AUBURN, Ala. — Two weekends ago against Missouri, Jeff Holland got Auburn football off the field on third down with a hard hit on a wide receiver screen pass.
Right after the play, Holland stopped and did a ceremonial bow toward Auburn’s sideline.
After the game, Holland posted a picture of his bow to Instagram with the caption “Sensei Mud.” Then, a week later, he did the same celebration with junior defensive tackle Andrew Williams after sacking Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
So when Holland came to his postgame interview Saturday night with a headband that sported both the AU logo and Japanese writing, he revealed the origin of his new persona.
“I studied with a hands guy this year… he’s a mixed martial arts guy,” Holland said. “I got kind of good with it, and I kept doing it. Guys started calling me ‘Sensei Mud.’ … I’ve been rolling with it all season.”
The change fits Holland well. Through the first five weeks of the season, Holland leads Auburn with 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries.
“We’ve seen Jeff kind of get better each week that we’ve been here,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said last month. “He loves to practice, he loves to compete, so he’s the consummate football player from that regard. We always tell them, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. And he works every day to get better.”
Holland’s numbers are close to what his predecessor, Carl Lawson, did at the position in 2016. In his first five games, Lawson recorded 4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and 2 forced fumbles. Holland (14) also has two more tackles than Lawson (12) had at this point in his junior season.
Lawson’s effect on Holland has been evident to his teammates, who saw a change in the junior from Jacksonville, Fla., over the offseason.
“He was learning from one of the best players that came through, Carl Lawson,” Auburn senior safety Tray Matthews said. “He looked at his tape, he played behind him, and now y’all see — he’s become one of those great players.”
After playing behind Lawson for two seasons, the student has become the master.
“I think I’ve been playing well,” Holland said. “I think it’s only going to get better as the season goes on. … I’ve got a lot of confidence from playing behind Carl. We talked a lot. He taught me how to do it.”
Thru first 4 games:
13: Dee Ford – 12 TK 4.5 TFL 3 SK
16: Carl Lawson – 9 TK 3 TFL 3 SK
17: Jeff Holland – 12 TK 4.5 TFL 2.5 SK 2 FF
— AUNerd (@AUSportsNerd) September 25, 2017
Holland’s rise has been impressive, considering he was relatively unproven as an impact player heading into 2017. He played on third-down “Rabbits” packages but didn’t record many big plays — he only had 3 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons combined.
In five games, he’s already met those numbers, and he’s creating havoc for other players on a defensive line that is already ahead of the mark it set in 2016.
“He’s now figured it out at a high level,” Steele said. “He 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.”
Holland’s quick burst off the edge has been a menace for opposing offensive tackles all season. Against Mississippi State, his matchup twitched for false starts on four different occasions.
“He’s really raised his level,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s taking his game to the next level. He did that in the spring, and it’s carried over here in games. He’s a weapon … and he’s such a good edge speed rusher.”
Much like his fellow starting edge defender, sophomore Marlon Davidson, Holland is known for his energy on the field. From big hits to exuberant celebrations, No. 4 doesn’t ever seem to slow down.
“Jeff is relentless,” Matthews said. “He’s a funny guy. He’s always yelling and screaming. He’s very outgoing, and it translates onto the field as well.”
Holland is left unblocked again. Makes Georgia Southern pay. His quickness of the line is elite. The play is over before the qb can react. pic.twitter.com/ZFT5wYfWY0
— Zac Blackerby (@Zblackerby) September 20, 2017
It’s been a fast start for Holland, who is on pace to have one of the best defensive seasons in recent Auburn history.
And “Sensei Mud” himself expects the big plays and bows to continue as Auburn tries to remain one of the best defenses in college football.
“We’ve just got to keep doing it week by week,” Holland said. “It feels good to play with all those guys out there, playing fast and physical with great effort, running to the ball and forcing fumbles.”
The post Bow to your sensei: How Jeff Holland became Auburn’s new pass rush master appeared first on SEC Country.
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