COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Fast. Physical. And a whole lot of effort.
That’s what Auburn linebacker K.J. Britt said it was going to take to steal a win from No. 17 Texas A&M on the road as a four-point underdog. The Tigers’ defense, who entered the game with looming questions and injury concerns, quieted any and all doubters Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field as they smothered the Aggies’ offense in a 28-20 win to open SEC play.
No. 8 Auburn held Texas A&M to the fewest points in the first half in the series since 2015, when Auburn led 14-3 going into halftime. The Aggies were also held to just 56 yards rushing, the fewest by the Aggies in the series with Auburn; the previous low was 133 rushing yards in 2013.
“Our defense stopped the run, now,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “That was an impressive deal. They’ve got a very good offense, their receivers are scary and their quarterback when he has time is really good. That was an impressive effort by our defense.”
Britt said the key was to set the tone early and often.
“It’s real important. You got to set the tone,” Britt said. “Setting the tone knowing that this is the way we’re going to play football, either y’all are going to match it or y’all are going to bow down… Let them know this is Auburn football and we come to play…Our mentality when we came out was fast, physical, and just play with effort. Everything else will take care of itself. And that’s what we did.”
Britt, who has emerged as a leader of the Auburn defense at middle linebacker, finished with seven tackles, which tied a career high, and one tackle-for-loss.
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Derrick Brown, who was questionable all week with an upper body contusion he suffered against Kent State, silenced the notion that he wouldn’t be back at full strength. Brown turned in his best performance of the young season, leading the defense with three tackles-for-loss and two sacks, which both were career highs.
“He gets push in the middle and anytime you can get push in the middle, from a quarterback standpoint, it changes things,” Malzahn said. “He did that.”
Brown finished with four tackles, two pass breakups, and recorded his third career forced fumble. He said after the game that not being able to play a full game versus Kent State added a little extra motivation.
“It was just one of those things you know, I didn’t play last week so you don’t want to take these things for granted. I mean, you never know when your last snap is your last snap… If you’re really about it then when they put you in that situation, you’ve got to go get the job done.”
The secondary also showed why they are regarded as one of the best open-field tackling units in the nation, let alone the conference. Noah Igbinoghene (8), who led the team, Jamien Sherwood (5) and Roger McCreary (6) all finished with career bests in tackles.
Texas A&M went into halftime with 12 yards rushing, and finished the game with 56 total on the ground (average of 2.7 yards per carry).
“We just played our brand of defense,” Brown said. “…We’re one defense and in order for that one defense to work, we’ve got to all be able to hold our gaps and do our job…Playing against teams in the West, any team can win any give Saturday. It doesn’t matter what happened the week before or who’s picked to win. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to come out here and give it your all and be able to compete.”
No. 8 Auburn (4-0) will host Mississippi State next Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN.
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