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September 23, 2012- -
AUBURN -- The Tigers' defense pieced together one of its finest performances in years Saturday night.
Playing with a tougher attitude, Auburn held a Southeastern Conference opponent to 10 points for only the second time since the infamous 3-2 win against Mississippi State in 2008. The key against LSU?
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder believes his players finally are breaking through the over-analysis phase.
"My main message tonight is that the players played faster," he said. "That's the main mark of improvement in this game."
Auburn's biggest area of concern entering Saturday night was LSU's power rushing game, which had cracked the 250-yard plateau in each of its first three games. The Bayou Bengals rushed for 74 yards during the first quarter alone.
They finished with 182.
VanGorder wasn't happy with that number, though he acknowledged that his group made obvious progress.
"We definitely were anxious when the game started. We did settle down," he said. "Our execution through the game was questionable at a lot of times. It seemed to get better. I'm disappointed that they ran for 180 yards. I don't like letting them running the football on us. That's what it's been the first four games. We have to get better. We will get better."
STEPPING UP: Auburn's defense struggled during the team's first three games, but cornerback T'Sharvan Bell saw what he wanted to see Saturday night.
He saw a group playing with passion and energy.
He believes that's a precursor to greatness.
"A lot of guys had fun competing out there tonight," Bell said. "We just came up a little short. We've got to practice finishing better. That's the only thing that I see missing. Execution, of course, was a part, but we just have to learn how to finish the game."
QUIET FOR A CHANGE: Fullback J.C. Copeland lobbed a salvo at Auburn last winter by saying the Tigers' defense quit fighting during the 2011 game.
He may be telling a different story now.
Copeland on Saturday rushed twice for a total of five yards. He was denied the end zone on a pair of red-zone runs, which gave Auburn defenders a chance to air their grievances.
"We hit him. We let him know. I can't say exactly what was said," defensive end Dee Ford said. "We respected them totally, but we came in with the mindset that we wanted some respect. I feel like they overlooked us. Last year, they said we tapped out. We came with it (on Saturday). I believe we gained that respect."
BACK FROM THE BRINK: Robenson Therezie, who spent the past two games at a reserve tailback, reverted to his old role at cornerback against LSU.
He played early and often during the Tigers' 12-10 loss. Most of his appearances were tied to VanGorder's specially formulated sets aimed at maximizing run support.
"When you have guys that have some limited roles on either said and you can do just a few things with them, then they can bounce back and forth at practice and get both of those done," coach Gene Chizik said. "We knew ? they were going to come in with two tight ends and make it a very physical perimeter game as well as an inside game. He fit the bill."