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October 20, 2010LSU's defensive statistics speak for themselves.
The Bayou Bengals are allowing just more than 83 yards a game on the ground and 140.29 in the air. Needless to say, the Auburn offensive line has a tough task on its hands this Saturday.
"They've got a lot of athletes at all positions," said offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. "They've got guys every position that can run. They've got great team speed. It's not like they're great in the front seven but not in the secondary, or they've got a great secondary but they can't get a good pass rush. They've got all of it.
"Very, very physical up front. Guys that can run, but they're not just a bunch of fast guys. They're guys that will want to try to whip you at the point of attack. They play with a lot of confidence. I think (defensive coordinator) coach (John) Chavis has done a great job with them because they play hard, they chase the football, they play the game of defense the way it's supposed to be played."
Ever since the subpar performance of the offensive line in the Sept. 18 Clemson game, the line has been challenged to play at a more physical level. Based on stats alone, it has answered that request. In the last four weeks, the offense's total yardage hasn't been as low as it was that game (424 yards).
But Grimes is making sure his players know they cannot get complacent at any point.
"I'm pushing those guys to get better every week because the second you stop improving, someone else is improving and getting in front of you," Grimes said. "And I'm not necessarily talking about the competition for their position, but the people that they're going to be playing against. In this league, you're going to face some good defensive linemen and linebackers that you've got to block every week."
Considering this time last year the linemen were just seven games into a completely new offensive system, Grimes said this year the focus is on technical details.
"Just getting to the point where we can do the right things consistently," Grimes said. "We're doing a lot of things really well at times, but we've got to get to the point where we're doing them that way all the time."
According to running backs coach Curtis Luper LSU has at least five first round NFL Draft picks on its defense. One of them is defensive tackle Drake Nevis. Nevis has four solo sacks on the season with 38 total tackles
"He's got the total package," Grimes said. "He's very powerful. He's got a very physical mindset in how he plays the game. He's the kind of guy that can come off with his pad level down and just stuff you at the point of attack and stone a double-team without giving up any movement. But at the same time, he's the kind of guy that's athletic enough that he'll jump around a block and make a play, which makes it pretty difficult to block him. He isn't just a big physical guy and he isn't a finesse guy solely either. He has all of it. The thing that I see different with him this year than what he was doing last year, and I thought he was a really good player last year, is that he's playing with more confidence and getting off the blocks and just making a ton of plays."
LSU's defensive coordinator, Chavis, spent almost two decades on the Tennessee coaching staff and crossed paths with Auburn's own Trooper Taylor in the mid-2000s. Even though Taylor was on the offensive side of the ball, the two worked together from 2004-07.
But Taylor doesn't think that experience will give Auburn a leg up on preparations.
"Chavis is going to do what he does," Taylor said. "He's not going to change his mentality based off who he's playing. You're going to adjust to him, he's not going to adjust to you or your scheming."
But Taylor said he does know Chavis' mentality and knows that he likes to go after quarterbacks. Cameron Newton and the offensive line will need to be prepared this Saturday.
"Everybody's talking about (Chavis) spying a guy," Taylor said. "He's not going to spy anybody. He's going to play his defense and make his calls, try to create mismatches up front and try to speed the game up. He's going to get after the quarterback. Cam's going to find out all he wants about blitzes. (Chavis) may drop one out a plane. I promise you, he's not afraid to do it."
Last week running backs coach Curtis Luper said he wanted his trio of tailbacks to score more touchdowns.
During the Arkansas last Saturday, all three of them found their way into the end zone. They combined for 142 yards off 24 carries.
But Luper still isn't happy, especially since the quarterback put up 188 yards that night.
"We have to play better than that in order for us to win this game Saturday," Luper said. "Everybody knows I'm a Lakers fan. I'm (comparing) Cameron to Kobe Bryant. We've got Kobe. We need Derrick Fisher, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. We need those guys to step up."
The Auburn rushing game as a whole is capable of putting up more than 283 yards a game, but LSU's defense only allows about 30 percent of those yards.
"It's a challenge for us," Luper said. "It's the best defense that we've seen since Alabama's defense. They're comparable to that defense last year. With exception to Bama probably did a little bit more schematically than they do. They get after it, they run very well. They play with passion. No question, the best defense."
Despite the low overall production compared to the quarterback, the tailbacks' yards-per-carry averages are similar to that of Newton (6.7 yards per carry). Senior Mario Fannin averages 5.5 yards, sophomore Onterio McCalebb, the team's perimeter back, puts up 7.3 yards and Michael Dyer averages 5.3 yards. Most of Fannin's and Dyer's yards come from up-the-middle plays.
From an offensive line standpoint, Grimes noted the advantage of having a running quarterback.
"That's always been what we've wanted to do - have a quarterback that the defense would have to account for," Grimes said. "Honestly, I think that's a big reason that you've seen offenses begin to score more points in the last few years. We've leveled the playing field. Instead of playing 10-on-11, we're playing 11-on-11 in a lot of cases now."
Since quarterbacks can't be tackled during spring and fall practices, Luper said it takes about a month after the season starts for an offense to figure out what its strengths are. After the seventh game of the year and an unblemished record still intact, the team is aware of its strong suits.
"We've figured it out," Luper said. "We need to build on that strength and be a little more versatile and diverse and do some things. And I think we'll show some of that this weekend."
*** Jeff Grimes on if there are any similarities between Drake Nevis and Auburn's Nick Fairley?
"I think they have a lot of similarities in how they play the game. They're different builds, different body types (Fairley is 6-5, 298 while Nevis is 6-2, 285). The thing that's similar in both of them is that when the ball is snapped, the kid's getting upfield and he's looking for the football in a hurry."
*** According to head coach Gene Chizik, Dyer's recovery from his knee injury is coming along, "but he's not there yet." When asked how Dyer looked in practice today, Luper said, "He looked good. He's fine." With there being two to three days of rehabs and treatments between now and game day, coaches will see how Dyer is on Saturday.
*** Cornerback T'Sharvan Bell (hamstring) and linebacker Eltoro Freeman (various injuries) have made progress this week according to Chizik. Bell has been in and out of practice this week and has been "doing more rehab things." Freeman will be a game-time decision, but Chizik was optimistic. "He's getting close," Chizik said. Freeman hasn't been on the field since the Louisiana-Monroe game.
*** Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware was the one coach that Chizik brought with him to Auburn from Iowa State. The special teams' performance against Arkansas was easily the best in the last two years of Auburn football. Boulware said he had a few games like that at Iowa State, "which is the reason I'm here, probably."
*** However, Boulware admitted that he never saw a 99-yard kickoff return that didn't end up in the end zone like McCalebb's last week. But Boulware complimented McCalebb for the great play.
"That's great vision by him," Boulware said. "We had a guy that actually missed a block right off the bat and he saw it and went out the back door, they overplayed it and here we go."
*** Ikeem Means plays on all four special teams units (kickoff, punt return, kickoff coverage, punt coverage), but since Aairon Savage is out with an injury, that will likely change since Means will be in the two-deep this week. Mike McNeil is slated to start in Savage's place and Means will be behind him.
*** The Tigers will practice on Thursday at 5 p.m. There will not be any media availability afterward. Kickoff for Saturday's Auburn-LSU game at Jordan-Hare Stadium is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised by CBS.