LSU's smooth sailing through seven games of the 2011 football season ran into some choppy conditions Wednesday.
The No. 1-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) will tangle with No. 19 Auburn (5-2, 3-1) Auburn (5-2, 3-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday with a much different looking team, especially in the defensive secondary.
Sophomores Spencer Ware, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon – all starters – have been suspended for Saturday's game with Auburn for allegedly failing a drug test, several independent sources close to the program said.
In a regularly scheduled session with the media Wednesday evening, Les Miles artfully dodged the topic and repeatedly refused to comment on the players whose names have been linked to the situation.
"I certainly understand the interest surrounding what seems to be news," Miles said. "The problem with that news is it's internal discipline and internal function of a team. And I'm not inclined to be forthcoming with information. I'm not reactionary to needs of media and things external to this building.
"There's a process that I go through and it's not going to be short-cutted for the need to communicate. When there's information to be shared, I will. I can only tell you I'm doing this for the best of our football team and to maintain a deportment and procedure that I'm true to and a process that I'm very comfortable with.
"There's no real information about any specific player that I'll address at this point."
"I didn't confirm them," Miles said. "I'm not going to confirm them and it's not information that I'm going to respond to."
When another reporter asked a general question about drug tests staining LSU's reputation, Miles said "I think you're left of center."
Miles later said the depth chart at running back and in the secondary has not changed.
Asked if he expected his entire team to take the field against Auburn.
"I expect that my team will take the field ably manned and ready to play at all positions," Miles said.
The LSU policy on failed drug tests, according a story published by FanHouse.com last December is that a first offense does not lead an immediate suspension but can at the coach's discretion, a second offense can result in suspension for 15 per cent of the entire season – in this case 1.8 game of a 12-game season – and a third failed test can lead to a season-long suspension.
Ware is the Tigers' leading rusher with 512 yards on the ground and six touchdowns and his physical, hard-nosed running style is also considered a tone-setter for an LSU offense built around the running game.
Mathieu is the team's second-leading tackler with 42 stops, but his bigger impact comes as a defensive playmaker with two interceptions, five pass breakups, four forced fumbles and three recoveries. He has scored a touchdown on special teams after a fumble and defensively on an interception.
Simon is the cornerback opposite pre-season All-SEC pick Morris Claiborne and has held up well, with 21 tackles and a team-high eight pass breakups.
Without that trio, LSU will test its depth in the backfield and in the secondary.
This is the Tigers' first major off-field hiccup since the season began, but they are certainly no strangers to controversy this fall.
Jefferson and backup linebacker Josh Johns missed the first four games this season after they were suspended following second-degree felony arrests in the aftermath of a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar on Aug. 19.
Receiver Russell Shepard sat out three games when he was guilty of violating NCAA protocol.