AU’s McFadden has good hands when it counts

Published 9:22 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

AUBURN – Walt McFadden takes a lot of grief for dropping potential interceptions in practice.

Maybe No. 10 Auburn’s cornerback earned a week off from complaints about his hands with a nifty — and potentially game-saving — interception in the final minutes against Mississippi State.

A week off from ribbing? McFadden couldn’t even get a day.

Fellow corner Jerraud Powers called the pick “one hell of a play and one lucky catch.”

“Walt never catches picks in practice,” Powers said. “Coach (Paul) Rhoads gets on him all the time for dropping picks in practice. Rhoads always says if you drop them in practice, you’re going to drop them in the game.”

Not this time. McFadden fought off receiver Brandon McRae with his left hand and corralled the ball with his right, then looked like a wideout by just managing to stay in bounds in a play close enough to draw a review from officials. It helped preserve a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs that kept the Tigers (3-0) unbeaten for Saturday night’s matchup with No. 6 LSU (2-0).

“Maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Rhoads, Auburn’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. “The receiver had to slow down for the ball. Walt adjusted to the ball and put his hand in what we would refer to as the basket, the receiver’s hands coming to catch the ball.

“The ball lands in the basket in Walt’s hand and then he cradles it on his shoulder and then has the sense to tiptoe and get a foot in bounds.”

He replayed the pick a few times for his players on Sunday “in enjoyment.”

McFadden was actually beaten by a step on a stop-and-go route on the play by McRae. When that happens, Powers said Rhoads teaches his corners to play the receiver’s hands.

“The receiver flashes his hands, and (Walt) throws his hands up and, boom, the ball gets stuck on his shoulder pads. I’m like, ‘What in the world?'” he said.

McFadden said the play is a confidence booster. He played in 24 games his first two seasons but hadn’t started until this season.

“A lot of times a corner will give up or get frustrated if he gets beat,” McFadden said. “I was kind of being patient. We also do drills on when we get beat how to play the ball, so it’s not a panic mode for me.”

McFadden does have a knack for big interceptions, even though they come infrequently. He returned his only other career pick 93 yards for a touchdown last season against Tennessee Tech, Auburn’s longest in 14 years.

He still might want to work on his interception dance. Powers described his latest effort as “his little old-school celebration, pointing a finger in the air for some reason.”

Powers also had to chase after him during the celebration trying to get the ball back with the referee screaming, “Give me the ball.”

“I’m thinking he’s going to call a delay of game,” Powers said. “So I start chasing Walt and he’s running. I’m chasing Walt, screaming at him, and he drops the ball. I grabbed it and gave it back to the official and thanked him for not calling a penalty.”