More than just good: 13 reasons to love the 2017 Auburn defense

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If you’re looking for reasons to like the 2017 Auburn defense, the stat sheets and record books will offer you no shortage of them. From a numbers perspective, that the Tigers are the only one of 130 FBS teams to allow no more than 14 points in a game isn’t the whole story … but it’s enough of one.

If you’re looking for reasons to love Auburn’s defense, though, there’s no shortage of reasons for that, either — in its narratives, numbers, or performances. Here’s 13 of those reasons, because Deshaun Davis’s jersey number is too big, Marlon Davidson’s jersey number is too small, and Javaris Davis’ jersey number is just right.

1. Kevin Steele, shocking the world. Here’s one example of where the “Steele Curtain” mastermind stands with Auburn fans these days:

That’s not how the overwhelming majority of Auburn fans expected to feel in 2017 when Steele was named defensive coordinator, when the responses largely ranged from “eh, he’ll be good enough” on the positive side to “[expletives deleted]” on the negative. Could the guy who oversaw the infamous Clemson immolation against West Virginia and was never more than pretty good at LSU really bring back the days of Tuberville and Dye for Auburn’s defense?

Yes, he could, and more. Watching Steele’s defense throttle opponent after opponent is sweet. Watching it happen knowing how many people* doubted it would is all the sweeter.

*Yes, your humble Auburn writer included.

2. Rabid rabbits. Watching Jeff Holland, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe and Derrick Brown line up alongside each other on third-and-long is a nice reminder of how giddy it felt to go to bed with a lost tooth under your pillow.

3. Jamel Dean. Hey, remember how Dean signed with Ohio State despite a pair of high school knee injuries, then was told after arriving in Columbus he’d need to go on a medical scholarship (as the Buckeyes faced a scholarship numbers crunch, naturally)? Remember how he swore he’d play somewhere else anyway? Remember how he broke up three passes against Mississippi State — a couple in blanket-coverage fashion — to cement himself as solid a third corner as Auburn’s seen in years? Remember how he’s still just a sophomore?

We remember. We’ll remember for a long time.

4. Their heads stay up. Would anyone have really blamed the Tigers defense for letting things slip a bit in the fourth quarter against Clemson, given the Auburn offense’s lack of assistance? Would anyone have been that upset if they’d played at half-speed against Mercer the following week, when the offense went from non-assistance to outright working against the defense with its five turnovers?

Nah. They held Clemson to 14 points anyway. They kept Mercer at bay anyway when even one more touchdown allowed would have meant a nail-biting fourth-quarter. It shouldn’t go unappreciated.

5. Davises. Javaris, Carlton, Deshaun. They’re not related — except for the part where they all share All-SEC talent.

6. Williamses. Tre, Darrell. For most of the post-Josh Bynes era at Auburn, its linebackers have been more competent than spectacular. No longer.

7. Rodney Garner and Travis Williams.  The only thing better than having former Auburn stars coaching on the Plains is when that coaching yields a bushel crop of current Auburn stars.

8. Daniel Thomas, fake punt-snuffer extraordinaire. Haven’t yet gotten starter’s playing time in your team’s loaded secondary? Well, just go out and tackle the punter short of the sticks on fakes in back-to-back weeks. Auburn’s 2017 defenders are doing their jobs even when they’re not playing defense. On a related note about taking advantage of your opportunities …

9. “Next man up,” as the kids say. Tre Williams has missed the past two games. Against Missouri, Montavious Atkinson and Richard McBride combined for 10 tackles in his absence. Against Mississippi State, Atkinson, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams combined for 24 tackles. If you’ve forgotten that Davidson missed the Mercer game, that’s probably because the Bears didn’t make 3 yards an attempt on the ground. If you’ve forgotten that Javaris Davis missed the Missouri game, that’s probably because the Tigers averaged 5.5 yards an attempt through the air.

Etc.

10. Jeremiah Dinson forever. There’s an alternate universe where Dinson never plays again after his 2015 injury. This universe is so much more awesome than that one.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Jeremiah Dinson
Auburn defensive back Jeremiah Dinson made several impact plays against Clemson. (Mike Comer/Getty Images)

11. They hate when you score. They haaaaaaaate it. Auburn ranks 29th in the FBS in opponent’s red-zone conversions, which isn’t bad. What is bad is that stat, since it accounts for neither holding the opponent to a field goal rather than a touchdown or keeping your opponent out of the red zone in the first place.

Please note instead that Auburn has allowed only 8 red-zone opportunities all season, tied for seventh-fewest in the country. Please note further that between Auburn’s 40 and 20 is where possessions go to die; the Tigers entered the Mississippi State game allowing only 2.37 points per-trip inside the 40, the best mark in the FBS. They then allowed only 2 points per such possession against Mississippi State.

Watching Auburn’s opponents not score is fun. Watching them get within range of scoring and then not scoring is even more fun.

12. Tray Matthews. He’s no doubt heard all your dumb Auburn transfer jokes, all your dumb Prayer in Jordan-Hare references, all your dumb dumbness. But he also led the team in tackles last year, he’s leading the team in tackles this year among non-Davises/Williamses, he’s the senior CEO of one of the best defenses in the country.

So he’s heard you, yeah. Somehow I doubt he’s listening.

13. This season isn’t the end. It might still be closer to the beginning. Losing Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams should have hurt. Losing Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford shouldn’t have hurt as much, but it should have hurt some. Instead none of that has hurt at all. 

So maybe losing Matthews, Stephen Roberts, Tre Williams, and a handful of early departures will hurt in 2018. But Davidson, Derrick Brown, Javaris Davis, Dinson, Dean and others are sophomores. Dontavius Russell, Andrew Williams, Jeff Holland, Deshaun Davis, Carlton Davis and others are juniors. Nick Coe is one of many freshmen.

There are so many reasons to love this Auburn defense. That we won’t have to stop loving it anytime soon might be the greatest reason of all.

The post More than just good: 13 reasons to love the 2017 Auburn defense appeared first on SEC Country.

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