By Jay Coulter
If you enjoyed last week’s defensive struggle with Arkansas, there’s a good chance you’ll get more of the same this week. When Auburn battles fifth-ranked LSU on Saturday night, both offenses are expected to take a back seat to two of the best defensive units in the country.
Auburn is expected to get a boast this week with the returns of defensive end Quentin Groves, safety Aairon Savage and linebacker Merrill Johnson. All have practiced this week and should see action on Saturday.
Groves continues to report a good bit of soreness in his toes and the amount of playing time he gets is still up in the air. The same can be said of Savage and Johnson. For the first time in several weeks, Johnson has gone full contact in practice.
Tommy Tuberville says he’s pleased with how the injury situation is progressing. “Merrill (Johnson) is playing,” said Tuberville. “He is doing well. He played one play last week.
“The reason for that, we could have played him more, but he didn’t know enough about the game plan and we were playing so well there was no reason to play him. (Tray) Blackmon is obviously doing much better. Aairon Savage practiced some today.”
Many Auburn fans don’t seem to be worried about the return of Groves. And why should they? Sophomore defensive end Antonio Coleman has not just filled in for Groves; he’s become a star in his own right. Because of Coleman’s play, Tuberville is not rushing Grove back onto the field.
“Quentin (Groves), practiced today,” said Tuberville. “He is still a little sore. The guys in front of him are playing well. He is still 70-80 percent, and we are not going to play a guy who is 70-80 percent ahead of guys who are 100 percent and playing well.
“There is not a lot of drop off there in terms of making plays. When we get him back 100 percent, we know its going to be a luxury to have him because we know we will that much more depth.”
It will be interesting to see how Auburn coaches get both of them in the game.
It’s not a stretch to say that Auburn will face the best defense it has seen or will see all year. The Purple Tigers rank second nationally in total defense allowing just 223 yards a game.
Tommy Tuberville had nothing but praise for the LSU defense on Tuesday.
“I think they have played a lot more consistent than we have this year,” said Tuberville. “They haven’t given up the big plays. “They have a lot of speed. We are built in the same mold on speed and quickness. They play a four-man front.
“We play more of a three-man front. We don’t blitz a lot and neither do they. They lean a lot on fundamentals, and they do a good job of that. We are trying to do the same.”
Tuberville said that despite the letdown against Kentucky, the LSU defense is still among the best in the country.
“LSU played against probably one of the better passing teams in the conference,” said Tuberville. “We faced him (André Woodson) a few years ago, and he was good then. I can imagine how much better he is now.
“The weaknesses are not evident. People are going to make plays on you. I don’t care how good you are on defense. I’m sure they are disappointed on the amount of points they gave up last weekend, but that’s going to happen when you’re on the road playing against good teams.”
Tuberville was asked today about the conservative play of the Auburn offense last week at Arkansas and specifically about offensive coordinator Al Borges comments on going conservative because of the way the Auburn defense was playing.
“Well, that’s my philosophy knowing that you have to play well on defense and in the kicking game on the road,” said Tuberville. “If you don’t play good defense on the road in this conference, you better be good on offense.
“So we played our defense, but we need to change our mentality on offense. We know we are going to have to score more points down the stretch. We are going to have to make more plays.
“We were a little bit more open during the Florida game, but that was by design. I thought Al (Borges) and his coaches did a good job getting points on the board early. We have to get more points on the board early.
“I thought the first half of the Vanderbilt game was our best. In the second half, we basically scored a defensive touchdown taking an interception down to their 3- or 4-yard line. We can do that.”