Vandy has strong D

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Auburn offense to face stout Vanderbilt defense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After six years of rebuilding, Vanderbilt coaches finally have the defense they envisioned.

The Commodores visit Auburn on Saturday, and currently rank second in the Southeastern Conference and 17th nationally in total defense, allowing just 273.0 yards per game.

Vanderbilt allowed an average of 352.6 yards per game last season and 395.6 in 2005.

“We are faster than we’ve ever been, and we have some guys who have played a bunch of plays,” sixth-year Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said Monday during his weekly news conference. “Speed, athletic ability, it’s all gone up over previous years.”

The Commodores (3-1, 1-1 SEC) turned in a defensive gem last Saturday, holding Eastern Michigan to 173 yards of total offense and producing six turnovers in a 30-7 victory.

Auburn (3-2, 1-1 SEC) is coming off its upset victory at defending national champion Florida, and will be Vanderbilt’s biggest threat thus far.

“I feel like our defense is the best it’s been,” defensive tackle Theo Horrocks said. “It’s definitely an SEC-caliber defense now, and it just adds confidence to the whole unit, knowing we can play with anybody.”

Vanderbilt intercepted five passes last Saturday, its most since 1993, including one for a touchdown by cornerback D.J. Moore. They currently are tied for first and rank 10th nationally in interceptions with 10. They also rank third in the SEC in points allowed per game, with 16.2, and are second in first downs allowed.

Johnson said the increased speed and depth on defense has allowed defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler to be more aggressive in his play-calling.

With a cast of defensive playmakers, Vanderbilt coaches couldn’t decide on a defensive player of the week Sunday. Instead, the entire unit was given the award.

“I was very impressed. I was thrilled,” Johnson said. “It was a good group effort by our defense.”

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