AUBURN – As the Jordan-Hare Stadium clock neared the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter Saturday, No. 5 Auburn and No. 6 LSU were locked in a 17-17 tie. LSU had the ball, third-and-6 at its own 44.
Junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley celebrtes a big play/AuburnUndercover.com photo
The play that came next won’t soon forgotten, especially by LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley split a double team, grabbed Jefferson, lifted him into the air and slammed him to the ground.
It was the biggest play in a game of big plays for Fairley, Auburn’s 6-foot-6, 298-pound defensive tackle bidding now for national honors. On the sideline, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker watched his prized pupil batter yet another quarterback.
“Coach Rocker asks me ‘Why are you always trying to slam the quarterback?” Fairley said Sunday. “When you are in a fight, you slam somebody and it takes the fight out of them.”
Fairley, relatively mild-mannered off the field, plays with fury on it. He leads the Southeastern Conference in tackles for loss with 17.5. He is second in sacks with 7.5. He is the unofficial leader in quarterbacks sent to sidelines.
Fairley, who played at Williamson High School in Mobile, says that, on the field, he thinks of his childhood and the hard times in his life, and it drives him to hit ever harder.
:Growing up in Mobile, I have nine brothers and sisters,” Fairley said. “I’ve had a lot of deaths in the family. My granddad, one of his dreams was to watch somebody in his family play on TV. He wasn’t able to do it. That kind of drives me, too.”
Sometimes, Fairley looks back to his high school days. He hears his offensive line coach shouting instructions.
“My high school offensive line coach always said if you lunge, you are going to get beat,” Fairley said. “You can tell when somebody is lunging. You can feel it.”
And when Fairley feels it, he turns up the heat. Sometimes, that heat can draw flags for late hits.
“Sometimes,” Fairley said, “I did all that work and I’ve just got to hit somebody.”
Senior linebacker Craig Stevens says it’s a wonder to watch Fairley operate from his position a few steps back.
“They start trying to get doubles on him and things like that,” Stevens said, “but it’s hard to stop Nick. It’s hard to even slow him down.”
With Fairley leading the way, Auburn’s defense had perhaps its best game of the season against LSU, and when it was over, the Tigers moved into rarefied air. They were No. 1 in the BCS standings. Fairley said they can’t be distracted, that have to continue to do the things that got them there.
“You worked hard all year, all offseason to reach this point,” Fairley said. “That’s what makes the good teams great, not paying any attention to that and going out here and working hard and trying to get better.”