Why Auburn's Defense Is More Than Ready for Jameis Winston

Justin LeeContributor IDecember 20, 2013

Dec 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead (9) runs off the field with teammates after catching an interception against the Missouri Tigers during the second quarter of the 2013 SEC Championship game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

It's the same old story for the Auburn defense.

Heading into January's BCS National Championship Game, the Tigers are hearing all about the elite-level quarterback they'll be lining up against.

This time, it's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston who is expected to be Auburn's undoing.

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 07:  Quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles passes against the Duke Blue Devils during the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streete
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Winston will be able to pick apart the Auburn defense—or so the narrative goes. He'll be able to knife through the Tigers' secondary with his pinpoint passing, and his unworldly athletic ability will prove to be the "X-factor" during the championship game, as the Florida State offense rolls in Pasadena, leaving Auburn to only try and outscore the Seminoles.

At least that's what the analysts and pundits say.

Of course, it's nothing the Tigers haven't heard before.

Winston certainly deserves all of the attention he's getting, after capping a season for the ages with winning the Heisman Trophy as college football's most outstanding player—and the Tigers have been the first ones to sing his praises.

But for the Auburn defense, the challenge will be nothing new.

The Tigers have faced a number of elite quarterbacks this season, during the SEC's most talented year at the position in recent memory—cutting their teeth week after week against some of the country's best passers.

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is pressured by Dee Ford #30 of the Auburn Tigers in the third quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"We have faced some dynamic quarterbacks," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday. "They are a little bit different but have won a lot of games. I hope that will help us. Obviously, we are playing the Heisman Trophy winner, the best player in college football, so we have our work cut out for us."

Of course, it seems the Tigers have had their work cut out for them all season—first in September, when they were pitted against Zach Mettenberger and LSU in Baton Rouge. It was more of the same when Auburn traveled to College Station to face Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies.

It all echoed back again when Auburn hosted Aaron Murray and Georgia—and again for the Iron Bowl and two-time national champion AJ McCarron.

Even Missouri's James Franklin and Ole Miss's Bo Wallace proved to be tough tests this season for any defense.

Auburn Defense's Notable Opposing Quarterbacks
Opposing Quarterback (School)National Ranking (Quarterback Rating)
Zach Mettenberger (LSU)3rd (171.45)
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)4th (170.43)
Aaron Murray (Georgia)13th (158.82)
AJ McCarron (Alabama)8th (165.88)
Jameis Winston (Florida State)1st (190.06)
CFBstats.com

None of those players are Jameis Winston—but what the Tigers can say going into Pasadena is that they are battle-tested.

Oct 19, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive end Dee Ford (30) pressures Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) during the second half at Kyle Field. Tigers won 45-41. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

On January 6, Auburn will have an opportunity to earn a second win this season over a Heisman-winning quarterback, after downing Manziel in October.

For the Tigers, it's just another challenge—and another reason to get excited.

"It's just competition," senior defensive end Dee Ford said. "That's what you want to play. You want to play against the top competition if you consider yourself the best at what you do."

If they can earn a win over Winston and the Seminoles, the Tigers will be able to say that they are.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07:  Dee Ford #30 of the Auburn Tigers reacts after making a big defensive stop in the first quarter against the Missouri Tigers during the SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome on December 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Ke
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Of course, that's easier said than done—and the Auburn defensive players will be the first ones to point that out.

"He had a great season, a tremendous season," junior defensive back Jermaine Whitehead said of Winston. "He did a lot of great things. He makes his team better. They feed off his energy. It's fun to watch him take charge of his team."

While the Tigers have faced a number of talented quarterbacks, none of them have been quite like Winston—who stands at 6'4", inside a 228-pound frame, with nimble feet below him and a cannon of an arm attached to his shoulder.

Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead (9) reacts after breaking up a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

"He's a mix of all the guys," Whitehead said, comparing Winston to his previous opponents. "What he does best is he moves a lot, he can make the deep-ball throw. He's a great overall quarterback. He doesn't really remind me of anybody we've played this year. Every quarterback is different. He possesses a lot of great attributes at the position."

Still, while Winston may be the most talented of all the quarterbacks Auburn has faced this season, the Tigers defense may well be the most battle-tested and well-prepared of any team Florida State has faced.

Where the advantage lies remains to be seen.

The only thing left to do is play the game. 

"We're just excited to go out there and play against them," junior defensive back Jonathon Mincy said. "They're one of the best teams. We're one of the best teams. We're on the biggest stage in college football.

"We're just excited to go out there and play."

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.