Not often does the Southeastern Conference’s
Defensive Lineman of the Week play on a unit that allowed 43 points the
Don't tell that to Auburn's Nick Fairley. His play in the Tigers' 65-43 shootout win over Arkansas earned him the honor for the second time this season.
The mammoth 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive tackle has been a force for the much-maligned Auburn defense, racking up a league high 13.5 tackles for a loss - fourth best in the country. His five sacks are second best in the SEC, and they equal the number put up by LSU senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis.
That being said, the stage is set with this weekend’s bout on The Plains.
The two have combined to win SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week five of the seven weeks this season, Nevis winning three times to Fairley's two. Fairley also has an SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor to his credit for a dominating performance against Mississippi State, where the junior went off to the tune of five tackles, 2.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries.
For Nevis, the senior’s 11.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage lead the conference’s best defense. The mark is good for third in the SEC, behind Fairley and Mississippi State's Chris White.
While the road to 7-0 hasn’t been easy, the weekend could bring the toughest
test: the No.1 rusher in the conference against the No. 2.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton leads the SEC in rushing at 122.9 yards per game, while LSU's Stevan Ridley enters the weekend second in the league with an average of 98.0 yards.
The onus of blocking Fairley falls on offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk and the
Tiger offensive line.
“I compare (Fairley) to Drake Nevis, and, honestly, you look at the stats and the numbers they've been putting up, I'm glad to have Drake on our sideline.” said Dworaczyk. “He compares to Drake in a lot of different ways as far as speed, quickness and strength. He brings all those things. He's a three technique so it's basically going to be on the guards, me and T-Bob, all night to try and take care of him.”
T-Bob Hebert, a one-time center turned starter at right guard, added that “The Bomb Squad”, the offensive line's self-imposed nickname, will be ready for the challenges Fairley presents come Saturday.
"Yea, he's no joke,” said the junior guard. “We're going to be in that film room, and we're getting ready for him. I'm just excited for us to get a chance to go up against a (defensive) line like that and just see how we'll perform.”
Ridley was quick to back up his offensive line - and Nevis.
“Drake is pretty good, so I'm going to go with Drake,” he said. “(Fairley) is talented, but I have talented offensive linemen. When those guys are on, they're on. We know Auburn is going to have a strong team, but my offensive line could line up against the Patriots and I think we could find success because we are all on the same page.”
On Monday, Les Miles recalled recruiting Fairley out of Mobile, Ala. before he enrolled in Junior College, where he ultimately chose the Tigers in orange and blue.
“We recruited (Fairley), looked at him very closely,” Miles said. “He was a dynamic high school basketball player. He's a big, strong, very capable man. We're going to have to know where he's at and make sure we're blocking him well.”
Auburn headman Gene Chizik echoed Miles' sentiments, and he added that consistency is where Fairley can make the biggest improvement.
“He's learning how to play week in and week out, that's the thing that we've continued to impress on him,” Chizik said. “He's got to play every play, and he wasn't doing that. He's doing that more now, and I think the game has slowed down for him, and he's really got a better grasp of what it takes to play on Saturday.”
After this Saturday's contest the winner will remain as the lone undefeated team in the SEC, meaning the production from the conference’s two best linemen needs to be as high as ever. In a weekend full of story lines, the Fairley vs. Nevis battle will likely have a big effect on which offense has the success needed to move to 8-0.