AUBURN - The learning curve has, at times, been steep. But Brian VanGorder's defense remains a big hit with Auburn players as they prepare for Saturday's game against No. 2 LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Junior defensive end Dee Ford says Auburn defense has potential for greatness
"Even though we lost two games and went into overtime against a team we were supposed to blow out, as a defense we have come along as far as communication," junior defensive end Dee Ford aid. "That is the biggest thing. Defensive players are going to play hard. You are not going to have to question effort. As far as communication goes, we are getting better. We are understanding the methods of the defense and learning how to play a system defense."
It's a defense, Ford said, that bears little resemblance to what he played the previous two seasons.
"It's very different," Ford said. "It allows you to play faster, but you have to put work into it. You're not going to just say 'Hey, I'm playing in a system defense and now I get to play fast and I'm smarter.' Once you put work into it - you have to watch a lot of film - you do become a more cerebral football player."
Senior linebacker Ashton Richardson concurred.
"It's a whole another level," Richardson said. "Running an NFL system is really high-level type stuff. You have to know every gap scheme, you have to your alignments. It's definitely a challenge, but it's worth it. It's going to make us a lot better."
But that doesn't make Richardson feel better about the defense giving up 82 points in three games.
"Yes, that's a part of it," Richardson said. "Of course, that's not an excuse. It's not such a high-level thing we can't do it. It's different than what we are used to and it's take a little while to adjust to it, but that's still not an excuse."
Senior Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of 22 players chosen to the 2012 American Football Coaches Association Good Works team.
Lutzenkirchen, a senior from Marietta, Ga., has taken on visiting and supporting children with cancer as his personal mission and has made an impact on several of them both near Auburn and in his hometown by visiting them and bringing teammates along, corresponding with them, and offering encouragement to siblings and family.
Lutzenkirchen is also in service projects with Auburn student-athletes and has been asked by several colleges and departments at Auburn to visit with prospective students as an Auburn Ambassador. Lutzenkirchen helped start a Youth for Christ chapter at a local high school and works with his family in Marietta, Ga., on collection/donation projects for underprivileged youth throughout the year.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik left no doubt Tuesday about his mission for Saturday night's game.
"Our expectations are to go out there and play better than we played last week," Chizik said, "and our expectation when we go into that stadium against anybody is we play is to win. So that is the message this week, three weeks from now, six weeks from now. It won’t matter.”
Ford said the game is an opportunity for players to show that Auburn, the national champion in 2010, has not gone away.
"This is a great chance," Ford said. "We're not really trying to remember these last few weeks. We're trying to show we are Auburn, that nothing is changed, we are still playing for a championship, we are still trying to play some championship ball. We have a perfect chance to show that Saturday."
Auburn's defense, Ford said, has potential to excel, and he expects the day to come when it happens.
"We have a lot of potential," Ford said. "We are shooting ourselves in the foot. Just like we had that game in command Saturday. We could have been up by 21 points, but we fumbled at the 2-yard line. The defense can't get off the field when we should. Things like that. Even I had a play where I had a missed assignment, and boom! The quarterback hit his head on the goal post.
"There are going to be about five or six plays that are going to determine the outcome. We just have to learn to lock in and focus. The potential of this team is great. We just have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
There's no game quite like Auburn-LSU for Richardson and his family. Richardson's father, Al, was an All-America linebacker at LSU in 1982.
"This is the fourth time I'm going to play LSU," Richardson said. "He tries to stay in the background. Back home, he's kind of a local hero. He tries not to put a lot of pressure on me."
There will be no doubt, Richardson said, where his father's loyalties will lie.
Said Richardson: "He'll definitely be wearing orange and blue."
For a video interview with Ford, follow the link below.