The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The only two remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC face off this weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as fifth-ranked Auburn plays host to sixth- ranked LSU.
It hasn't always been pretty for Les Miles' Tigers this season, but LSU has been resilient in moving to 7-0 on the year, including a 4-0 mark in SEC play. It is the first 7-0 start for LSU since 1973. The team already has wins over top-25 foes in North Carolina, West Virginia and Florida thus far and took a break from FBS play this past weekend, posting a 32-10 victory over McNeese State.
Gene Chizik's Tigers are also 7-0 on the year and sport an identical 4-0 conference mark. Auburn also has marquee wins over nationally-ranked foes in South Carolina (35-27) and most recently, last week's shootout with Arkansas (65-43).
LSU holds a 24-19-1 advantage in the series against Auburn, but the home team has won nine of the last 10 meetings. The winner of the LSU-Auburn game has gone on to capture the SEC West title in six of the last 10 years.
LSU has utilized a strong ground game to fuel its attack. The Tigers are putting up just over 188 yards per game rushing the football, on 4.6 yards per carry. Unfortunately, balance has been hard to come by, with the passing attack generating a mere 140.3 yards per game.
With that being the case, Miles has still not committed to a single quarterback. Jordan Jefferson has started every game under center, but Jarrett Lee has played in six of the seven outings as well. Neither of them has done enough to warrant much concern from opposing defenses. Terrence Toliver has been the top target in a rather mediocre vertical game, with 22 receptions, for 286 yards and two TDs.
The ground attack is the preferred mode of travel for LSU and with tailback Stevan Ridley averaging nearly five yards per carry, the opposition has to gameplan for the 6-0, 226-pound junior. Ridley has amassed 686 yards (98.0 ypg) and has scored six TDs. Jefferson is a distant second with 207 yards rushing, although he does have four touchdowns on the ground.
LSU has been successful this season due mostly to stellar play on the defensive side of the ball. The team is yielding a mere 14.4 ppg, while effectively shutting down the run (83.6 ypg) and the pass (158.6 ypg). The defense has already racked up 21 sacks in the first seven games, matching the team's total output in 2009. Defensive tackle Drake Nevis has been a force in that regard. Of his 38 total tackles, 11.5 have come behind the line of scrimmage, with five sacks.
Other playmakers on this side of the football for LSU include sophomore LB Ryan Baker (42 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks), senior LB Kelvin Sheppard (team- high 66 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks), All-American cover corner Patrick Peterson (17 tackles, two INTs, two punt returns for TDs) and sophomore CB Morris Claiborne (17 tackles, four INTs).
Auburn's Chizik is very aware of LSU's defense.
"They have a great defense, there's no question about that. They're at the top in just about every category you can get defensively. I think it all starts with their defensive line. Over the years it has been true that their defensive line has been very physical and athletic and it doesn't change as you go further back in their defense. The linebackers are the same, the secondary is the same, it probably has one of the best corners, if not the best corner, in the country. They're just very talented. Coach (John) Chavis does a great job, they're very well-coached, very sound in everything that they do which you would expect. I think they kind of just took off where they left off from last year. They're extremely talented and very good defensively."
Speaking of playmakers, there may not be a better one nationally than Auburn's Heisman hopeful QB Cam Newton. The Tigers are putting up gaudy offensive numbers this season, averaging 40.7 ppg, on 481.1 yards of total offense. The team is netting an eye-popping 283.7 yards per game on the ground and an additional 197.4 through the air and Newton is the reason the team is getting it done in both areas. Newton has completed 65.6 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,278 yards with 13 TDs, but is also ranked 11th nationally in rushing with 122.9 yards per game. He is also responsible for 12 of the team's 22 rushing TDs to date. Tailbacks Michael Dyer (63.3 ypg) and Onterio McCalebb (53.4 ypg) give the team plenty of options in the backfield.
Coach Miles knows the key to this game is in limiting Newton.
"I don't think you really stop a guy like that. I think you try to contain him, and you have to tackle crisply. You have to get more than one guy to the ball. It has to be a bunch of LSU helmets, and I think that will be the push. He runs hard. He gives a blow like a fullback. He's elusive like a tailback, and he has a great touch on the ball. As capable as he is running, he's also that capable throwing. He makes great decisions with the ball in his hand. Legitimately, he's a Heisman contender."
The Auburn defense has been a little more generous than LSU this year, allowing 24.4 ppg. The team has really been vulnerable to opposing passing games (266.1 ypg). With 17 sacks and 14 forced turnovers, this is a unit that has made its fair share of big plays.
Senior LB Josh Bynes leads the team in tackles with 42 stops. Bynes also has three INTs and one forced fumble to his credit. Senior strong safety Zach Etheridge is a close second with 41 stops, to go along with one INT and one fumble recovery. Junior tackle Nick Fairley is the player to keep an eye on up front. The 6-5, 300-pound junior paces the team in TFLs (13.5) and sacks (five).