Auburn Defense and Special Teams vs Kansas State: Position Grades

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Sep 18, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive back Johnathan Ford (23) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during the Tigers

Defensive Backs

We didn’t know it until Wednesday evening, but starting senior safety Jermaine Whitehead did not make the trip with the rest of the team to Manhattan. Apparently, the reason involves an altercation of some sort, though no official details have been released, and Whitehead has been suspended indefinitely.

Without Whitehead in the lineup, there was a lot of speculation as to who would start in his place. True freshman Stephen Roberts was listed as the backup field safety, but it was Joshua Holsey that got the nod Thursday night.

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  • “I thought [Holsey] did a good, solid job,” Johnson said Sunday. “It was a tough move for him. It was done during the week and he didn’t have but one-half of a practice and another small light practice.”

    Holsey looked right at home against K-State as he led the team with 11 total tackles. The junior, who played safety in 2013 before a season ending knee injury, had been used primarily as a cornerback through the first two games of the season.

    “I thought all our guys out back played pretty well. We put a lot of pressure on them. We had to play a lot of man coverage to make sure we loaded the box on the quarterback. And I thought they really competed well.”

    As a group, the defense limited Kansas State to 245 passing yards on 24 completions in 40 attempts. They did allow Curry Sexton to catch 11 passes for 121 yards, many of them coming on third down, but they kept the Wildcats out of the end zone through the air. K-State Jake Waters was also able to complete 13 passes for first downs, and the Wildcats were a solid 8-for-14 converting third downs, but the secondary did create two interceptions.

    The first pick was a bit of a lucky bounce. All-American receiver Tyler Lockett – who caught six passes for a modest 45 yards – dropped what would have been a sure interception in the first quarter. Lockett had beaten Jonathan Jones multiple times on the drive, and did so again in the end zone, but couldn’t handle the pass from Waters and Jones caught the ball in the end zone to put an end to the Wildcats’ scoring drive.

    The second interception came from senior Trovon Reed, a former wide receiver, who also recorded a tackle and two pass breakups.

    “He had three big plays that were obvious,” Johnson said. “He had the interception, he had a breakup on a double post, and another play on a screen, but overall, he played very solid… He’s made some steady progress, and now we feel like he can play almost as much as the starters.”

    Sep 18, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) returns a punt during first-half action against the Auburn Tigers at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

    With Jones’ shaky performance of late, it would not be a surprise for Reed to force himself into the starting lineup.

    One player that has already forced himself into a starting role has been Rudy Ford, who surprisingly beat out Derrick Moncrief for the starting spot at boundary safety this fall. Ford was second on the team with eight tackles Thursday, and also had a tackle for a loss. According to Johnson, Ford “continues to improve drastically. He just shows up. He’s so fast, he’ gets all over the place.”

    As you may recall, Ford is also a converted offensive player. He was a running back.

    “He’s got to still get real consistent with his eyes, make sure he’s looking at the right things and playing the right reads. He had a pass thrown on him the other day where he took a couple of false steps and was able to recover, almost made an unbelievable play. He made a hard play out of an easy play, just because of his experience level. But he’s getting better and we really have a lot of confidence in him right now.”

    And there’s more. Johnson and the defensive coaching staff did a great job of rotating players into the mix Thursday.

    “We played our six DB package quite a bit as the game flowed on,” Johnson said. “Nick [Ruffin] played really well.” Ruffin, a true freshman, played 28 snaps against K-State.

    So, overall, the defense didn’t miss Whitehead all that much against the Wildcats. But will the senior safety be back soon?

    “That’s Gus’ decision,” Johnson said. “He’d have to answer any questions about that.”

    Grade: A-