War Eagle Extra

Auburn defense eager to steal spotlight from Oklahoma’s Heisman finalists

Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey celebrates senior day before facing Alabama A&M at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey celebrates senior day before facing Alabama A&M at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

It might seem like a strange reaction, but Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey smiles when he hears about the Oklahoma offense’s lofty credentials.

Holsey sees a matchup against the Big 12 champion with not one but two Heisman finalists — quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook — as a unique opportunity to see how the Tigers’ defense measures up to one of the most prolific offenses in the country.

“We like that they’re a top, explosive offense and we’re a great defense,” Holsey said. “It’s going to be really good matchup for us. We couldn’t have fallen into a better situation with two guys a Heisman finalist and their great, explosive offense. We’re also a great defense so we accept the challenge.”

With Oklahoma averaging 44 points (third in the country) and 557 yards per game (third) this season, Holsey expects the Sooners to be in attack mode all night long and he’s excited about it.

“We know they’re going to come out and try us,” Holsey said. “They want to throw the ball around and they’ve got two great guys. That’s just going to help our defense with that exposure. You don’t really get to face them too many times, people who were Heisman finalists. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. We’re going to accept the challenge.”

Auburn has faced a number of Heisman finalists in recent years to mixed results.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry had 46 carries for 271 yards and a touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl. Henry carried the ball 19 times in the fourth quarter to set new Iron Bowl records in attempts and rushing yards.

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, the 2014 Heisman runner-up, put in a similar day’s work against Auburn’s defense in the 2015 Outback Bowl. Gordon had a career-high 34 carries for 251 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers 34-31 overtime win.

Auburn did a much better job containing two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson in September’s season-opener. Watson was 19 of 34 for 248 yards with a touchdown and interception. He carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards.

The Sugar Bowl will be a much bigger stage for Auburn’s defense to show how far its come since the 19-13 loss.

“That’s the key goal to go and win the game, let these guys come in next year with great momentum,” Holsey said. “They will be a top 10 team next year with this win and that will send all the seniors off with a smile on our face. It will kind of cap the season.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra