While much of the conversation surrounding Auburn this offseason was about the new-look offense, the defense had questions surrounding it too, mainly about how the Tigers were going to replace its NFL draftees.
The defense helped answer those questions in the opener by forcing three turnovers in No. 8 Auburn’s 29-13 victory over No. 23 Kentucky Saturday at Jordan-Hare.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people that think our defense is not the same and is not going to be the same because what left,” Auburn safety Smoke Monday said. “I feel like, at the end of the day, we’re going to be big.”
One player that helped Auburn be big was Roger McCreary. The cornerback was making his second career start for the Tigers in Saturday’s matchup against Kentucky.
McCreary finished with an interception to end the first half and forced a fumble in the second half. Auburn’s third defensive turnover was a second-half fumble recovered by safety Jamien Sherwood.
“Roger, I feel like he played excellent today,” Sherwood said. “He’s just an all-around great player when you need him. He’s going to step up at all times. He’s not afraid of the moment, and he’s just a player that you can always count on.”
The defense allowed 234 total yards of offense in the first half, but tightened things up in the second half and allowed only 150 total yards to the Wildcats’ offense the rest of the way.
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McCreary’s interception to end the first half helped set the tone for the more dominant defensive performance in the second half. The cornerback intercepted the pass on the Tigers’ goal line and raced for a 102-yard touchdown, but an Auburn targeting call negated it.
“Once again, that was huge,” Auburn defensive back Jordyn Peters said. “Roger took it back 102-yards, that’s a huge momentum shift. I’m sure the guys on the Kentucky team were like, ‘Wow, these guys are real.’ After that, we knew we were the better team, and we knew what we had to do at that point, and we were going to do it, and nothing was going to stop us.”
No. 8 Auburn (1-0) travels to Athens, Georgia, next Saturday to take on No. 4 Georgia in this year’s installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. The game will be at 6:30 p.m. CST and will be on ESPN.
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