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Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves remains one sack away from tying the school's career sack record. Groves is part of the Tigers' 'rabbit' package.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves remains one sack away from tying the school's career sack record. Groves is part of the Tigers' "rabbit" package.

Auburn's 'rabbit' looks to be hopping Saturday

By Ross Dellenger 340-2460

AUBURN — "Rabbit!" defensive coordinator Will Muschamp yells from the sideline.

No, he didn't just spot a furry, white-tailed bunny hopping across the football field. He's alerting the personnel in Auburn's pass-rush package. And no, Muschamp doesn't bounce around with his arms up by his chest posing as a rabbit when he calls the play.

The "rabbit" package is Auburn's sack machine. It calls for a shuffle on the defensive line, involving a five-player rotation.

Defensive end Sen'Derrick Marks moves inside to defensive tackle, joining Pat Sims as the inside rushers. Quentin Groves holds his post at end, and speedy ends Antonio Coleman or Antoine Carter come into the game at the other end spot.

"Those are our five best rushers," Muschamp said. "We put our best rushers on the field in a lot of situations to get pressure."

This week against pass-happy New Mexico State, getting pressure on the quarterback will be a premium. The Aggies (2-1) have attempted 149 passes in their first three games. That's a whopping 50 attempts a game.

They rank fifth in the nation averaging 398 yards through the air per game.

"It will be a long night for our defense," coach Tommy Tuberville said.

Groves can't recall ever playing against a team that throws it as much as New Mexico State does.

"I think Texas Tech throws it more than they do. That's the only team I've even seen on TV throw it more," Groves said. "They throw it a lot, man. It's wild."

Groves is looking for that elusive record-tying sack. All he needs is one sack to equal Gerald Robinson's school career record of 26.

After charting two sacks against Kansas State in the opener, the senior has zero in the past two games. He'll probably have at least 50 chances Saturday, as the Tigers will use that oddly-named pass-rush package plenty against a team that passes the ball 80 percent of the time.

Groves, Carter and Coleman will have the duty of bouncing the Aggies' tackles to the outside and creating heat around New Mexico State quarterback Chase Holbrook, who's thrown 11 touchdowns in three games — more than Auburn's offense has scored.

Groves is excited about getting all those 50-some odd opportunities, but at the same time, he's already exhausted just thinking about all that running.

"You run a lot," Groves said laughing.

The Tigers' four-man rush already has been successful during the first three games of the season, hurrying quarterbacks 46 times and tallying six sacks.

Auburn's ability to get pressure by rushing just four defensive linemen relieves the duties of the linebackers. Instead of having to blitz, the trio can roam the middle of the field.

This weekend, though, linebackers will be scarce. Auburn will play five and six defensive backs to equal New Mexico State's five- and-six-receiver sets, putting even more pressure on the front four.

"We'll get our best rushers in the game. But you've got to be able to push the pocket inside as well," Muschamp said.

That's where Sims — nicknamed "Big Pat" by teammates — and Marks come into play. The inside rushers are just as important in "Rabbit" as are the ends.

The two bull-rush the offensive center and guards.

Marks and Sims impressed Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom so much that Croom said the two "were just about as good as (LSU's Glenn) Dorsey."

Dorsey, LSU's defensive tackle, was a 2006 first team All-American and is thought of as an NFL first-round pick.

Said Croom: "Our guys came out of the game respecting them as much as anyone they've faced in the past three or four years."

New Mexico St. at Auburn

6 p.m.

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