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Shutting down Mississippi State latest proof Auburn’s defense is earning reputation as one of SEC’s best

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) fumbles the ball after being hit by a Auburn defender in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Starkville, Miss.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) fumbles the ball after being hit by a Auburn defender in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Starkville, Miss. AP

Earn it.

The team motto Auburn players decided on for the 2016 season is more than just a generic marketing slogan to the defense.

What started out as an expression coaches used during fall camp to push guys competing for playing time has turned into a rallying cry of sorts in recent weeks.

A decade long slump has saddled Auburn’s defense with a less than stellar reputation.

While the perception precedes the current players on campus, they are focused on establishing a new narrative.

“It’s a big statement for Auburn,” Auburn freshman defensive lineman Marlon Davidson said. "Auburn’s not really known for defense it’s always been a powerhouse offense. Coming off last year, we couldn’t hold teams. Now this year come out here —14 points teams can’t even do that. It’s amazing.”

Auburn has held five of its last six opponents this season to less than 20 points and six of its last seven opponents going back to last year.

The Tigers’ defensive performance in a 38-14 win over Mississippi State Saturday in Starkville might have been the best of the bunch. They held the Bulldogs to 91 total yards in the first half, the fewest yards allowed in a half since 2014 (LSU; 90 yards).

It was also the first time Auburn shutout an SEC opponent in the first half since 2008.

Auburn’s scoring defense jumped up three spots nationally to No. 12 (16.0 allowed per game) and has allowed only 10 touchdowns through six games.

Last year, the defense gave up as many touchdowns in three weeks.

Coach Gus Malzahn brushed aside the notable statistics choosing to focus on what he deemed as “big time” moments at Davis Wade Stadium where the defense came through time and time again.

One such moment came on Mississippi State’s opening possession, a series that started inside Auburn’s own 20-yard line thanks to a turnover.

The Bulldogs did nothing with the short field thanks to missed field goal after a quick three-and-out.

“Every week our defense does something that’s a sign of a big time defense, every week they answer the bell,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn also signaled out Carl Lawson setting up Montravius Adams defensive touchdown with a strip sack and Stephen Roberts’ interception at the goal line.

“We feeling unstoppable,” Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis said.

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