Missed Tackles Bite Defense

The Southeastern Conference's top-ranked defense has bailed LSU out of many a tight spots this fall, but a comeback win to stay perfect on The Plains wasn't in the cards.

AUBURN, Ala. --- When asked at halftime about his defense’s performance through two quarters of a 10-10 game, LSU coach Les Miles expressed discontent.

“I see some missed tackles, and I think our defense is going to look at that half and say we need to play better,” he said.

To that point LSU had held Cam Newton to 6-of-10 passing for 49 yards. The rush defense hadn’t been lights out, but 145 yards on 22 touches translated into only one touchdown.

Two quarters later, Miles wasn’t any more pleased.

The defense allowed 295 yards and two rushing touchdowns across Auburn’s seven second-half possessions. One score came on a 49-yard scamper in the third quarter that made every Heisman voter in the country write Newton’s name down for future reference. The second touchdown came from Onterio McCalebb with 5:05 left in the game, a 70-yard run that eventually proved to be the knockout punch.

“I think our defense gave some great effort, but we missed too many tackles,” Miles said. “Any time you miss tackles against a team like this they’re going to get a lot of yards, and that’s what we did.

“We just tackled him high. We worked in practice at tackling him low and wrapping him up. Sometimes when that person is 250 pounds, it can be a little much.”

On a day where Newton ran wild to the tune of 217 yards and two touchdowns, corralling the biggest and fastest scrambling quarterback in the SEC proved too tall a task.

All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson, who Newton drug across the goalline on his third quarter scoring dash, laid it out plain and simple.

“We definitely didn’t tackle like the No. 1 defense in the country,” he said. “We are going to kick ourselves over this.”

It was arguably there worst tackling day since the 2009 opener at Washington, where the count dipped into double-digits before the first half ended. Then it was a mix of bodies, from quarterback Jake Locker to his receivers and running backs.

On Saturday it was just a whole lot of Newton, who had a hand in the outcome of 44 of the team’s 68 offensive snaps.

Much like Peterson, senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard kept his postgame comments short - but full of praise.

“(Newton’s) a great player, probably the best in the country,” he said. “He came out and made plays, and we came out and didn’t execute or make tackles.”

Aside from the consistent grind of Newton, the fast tempo that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn dialed up helped keep the LSU defense off balance and out of breath. It was the first time the Tigers had seen anything like it this season, and it showed.

“We didn’t get a chance to get on our gaps and control the line of scrimmage like we wanted to,” said linebacker Ryan Baker. “It’s very frustrating as a defense.”

“We practiced against it, so we expected it, but you can’t really practice for what happens out there,” Sheppard said. “(Newton) gets out there and he checks things, guys spread out and there is motion. You can only practice a certain amount of things.”

From gang tackling to wrapping up, there wasn’t much from gameweek preparations that successfully carried over to stopping Newton.

So for the third week in a row, Auburn went over 300 yards on the ground, and Newton set a personal record with 217 rushing yards.

But the one that sticks: an LSU defense was gashed for 440 yards on the ground for the first time in school history.

“We expect nothing less than a shutout,” Baker said. “When someone is beating on us, it gets frustrating.”



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