The great offense vs. defense debate will play out before our eyes Saturday on the Plains.
If defense truly wins championships, then LSU ought to be in great shape.
John Chavis’ Tigers rank third nationally in total defense. They’re second in the SEC with 21 sacks and tied for second with 15 forced turnovers. They’ve held five of their last six opponents to 14 points or less.
In short, they’re playing at a championship level.
But so is Auburn … on offense.
Gus Malzahn’s Tigers are ranked ninth nationally in total offense, averaging 481.1 yards per game. They’re coming off a 65-43 thrashing of Arkansas in which they scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Nobody’s had any answers for Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton, who’s leading the SEC in rushing at 122.9 yards per game and has 13 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s playing better than any quarterback in the country,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
But, then, Newton hasn’t faced a defense as stout as LSU’s this season, either.
“It’s the most talented defense we’ve seen, no doubt about it,” said Malzahn, adding that LSU’s defensive line was the best Auburn will face this season.
As difficult as it is to see LSU holding Auburn’s high-powered attack under 20 points in this game, it’s equally difficult to see Auburn lighting it up for 35-plus points against LSU’s defense.
The beauty of this game is that it’s probably going to come down to which team can best take advantage of what are glaring weaknesses on both sides.
In other words, LSU hasn’t been able to throw the ball, and Auburn hasn’t been able to stop anybody from throwing it.
Auburn is 11th in the SEC in pass defense and has given up a league-high 13 touchdown passes.
LSU is last in the SEC in pass offense and has only thrown four touchdown passes to go along with eight interceptions.
Miles, who’s not saying who he’ll start at quarterback between Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, knows LSU will need to have some success in the passing game if it’s going to be able to score with Auburn.
“Any time you play a real quality opponent, the match is the key,” Miles said. “If our defense can play as well as it has played, our offense now has to match their defense, and that will be a nice matchup as well. I think we'll do well on special teams, and how it plays out will be for us all to see.”
Chavis’ defenses, both at Tennessee and LSU, have been predicated on bringing the heat. And it’s obvious in watching LSU play this season that the Tigers are playing much faster and more instinctively on defense now that they’re in their second year in Chavis’ scheme.
They’re not going to overhaul what they do defensively for anybody, even for a quarterback as versatile as Newton.
But he’s been at his best this season when teams have blitzed him. He’s completing more than 70 percent of his passes when teams bring pressure and has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions. All five of his interceptions have come when teams have dropped at least seven defenders into coverage.
Plus, when you blitz Newton and don’t get him, he has the ability to turn what might be a 10- or 15-yard scramble for most quarterbacks into a 50- or 60-yard touchdown.
"He's one of a kind," Miles said.