“If we come off and know what to do and play physical, they can be beaten,” defensive tackle Angelo Blackson said of LSU. “They’re not Superman on the line, they can be beat. They can be outworked, out-physicalled, everything. We’ve just got to get in our minds as a defensive to just outwork them. We can take them down.”
A freshman, maybe Blackson is too young to know better, or maybe he’s seeing an Auburn defense that has improved in leaps and bounds this season.
After the first three games, the Tigers were at or near the bottom of the nation in several major defensive categories, including total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.
The high points have come in recent weeks with their performance in a 16-13 victory over then 10th-ranked South Carolina and last week’s 17-6 victory over Florida.
Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) has gotten significantly better against the run. Last week, the Tigers held Florida to 66 yards rushing on 30 carries.
“We’ve gotten better there because if you can’t stop the run in this league you’re not going to win,” said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “In order to beat a good SEC football team like Florida you have to do a good job against the run. Our kids did that.”
The players say being last against the run earlier in the season provided plenty of motivation for improvement.
“We took it to heart, just because we knew we could be better,” Blackson said. “In practice when we know what to do, know how to do it, we play better. We kind of took that upon ourselves to just come out every week and shut these teams down, that nobody thinks we can do. We run into South Carolina, we shut them down. We’re just bonding. We’re getting better. We’re using the motivation that the coaches are giving us, that the people who don’t believe us are giving us. We just use it as motivation to keep going.”
LSU comes into this week’s game ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 194.4 yards per game, and 20 of the Tigers’ 35 touchdowns this season have come on the ground.
Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whittaker says Auburn will be ready.
“It’s just a pride thing,” Whitaker said. “When you talk about somebody’s going to come in and just run the ball against you, there’s a pride there. We know they’ve got a good offensive line and they’re going to come off and they’re going to play smash-mouth. But the deal is we’re going to play smash-mouth as well.
“There’s no running away, there’s no hiding, there’s no intimidation. There’s no nervous, ‘I hope.’ It’s not one of those deals. We’re going to come in saying, ‘This is what we’ve got to do to win.’”
Defensive end Corey Lemonier, who has stepped up his game in recent weeks, says he sees across the board progress by Auburn’s defense.
“We’re playing with a swagger,” he said. “Everybody’s depending on each other. Everybody’s taking responsibility for each other. Everybody’s going out there and just knowing their plays, doing their assignment, going 100 percent.”
Roof meanwhile, is a bit more cautious.
“We’ve gotten significantly better,” he said. “We certainly haven’t arrived. We have to keep working to get better and pushing ourselves to get better because as you get later in the season it’s a critical stretch for us.
“This league is a physical league. We’ve seen it and LSU certainly fits into that category. They are really clicking right now. We have our work cut out for us.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @AUTigers_Star