AUBURN, Ala. -- Nobody’s going to mistake Auburn’s defense for being the kind of dominant force that defines SEC championship teams.
Not by itself, anyway.
But it is a defense that has a dominant player right now -- and combined with the Tigers’ impeccable sense of timing -- it’s hard to complain with the results.
How do you complain with 8-0?
“It’s still not perfect, and that’s what we’re chasing,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said after the Tigers got it done in the fourth quarter yet again, this one a 24-17 victory over previously unbeaten LSU that turned Jordan-Hare Stadium into the kind of ear-splitting party that’s becoming a regular gig on the Plains.
“Everybody thought this was going to be a high-scoring game, but we put together four quarters today on defense. We can build on this, and we will build on it. We’re going to have to if we want to get where we want to go.”
Say this about Auburn: Not only do they have the player to get them there on offense, but the guy who’s wreaking havoc on defense is a beast in his own right.
Even when LSU tried to block Nick Fairley with two men Saturday, he was pretty well unblockable.
The 6-5, 298-pound junior finished with 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks, and knocked LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee out of the game temporarily in the first half with a sprained right wrist.
Lee was able to come back into the game in the second half, but wasn’t the same throwing the football.
Fairley is now 2-for-2 on taking out quarterbacks. It was his hit on Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett that knocked Mallett out of the game two weeks ago with a concussion.
“Big Nick. He’s a big human being, and I wouldn’t want to face that guy no matter what,” said Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who once again did his part with a career-high 217 rushing yards.
“The thing about Nick is that even though he’s big, he can move. That’s something that puts fear in a person’s heart, because with a person like that, his motor is consistently running. No matter where the ball is, he’s going to get there, and he’s going to get through whoever is in his way.”
Coming into Saturday’s game, Fairley was running a neck-and-neck race with LSU’s Drake Nevis as the best interior defensive lineman in the league.
Nothing against Nevis, who’s a terrific football player, but Fairley set himself apart -- and he did it in the second half when LSU was hanging around and looking like it might make a move.
“Late in the game, No. 90 (Fairley) broke loose,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He made about three plays in the back end of the game that were pretty significant.”
But, then, that’s been the trademark of this Auburn defense all season.
“I told the guys today, ‘You know what, we’re going to turn the scoreboard lights off. We’re going to blindfold you and then when we run out there for the kickoff, we’re going to say, ‘This is the fourth quarter,’ ” joked Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof, whose unit held LSU to just 243 yards of total offense.
Auburn did give up a fourth-quarter touchdown in this one, but has still only given up 18 fourth-quarter points in five SEC games. What’s more, opponents are now just 5-of-25 against the Tigers on third down in the fourth quarter and overtime this season.
“I don’t know. If we knew, we’d get it worked out,” said Roof, asked why Auburn had been so much better defensively in the fourth quarter of games this season. “I think we’ve got guys who care a lot about each other, and I think we’ve got some very, very hard core competitors.”
The Tigers also have Fairley, who’s emerged as the pre-eminent difference-maker on defense in this league.
“And the thing about Nick is he’s getting better every week,” Roof said.
That seems to be catching this season on the Plains.
“There’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices by a lot of people to get to this point,” Bynes said. “But we’re not there yet, not even close.
“It’s only going to get harder from here, and I promise you we’ll be ready.”