scrimmage that helped the Tigers take a 14-3 lead into halftime.
“I thought that was a huge play in the game,” Malzahn said.
After weeks of dealing with heavy criticism, Auburn’s defensive players savored the victory over a ranked opponent.
“It’s amazing, just seeing the fans clear the stadium,” Auburn freshman Carlton Davis said. “It’s a wonderful feeling, wonderful.”