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Auburn defense sends message to new defensive coordinator in near-perfect Birmingham Bowl performance

Michael Niziolek


Auburn safety Tray Matthews was quick to offer his own scouting report for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

“The sky’s the limit,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of young players that played and upcoming players that are great and will fit in. We are willing to sacrifice anything and play balls out.”

The sophomore can just show Steele tape of the defense’s performance in a 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday if he needs any help backing up his words.

Auburn’s didn’t allow a touchdown against an offense led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, who could be the top quarterback taken in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Lynch faced pressure throughout the Birmingham Bowl with little time to throw in the pocket and was sacked twice. Matthews picked off Lynch in the end zone on Memphis’ opening possession of the third quarter.

Memphis finished with season-low 205 total yards of offense, was 0 for 3 in the red zone and went three-and-out six times. It was the first time this season the offense that averaged 42 points a game in the regular season didn’t score a touchdown.

Auburn’s bowl win maintained the defense’s positive trajectory as the group spent the month of December without a coordinator.

Will Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at South Carolina on Dec. 6 and coach Malzahn was careful not to name any of the team’s assistants as the “interim” coordinator.

Lance Thompson called the defensive plays in the Birmingham Bowl, but wasn’t considered the team’s coordinator for its 15 bowl practices.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the situation, Auburn’s focus never faltered.

Wednesday’s intense effort came as no surprise for graduating senior linebacker Kris Frost, who sees a group of young players ready to build on the defense's second-half success.

Frost said Auburn’s next defensive coordinator is inheriting a “gold mine."

“He can expect a whole bunch of guys with incredible work ethic,” Frost said. “We have guys that are always willing to go to work…They come in with the same attitude each and every day.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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