AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football was confident Nick Coe could play everywhere up front in 2017. But he took that to a new level Saturday night in his debut against Georgia Southern.
On a second-down play in the second quarter, Coe found a way to shut down all three phases of Georgia Southern’s triple option in a matter of seconds.
“Heck, on one play he took the dive, quarterback and pitch, and tackled him for a 4-yard loss,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Sunday night. “So he did pretty well.”
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It was an impressive feat for any redshirt freshman, especially one who stands at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. His combination of size and athleticism stood out in Auburn’s 41-7 victory, one that Coe finished with 4 tackles and the aforementioned option-demolishing 1 for loss.
“He played his assignment and also made another guy’s assignments, so whenever you can do that, it shows a lot of athleticism from him,” junior defensive tackle Dontavius Russell, a third-year starter, said. “It was a real good play. We noticed it.”
While Coe didn’t make the starting lineup — something Steele said he would do earlier in the week — he was on the field a lot. Coe played over half of Auburn’s 56 defensive snaps Saturday night.
“Nick played very well,” Steele said. “ Nick affected the game. He changed the line of scrimmage, he rushed the passer.”
Coe mostly played defensive end and took a key role in Auburn’s third-down “rabbits” package with sophomore defensive end Marlon Davidson moving to the inside. On some sets, though, he moved to the interior as sophomore defensive tackle Derrick Brown split out wide.
All three of those linemen, now entering their second seasons with the program, gave Auburn even more options up front in what was a dominant performance.
“We like Nick Coe playing end for us,” junior defensive end Jeff Holland said Saturday. “And he can play inside, too. He helps us a lot. When a guy gets tired at 3-technique, he can go play 3-technique. He can play all the positions on the D-line.”
Coe was a rising name all throughout the offseason as a breakout candidate for Auburn. The Tigers had much more experienced depth up front with players such as Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams a season ago, so the North Carolina native spent his first season on the sidelines.
But he wasn’t a typical redshirting freshman. Auburn gave him second-team reps behind Davidson at defensive end during practices, and that experience paid off when the staff turned him loose in 2017.
“He’s definitely a big, fast, athletic guy,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last week. “He is more and more comfortable every practice. He does have a lot of ability, he just needs experience. … I think if he keeps progressing and getting experience, he’s got a chance to be a very good football player.”
The former high school wrestling champion made quite the impression on his teammates in Week 1. And Holland in particular can’t wait to see what he does next.
“He can help us a lot,” Holland said. “You know, Nick Coe is a great player. He likes to fight. He fights through the pain. He’s been through a lot, so we like Nick Coe playing end for us.”
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