Kevin Steele knew cornerback Josh Holsey was smart, but he didn’t know he was *that* smart.
Late in the fourth quarter last Saturday, when Ole Miss was driving down the field to potentially take the lead, Josh Holsey all but slammed the door on a potential Rebel comeback by picking off quarterback Chad Kelly. Holsey jumped a route, stepped in front of the receiver, and took the interception back all the way to the Auburn 25.
That play flipped the momentum of the game, and it only happened because Holsey knew exactly what was about to occur.
“I mean he robbed that route the other day and he joked around saying ‘I’m glad he didn’t double move it,’ but he knew what was coming,” Steele said. “I think he did a great job of anticipating the throw and breaking on the throw.”
The fifth-year senior assumed a starting spot opposite sophomore Carlton Davis in large part because two other cornerbacks — Jamel Dean and Jeremiah Dinson — are out for the 2016 season with knee injuries. While in fall camp, Steele felt going with an experienced guy to slide in at that starting spot would make for a smoother transition than trying to bring one of the newer players up to speed.
Auburn’s defense has reaped the rewards from that decision. Holsey has been given glowing ratings by Pro Football Focus — he was named one of the two cornerbacks in PFF’s Team of the Week following the Ole Miss game — for most of the season. And on top of playing statistically well, Holsey’s done a stellar job of being mentally sharp on the field.
“I probably underestimated just how smart a football player he is,” Steele said. “Not that I thought he was not, it was just that that guy’s like a coach out there. He knows what he needs to do on every snap and on most instances he’s telling people around him what they’re getting ready to run. That’s the thing he does so well.”
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So it’s no surprise that when his team needed a game-changing play, Holsey knew exactly what to when it mattered most. Five years of experience will do that.
“He knows what his abilities are,” Steele said. “He knows who he’s playing against and what their abilities are, and he knows how to position himself footwork and technique-wise to win the down, and he does it repeatedly.”
Holsey’s play has been a big part of the reason Auburn has fielded one of its best defenses in a while. The freakishly talented defensive line is crucial, but without a competent secondary on the back end, the pass rush would be nullified.
“Oh man, it’s big,” Holsey said. “That was one of the things that kind of helped everyone to come back … When we leave I feel like we’re going to be in those conversations with like those 2006 defenses when they were only holding people to 14 points maybe, you know what I mean? That was big for me and for most of the seniors coming back.”
To keep that trend going, Holsey and the Auburn defense get another chance to flex their muscles against a middling Vanderbilt offense. Even with a significant week-to-week downgrade compared to Ole Miss’ pass-happy attack, they’re taking it just as seriously as they would any other week.
“It’s just a trend that we’ve got to keep going,” Holsey said. “We’ve still got a few more games to showcase what we can do and we’re going to try to do the best we can to keep that defense to the top-notch level that we’re playing.”
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