AUBURN — The way Christian Tutt tells it, he wasn’t even supposed to be out on the field at the time — but he wanted another chance at his interception.
He smiled wide after Auburn’s tune-up win over Samford last Saturday. In the blowout, he said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had asked his first-teamers at halftime if they wanted to go back out on the field to start the third quarter. Tutt said no one else in his group really wanted to, except for him, because he had dropped an interception earlier in the game.
“I told him I wanted to go back in for at least three plays,” the charismatic sophomore said. Imagine the groans from the rest of the defense, buckling in their chinstraps for one more series.
Sure enough: “That third play, I got the pick,” Tutt shrugged. And the rest heard all about it on the sideline.
Meet the cast of characters in the Auburn defensive backfield, charged this week with slowing down Alabama’s talented and touted all-star group of wide receivers.
Veteran, blue-collar senior safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas lead the Tigers up top. The track star son of two Olympians, junior Noah Igbinoghene, shines at cornerback alongside senior Javaris Davis and the resident youngsters, Tutt and Roger McCreary.
It wasn’t for any laziness, McCreary assured, that the first-team defense didn’t want to go back out there in a 31-0 game last Saturday, before Tutt got his wish and his interception. They wanted the second-teamers to go ahead and have their chance to go play.
And, McCreary assured, the Tigers aren’t shying down from the challenge coming against Alabama.
“I’m looking forward to it. I really am,” McCreary said. “They’re good. We’re good. We’ll just see how it’s going to roll.”
Alabama boasts the nation’s third-best passing offense, averaging 344.3 passing yards per game. Standout Tua Tagovailoa may be down and replaced by Mac Jones, but a stellar set of weapons is still out there at receiver. DeVonta Smith is the nation’s 10th-best in receiving yards per game, averaging 101.8, and is fourth in the country with 13 touchdown receptions.
Jerry Jeudy has caught nine touchdowns and averages 84.8 receiving yards per game, good for the country’s 25th-best average. LSU and Minnesota are the only other teams with two in the top 25. And Alabama’s talent only starts there.
Opposite that explosive talent, though, Auburn has a hard-working group that’s playing well together. Overlooked out of Lee-Montgomery, Thomas was rated a two-star prospect out of high school according to Rivals. Dinson was a three-star guy out of Florida. Igbinoghene was recruited to be a receiver before he moved positions.
But together, and under Steele, the Tigers have forged a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Auburn’s secondary is third-best in the country in passing yards given up per attempt, averaging only 5.6.
“We’re just playing to our standard. We’re playing our football,” Tutt said there next to the locker room after the Samford win, as Auburn turned its eyes to the Iron Bowl. “We don’t care who we play.
“We don’t care if we playing, shoot, the Saints. We’re going to play Auburn football.”
Alabama’s passing offense is the country’s fourth-best in passing yards per attempt, averaging 11.1.
Behind Dinson and Thomas on the depth chart are sophomore safeties Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood, who see intermittent snaps as the defense rotates. Auburn will be without Sherwood for the first half of the Iron Bowl, after he was ejected with a targeting call in the second half of the Samford game. Sherwood isn’t a starter, but that’s one piece that will be missing on Auburn’s side of a critical matchup.
And Saturday, that matchup should certainly prove critical.
But Auburn’s confident it has the cast to go out there and try to win it.
“We’re always up for the challenge to go out there and compete, get better, execute,” Tutt said. “They’re going to make plays. We’re going to make plays. It’s all a game. It’s a chess game.
“We’ve just got to go out there and make more plays than they do.”