*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations*
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Remember when you worried so about Dee Ford's sore knee as he was missing the first two games of the season?
What sore? What knee? He's been feeling fine, and there are a lot of quarterbacks who can testify to that.
The Auburn defensive end, last seen crashing into Aaron Murray so hard the quarterback's last-gasp pass to beat Auburn fell harmlessly to the ground last Saturday, is second in the SEC in sacks, with eight; and tackles for a loss, with 11½.
"He's made frequent plays, but he's also made critical plays at critical times," says Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Ford, who had a sack and eight quarterback hurries against Georgia, will be on alert again when Auburn faces Alabama a week from Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Georgia made a furious fourth-quarter rally to overtake Auburn last Saturday, mostly after Ford limped off the field, but the Tigers staged a rally of their own on the Nick Marshall-to-Ricardo Louis miracle catch for a 43-38.
"When he caught it, I fell on my back passed out for about three seconds," Ford said. "But I came back to my senses. Twenty-five seconds left. Have to go out and make a play."
That's what Ford did.
"When you're playing against a great quarterback like Aaron Murray, anything can happen," Ford reasoned.
Watch Dee Ford's last hit on Aaron Murray.
Johnson, for one, was happy to have Ford back on the field when it mattered.
"He's been extremely important, and I think if you go back, when we missed him earlier in the season, especially against a team like Washington State who was throwing it so frequently, it was a big handicap," Johnson said. "So we were obviously really happy to get him back in the lineup and I think it's been obvious what he's meant to us in some big ballgames like Georgia and also Texas A&M, the plays he's made at crucial times."
Ford is a big hitter who plays the piano; who is soft spoken off the field.
"He's got a really unique way," Johnson said. "I think the players really respect him. I was asked who are locker room leader is, I don't know if we've got one. But I know these players have great confidence in him, and he's good influence not only on the practice field, but on the game field and off the field. He's a good, positive influence and a good leader in that aspect. I think our players rally around him."
Ford is part of a defensive line that has pressured quarterbacks far better than last year with new defensive line coach Rodney Garner.
"Rodney has done a heck of a job with them," Johnson said. "We've got some other guys that are getting pretty good pressure and improved in that area, and Dee certainly helps them be that way because they've always got to be aware of him.
"The only problem the other night -- he was so good the first couple of plays that I think he's the one who forced them into those quick passes. Maybe if he had slowed down a little bit, we could have got them to play more drop-back."
In the end, with the game on the line, Dee Ford made sure the last pass was hardly a pass at all. Now, it's Alabama after this off week.
"The defense still hasn't played a complete game. We still have a lot to work on," Ford said. "We have time to get healthy, myself especially, and really use it to our advantage. We definitely worked for this, and it is here now. We've just got to finish out the year."