TAMPA, FLA. — Jeremiah Dinson just can’t wait.
He’s never been one to shy from a challenge. He knows his teammate at safety, Daniel Thomas, is on that same heartbeat. And a little Florida sun isn’t going to change that.
That challenge is coming for them, in two stellar receivers from Minnesota and a dynamic passing offense — but there’s no better way, Dinson figured while smiling under the palm trees by the practice field, for the seniors to finish up than with one more big chance to prove what they can do.
They’ll have that when they face two 1,000-yard receivers and Auburn meets Minnesota on Jan. 1 at noon in the Outback Bowl on ESPN.
“It’s fun going out with a team like this,” Dinson said.
Dinson and Thomas will lead an Auburn secondary along with cornerbacks Noah Igbinoghene, Javaris Davis and Christian Tutt against a Minnesota passing attack highlighted by receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman.
Johnson has 1,114 yards and 11 touchdowns this season on 74 catches. He’s a senior and a touted NFL Draft prospect. Bateman has hauled in 1,170 and 11 touchdowns of his own on 57 receptions this season. He’s just a sophomore.
With quarterback Tanner Morgan firing passes to them both, that battle between the Auburn defensive backs and the Minnesota receivers figures to play a key role in deciding Wednesday’s winner.
“They’re really good receivers,” Dinson said. “The quarterback loves them. They can run any route in the route tree. They can go and catch the long balls well. Lot of double moves. They’re an all-around group, to be honest with you.
“When I watch film, 13 and 6 really pop out to me,” he said, calling Bateman and Johnson by their respective jersey numbers.
He’ll see plenty of them Wednesday.
So will Thomas, who is seeing his career come seemingly full circle against the Golden Gophers. Thomas almost signed with Minnesota out of Lee-Montgomery before he got a late offer from Auburn down I-85.
“I’m looking forward to going out with a bang playing against Minnesota,” Thomas said back in Auburn before the Tigers shifted practice to the bowl site.
This matchup gives him the chance. Minnesota is tied for sixth in the country in yards per passing attempt. Auburn’s secondary, meanwhile, has put together a solid season, with its open-field tackling highlighting its play in helping the Auburn defense to the nation’s 14th-best average in scoring defense, allowing just 18.6 points per game.
Minnesota is scoring 34.3 points per game, good for fourth-best in the Big 10.
“They’re kind of a 7-on-7 style — that type of team,” Dinson said. “You know they’re going to put the ball in the air. As a DB, that’s fun, knowing that going into the game.”
Dinson, Thomas and Davis are all seniors, playing their last game in an Auburn uniform on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a very amazing feeling just knowing all the work we’ve put in these last couple of years,” Davis said. “This is it, and we’re trying to go out with a bang, and just start off for the up-and-coming class next year.”
What a way to ride off in the sunset.
“Yeah, man, I’m going to love it,” Dinson said, still smiling after that practice this week. “I’m going to miss it, to be honest with you. I called (Thomas) every time I went home, like every day. I called him every day to see what he was doing, because I’m not used to kind of being away from the guys. It’s going to be kind of funny after Wednesday just being away from this bunch, but we’ve been having a lot of fun, especially today in practice, having a lot of fun, not being too serious but being locked in when it’s time to be locked in.
“But I’m going to miss it, but we’ve got one more time to do this thing with each other, and we’ll be ready to rock out.”