Unsung Heroes of Auburn Tigers Defense

Eugene Asante and Austin Keys return to an Auburn Tigers defense looking for more consistency.
Auburn Tigers linebacker Eugene Asante with a scoop and score vs. Texas A&M
Auburn Tigers linebacker Eugene Asante with a scoop and score vs. Texas A&M / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
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At first blush, the Auburn Tigers’ 4-2-5 defensive look de-emphasizes linebackers. Yet, looking deep within, you see a scheme that not only depends on linebackers but needs them to lead in various ways. In 2024, the corps of 'backers will once again thrive in a fast-flowing scheme that places priority of playmaking over profound structure.

As a result, the linebacker room will stabilize the scheme, providing support versus the run and pass. In the SEC, linebackers need to prepare for every contingency, as talent combined with innovation keeps them on their proverbial toes. For Auburn, Austin Keys and Eugene Asante play a pivotal in the success of their defense. 

Two, Only Two

In Auburn's defense, the Tigers theoretically deploy three linebackers. However, the BUCK position, will see their hand in the dirt occasionally. Their main responsibility is to rush the passer, pressure, and hopefully, generating big plays.

In that case, the other two linebackers clean up. Meaning, they must be the ones to stop the ball carriers on wide-veering run plays. Also, the 'backers need to display some semblance of pass coverage, especially in the short area. Auburn relies on them to handle coverage of opponents underneath. 

The Leader

In watching film, Austin Keys personifies the middle linebacker spot. From his pre-snap communication to his sure tackling, he controls the action in front of him. Equally important, Keys uses hand fighting to shed blocks, winning before making the tackle.

In some college circles, linebackers will dance or use just speed to evade the blocker. However, Keys, loves to get downhill, forcing contact, before sliding off to make the play. 2024 serves as a redemptive year for Keys. He sat for over a month, needing thumb surgery, following the UMass victory. Now healthy, Keys wants to play a full year, culminating in an Iron Bowl with a far different result.

The Playmaker

Looking at Asante, you'd expect him to continue the tremendous playmaking history of Auburn linebackers. In fact, that looks like a fair assessment. Although not the largest player, listed 6'1 and 219 pounds, Asante uses quick hands and feet to get underneath to secure the tackle.

In 2023, Asante enjoyed a breakout season. His tally of 86 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks caught the attention of opponents and coaches alike. Not to mention the 67- yard fumble return for a touchdown. against Texas A&M.

Although Asante played well, he needs not improve on line fundamentals. When engaging with blockers, he must disengage sooner, allowing for time and space to make the play. Asante flashes enough speed on his side to shed and move. 

Dirty Work

Neither Austin Keys and Eugene Asante will typically make the flashy play. However, more often than not, each will make the secure one. In a conference where freelancing leads to chunk yardage, Auburn and their linebackers choose a different path. Now, the two must anchor this defense, inspiring them to play better with passion.

Terrance Biggs


Senior Editor/ Podcast Host, Full Press Coverage, Bleav, Member: Football Writers Association of America, United States Basketball Writers Association, and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, National Football Foundation Voter: FWAA All-American, Jim Thorpe, Davey O'Brien, Outland, and Biletnikoff Awards