By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – Clemson’s defensive line might have gotten most of the attention after Saturday’s game in Death Valley, but the Auburn defensive line has shown through the first two games that it's a force to be reckoned with in its own right.
There’s a reason Auburn currently ranks top-10 nationally in total defense.
“I think both times we’ve played, it started and ended with the defensive line,” defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “Our defensive line, they’re a physical group. They’re very, very well-coached. Rodney [Garner] does a great job with demanding excellence from those guys and setting the standard real high. He’s got enough guys that the competitiveness of playing time is a factor. You better do your job because there’s somebody right behind you that can do it, too.”
Through two games, the defensive linemen have recorded 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. As a unit, the Auburn defense has allowed zero or negative yards on 48 of 123 (39 percent) of plays defended this season.
That’s impressive by itself, but it’s even more impressive when you consider that Auburn’s top two defensive linemen from a year ago, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, are now playing on Sundays in the NFL.
However, that dominance up front hasn't come as a surprise to Steele.
“We kind of saw it coming in terms of the depth there, the type of people they are, the work ethic they have,” he said. “There are some guys in that group that love to practice. You don’t win games on Saturday. You win games on Sunday through Friday on the practice field, and there’s a group of those guys that they enjoy practice.”
The standout of the group might be sophomore Marlon Davidson, who has continued his dominant play from a season ago. Davidson has already recorded six tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the first two games, and he forced a critical fumble in Saturday’s Clemson game.
But it’s been a collective effort. Jeff Holland (Buck) and Derrick Brown (DT) have both stood out in replacing Lawson and Adams at their respective positions. Redshirt freshman Nick Coe has given the defense another pass-rusher in his first on-field action for Auburn. And players like Dontavius Russell, Andrew Williams, Paul James III and Byron Cowart have also made contributions this season.
The play from that group has not been lost on the secondary either.
“They’re helping us out tremendously,” safety Tray Matthews said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys up front like Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell – who doesn’t get enough credit – Marlon. Jeff has been phenomenal lately. They’ve been great.”
More from Kevin Steele
On Jeff Holland
“Jeff has certainly raised his play, but that’s what happens from freshman year to sophomore year to junior year – that’s just the matriculation that happens in college football. He’s now figured it out at a high level and plays with relentless pursuit. He’s affecting others on the other side of the line of scrimmage and affecting our players in a positive way.”
“Dontavius is a guy that just does his job. He’s one of those guys that at the end of the day you may look at the stat sheet and he may not be in the top five or six, but then you go in and look at the grade sheet, in terms of doing his job continuously play after play, and he’s one of those guys that’s just – he’s very, very consistent in doing his job.”
“Derrick has done well moving inside. He’s a big, powerful guy. Still young, but he’s got the skill set to be special.”
Greg Ostendorf is a Staff Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: