AUBURN, Ala. — Offensive guard Mike Berry gave an askance look, unable to believe that until the past month, Auburn never had rushed for 300-plus yards in three straight SEC games.
“Not even when Bo was here?” the left guard asked, a nod to the school’s all-time leading rusher and wishbone hey-day in the 1980s.
Nope. At least going back to 1967, the far reaches of the school’s reliable data, the No. 5 Tigers never had accomplished what they did in succession against South Carolina (334 yards), Kentucky (311) and Arkansas (330).
“Putting up offensive numbers like that is definitely big,” Berry said. “We’re definitely proud of it.”
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Reaching four games will be a tall order. LSU visits Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday with a rushing defense allowing just 83.6 yards per game, tops in the SEC and sixth nationally.
It’s part of the reason the unbeaten, No. 6 Bengal Tigers are second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 14.4 points per game.
“Their stats speak for themselves,” Auburn center Ryan Pugh said. “They’re probably the most athletic, fastest, physical group that you’ll play every year.”
“We’ll have to bring our lunch box, definitely,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said.
Led by 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle Drake Nevis — whose five sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss make him a near statistical clone of Auburn’s Nick Fairley — and preseason All-SEC linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, LSU has stuffed opponents on the ground, holding them to 2.5 yards per carry.
How stingy has LSU been? North Carolina ran for 24 yards in the opener. West Virginia managed 58 yards.
Only two teams have topped 100 yards against LSU. Mississippi State finished with 152, but it took the Bulldogs 44 carries to do so. LSU won the game 29-7.
Auburn needs no reminder of how good LSU is up front. In a 26-21 loss in 2008, Auburn ran for 70 yards. Last year, it ran 41 times for 112 yards in a 31-10 loss in Baton Rouge.
“They whipped us pretty good,” Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “You do the best you can, but nobody likes to get embarrassed. That was a pretty low point offensively for the year.”
Things appear to be different this season. Auburn leads the league and is sixth nationally in rushing, averaging 283.7 yards per game and nearly 6 yards per carry.
The rushing attack flourished after head coach Gene Chizik challenged the veteran offensive line to be more physical before the South Carolina game.
“I think we can still get better coming off the ball and making it physical at the point of attack and double-teaming guys and just that mentality,” Chizik said. “This week, they’re going to have to be able to play that way because, defensive line-wise, we haven’t faced one like this.”
But LSU hasn’t faced a marvel quarterback like Cam Newton, who leads the SEC with 860 yards, throwing his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame into the mix with little regard.
He is on pace to shatter former Auburn starter Jimmy Sidle’s single-season SEC quarterback rushing record of 1,006 yards set in 1963.
Despite that record-setting pace — and the 65 points Auburn scored in 65 plays against Arkansas last week — the Tigers are trying not to let the success go to their heads.
“It’s like coach Chiz says, ‘Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,’” Berry said. “The coaches have put a big emphasis on be humble rather than be humbled.
“If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you can get embarrassed.”