AUBURN – Speedy Ole Miss freshman Jeff Scott was surely surprised last Saturday.
In the second quarter, Scott, who already had an 83-yard touchdown run, broke free again.
This time, he was caught from behind 30 yards downfield. By Zach Clayton, a 296-pound defensive tackle.
“I’d been pursuing him,” Clayton said. “As soon as he broke loose, I had to get him. I just had to hit another gear.”
Most defensive tackles don’t have another gear. But Auburn coach Gene Chizik says Clayton is a different kind of tackle, one who has played a major role in Auburn’s run to a 9-0 record going into Saturday’s homecoming game against Chattanooga.
“Zach Clayton is running down the field, chasing guys down X amount of yards past the line of scrimmage,” Chizik said. “It’s phenomenal. It’s just great effort. He’s been a real force for us, I think, down there inside.”
But Clayton does it almost quietly. Junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley gets most of the attention.
“I’m perfectly OK with it,” Clayton said. “As long as I’m doing my job to help the defense, I’m good. I’m out there to just get pressure and stop the run.”
He’s out there, too, to show the way for younger players. And he has certainly gotten the attention of highly regarded freshman defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker.
“Zach is one of those guys that makes it look easy, like ‘I could do that,’” Whitaker said. “You go out there and it’s not that easy. He’s one of if not the hardest worker on the d-line. He’s one of the people who really earns his right to be a starter. He’s a big brother to me. Zach is a beast. He’s unblockable.”
Whitaker watched in amazement as Clayton ran down the fastest player on the Ole Miss offense.
“Wow!” Whitaker said. “That’s what Auburn is all about, the hard-working grind. Everybody has to hustle. That play itself explains the whole Zach Clayton. No matter whether we are up three touchdowns or down by three, Zach is going to be Zach.”