Defensive tackle leads team with six tackles
By CHRIS WHITE
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley sauntered the final few yards to the sideline after a third-down, fourth-quarter sack of LSU’s Jordan Jefferson, and teammate Zac Etheridge met him on the field, waving his arms up and down as if to signal he was not worthy.
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Few if any were on this Saturday as No. 4 Auburn defeated No. 6 LSU 24-17 in a game between the SEC’s only remaining unbeaten teams. Fairley finished with six tackles, including two solo and one shared sack, and came up with several of Auburn’s most important defensive plays of the day.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who praised the defense in general, said Fairley was key in getting past LSU’s interior linemen and disrupting its quarterbacks.
“I thought he was a dominant force,” Chizik said. “We’ll know more when we watch the film, but Nick definitely took the game over on the inside.”
Fairly’s first big statement of the game came in the second quarter when he had a hand in sacking LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee for a loss of 10 yards on a third-and-11 play, and LSU coach Les Miles called the defensive tackle’s role in the second half “pretty significant.”
“(Fairley) is very disruptive and we had to get a hand on that guy,” LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson said. “We thought he played a great game tonight. He showed that we have a lot to work on.”
Auburn’s defense was stout enough to encourage Chizik to attempt to convert a fourth-down play with the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. And when the pass failed, turning the ball over to LSU at its own 40, Fairley stepped in with his 6-foot-5, 298-pound frame to shift the momentum back in Auburn’s favor.
He tackled Stevan Ridley for a loss of 3 yards on first down and sacked Jefferson for a loss of 10 yards on third down to bring up an LSU punt that led to the go-ahead Auburn score.
Fairley said he had Jefferson and Lee in his sights throughout a second half in which LSU managed 80 yards of offense on seven possessions.
“We went into halftime and said that we have to get to the quarterback if we are going to win this game,” Fairley said. “We harped on that all offseason, not just for us to win, but to have a successful season.”
There is still plenty of growing room for Fairley, who now has 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss this season but less experience than his fellow starters on the defensive line. He played on the defensive line for one season in high school and redshirted the first of his two seasons at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss., before coming to Auburn in 2008.
And the junior from Mobile, Ala., has made great strides with the Tigers. He started two games last season but entered Saturday’s game 24th in the country in sacks with five and has had at least one tackle for a loss in each game.
“He’s playing at a very high level,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said of Fairley.
“And the thing about it is he’s still getting better.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite.