Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 9:34 PM
BATON ROUGE — It’s not the shock to the system it once was.
But LSU’s young and evolving defense will get its first tangle with a trendy up-tempo, no-huddle offense this week when the Tigers open SEC play at home against Auburn.
“Well, (being) ready is the issue,” LSU coach Les Miles said of defending it. “You have to make sure that the (defensive) call is in, communication is done and we’re ready ... we’re not paused to communicate but in fact we are keyed in on our responsibility and ready to play.
“Being ready and lined up is one thing, but having gone through the thought process of (it) is what we expect, that is what ‘ready’ means.”
First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is one of the spread-option’s biggest proponents, although he’s vowed not to stray too far from the War Eagles’ tradition of a physical, power running game while still keeping the pace fast and furious without the distraction of a huddle.
Auburn is currently eighth in the SEC in total offense, averaging 440 yards per game, 239 of it on the ground. The biggest question mark before the season for Auburn was quarterback, but Nick Marshall, a converted defensive back, has solidified the spot as a classic dual-threat quarterback.
He earned his stripes last week by driving his team 85 yards on the final possession against Mississippi State, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with just 10 seconds remaining.
“They have a quality scheme,” Miles said. “I don’t know if ‘exotic’ is exactly the word. It’s all things that we’ve seen. They’re not necessarily brand new.
“But it is very important that a guy like (strong safety) Craig Loston, who has got a lot of experience, understands what to do, understands the differences in offenses back there. I think that’s an advantage for us.
“I think it’s something that we’ve practiced, in my opinion, every day since probably two springs ago. There is always a piece of every practice donated to an up-tempo style of offense.
“So we feel like we’ve got a handle on it, it just needs to be made perfect.”
In the past when facing one of the no-huddle offenses — most notably August before opening the 2011 season against poster child Oregon — Miles has had two scout teams alternately running plays in quick succession against his defense.
There will be some of that this week, but more often Miles has one unit run six quick plays, then another unit runs six more.
“Very rapid pace,” Miles said. “Our guys have to be ready to substitute. Our guys have to be ready NOT to substitute. They have to get the call in. They have to make sure that they understand who is making the call for the front, for the secondary, etc. It’s all done off the field in what is most like a game simulation.”
One thing that might slow down is the revolving depth chart on defense. LSU has played a plethora of players on that side, and not just in mop-up time. In particular, the linebacking corps sometimes seemed to change with every possession, sometimes every play.
Currently the “starters” are Lamin Barrow, D.J. Welter and Tahj Jones, but at any time Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones, Lamar Louis or true freshman Kendall Beckwith might show up.
Miles said the linebacker rotation has been whittled down to a mere five players for this game, although he wouldn’t share any names.
He did have special praise, however, for Alexander and Beckwith.
“We’ve been looking at different guys involving different styles of offense,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into the rotation. We’re looking at it very specifically.
“I can tell you that it’s been beneficial — I enjoy seeing big Beckwith in the game (in the middle) — and there’s some guys making strides.
“Frankly (when) we settle down to a five-linebacker rotation, It think you’ll find that they are pretty darn good.”
The defense will be at full speed, even though Loston didn’t play at all last week, while Barrow and cornerback Tre’Davious White (making his first start) didn’t return after minor injuries.
Miles said Loston could have played last week and both Barrow and White could have returned if the game had dictated it.
“I don’t know that there will be anybody that misses practice,” he said.