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Question of the Day
AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - No. 3 Auburn's defense also has a junior college transfer who's big, strong and very hard to stop.
Tackle Nick Fairley has been the Tigers' defensive version of Cam Newton, with a fraction of the hype.
Even normally conservative Auburn coach Gene Chizik said anybody who doubts Fairley should be a candidate for national honors like the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy just needs to watch last weekend's LSU game.
"I don't think there's any way you can say he isn't," Chizik said. "Anybody that watched the game (Saturday) would have a hard time denying the fact that he's one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Does he play like that every play? I don't know about that. But I know that he makes an impact on a lot of games. And he has been doing that consistently all year. It is what it is. The facts are the facts."
And the facts are Fairley had 2 1/2 sacks, one body slam and one quarterback casualty in Auburn's 24-17 victory against previously unbeaten LSU.
Overshadowed by other SEC defensive linemen like LSU's Drake Nevis and Alabama's Marcell Dareus before the season, the 6-foot-5, 298-pound Fairley has been the league's most productive tackle statistically. His 7 1/2 sacks trails only Georgia linebacker Justin Houston in the SEC (9.0).
Fairley is first in the league and third nationally with 17 tackles for loss, one of only three defensive tackles ranked among the top 14.
"He's at the top in my book because he's athletic," said Mississippi's Houston Nutt, whose Rebels host the Tigers on Saturday. "He's not just a plugger. There's been a lot of great linemen who can fill up gaps and let your linebacker make the play. But this guy is different. He's very quick and athletic. He has receiver moves _ he can give you a head and shoulder fake.
"I know he played basketball somewhere down the line because he's nimble and quick. He's always disruptive in every ballgame."
Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said Fairley's impact has forced opposing linemen to resort heavily to going low for cutblocks, besides just double-teaming.
"Everybody's cutting and everybody's just getting the ball off really quick and throwing shorter routes," said Rocker, who won both the Outland and Lombardi as an Auburn tackle in 1988. "We're probably facing a lot more cutting than anything."
Rocker had 13 tackles for loss and five sacks as a senior in '88.
Fairley played one season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi after redshirting in 2007. He signed with Auburn out of high school but failed to qualify. Last season he started only two games and had 1 1/2 sacks, and none in the first 10 games. Despite flashes, especially late in the year, he didn't really make a name for himself until this season.
"I came in last year wanting to do that," said Fairley, who mostly played offensive tackle in high school. "This year, I have the opportunity."
He has been brutal on opposing quarterbacks, knocking one out of the game in two straight weeks. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett left with a concussion and LSU's Jarrett Lee was temporarily out with a sprained wrist after Fairley hits. He also body-slammed LSU's 6-foot-5, 224-pound Jordan Jefferson on a sack.
Even Rocker is taken aback by some of those legal but violent plays.
"Coach Rocker always asks me, 'Why are you always trying to slam the quarterback?'" Fairley said. "I'm like, 'When you're in a fight, you slam to take the heart out of you.'"
The Mobile native does have a softer side. He didn't get to watch highlights from the LSU game because he was hanging out with two nieces. One of nine siblings, his arms are decorated with the tattooed names of his sisters, nieces and mother, Paula.
Family motivates him, including the grandfather who died when Fairley was 14.
"I've had a lot of deaths in the family," he said. "My granddad's dream was to watch somebody in his family play on TV. He wasn't able to do it. That drives me, too."
Chizik said that Fairley has "a rare combination of suddenness, sudden quickness, and power." Chizik said that enables Fairley to make quick "in-and-out type moves" to get a lineman off-balance in one-on-one matchups
"And once they get off-balance, you can come back and counter with a power move where you can take a guy back to the quarterback," Chizik said. "So it's different things that he's got the ability to do, because he's very athletic, yet he's still a very powerful guy as well. He's got the ability to do both of those. That's what you look for in a defensive linemen. And those things are sometimes rare."
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.
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