No Spencer Ware? No Tyrann Mathieu?
No problem. Just send the next guy in.
Kenny Hilliard, a true freshman seeing his most significant playing time because of the suspension of Ware, rushed for 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and Ron Brooks, starting for the suspended Mathieu, returned an interception for a touchdown as No. 1 LSU routed No. 19 Auburn, 45-10, the most lopsided game in the history of the series.
After the suspensions of Ware, LSU's leading rusher, and Mathieu, a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate, along with cornerback Tharold Simon, all for violating team rules, there was reason for concern with last season's national champion in town.
Instead, Saturday's win was nothing more than a set-up for LSU's showdown Nov. 5 at No. 2 Alabama, which is playing Tennessee in a primetime Saturday night game. Both LSU (8-0, 5-0) and Alabama are off next week. If Alabama wins and maintains its No. 2 ranking, it will be the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 SEC regular-season game in the history of the conference.
"We put ourselves in position to play in a significant game," Miles said.
The blowout was in no small part thanks to the players replacing the suspended stars.
Hilliard, primarily used as a fullback, scored LSU's first touchdown on a 9-yard run and in the first quarter and added a 1-yard third quarter touchdown. The most impressive run for the 240-pounder from Patterson, a nephew of LSU great Dalton Hilliard, was a nifty 25-yard run to set up his second touchdown.
Hilliard provided LSU with the power running that was feared to be lost with the loss of the bruising Ware.
"It's about time for another young runner to grow, emerge," Miles said of Hilliard, saying he's "assimilated to college ball."
Brooks had his highlight moments after Hilliard's second touchdown, intercepting a pass from AU quarterback Clint Moseley, who was making his first start, and returning it 28 yards for a score and a 42-3 lead. The opportunistic play mimicked the specialty of Mathieu, the "Honey Badger" who has made a name for himself in no small part for an ability to create turnovers.
"A team is never about any a single player," Miles said. "It's never about the injury you miss or the coach. It's about the strengths and abilities of the sum. This is a quality team. These are great kids. They fight like hell. They are tough and enjoy playing."
Miles did not address when the trio of suspended players would return. He said his team was able to handle it because it is "beyond distraction."
Many of LSU's usual suspects did their part. Jarrett Lee completed 14 of 20 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Rueben Randle caught two long touchdown passes - a 46-yarder from Lee and a 42-yarder from Jordan Jefferson - and had 106 receiver yards, all in the first half.
"We understand how special this season is and how we want it to be," Lee said. "We also understand that certain situations are goign to happen and you just have to be prepared so that when your opportunity comes you make the most of it.
"We have a special thing going, and we have a special group of guys. We just have to continue to stay focused and play hard."
Michael Ford led LSU with 82 rushing yards on 12 carries for the Tigers.
While LSU moved the ball both on the ground and the air, the defensive front continuously pressured Moseley, who started for the benched Barrett Trotter, who was sacked six times, twice in the first quarter by Barkevious Mingo.
"That was in the gameplan," Miles said. "We wanted to get after their quarterback."
The gameplan worked, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
"They did a lot of whatever they wanted to," Chizik said. "They were very successful most of the time."
Chizik called his team's protection of Moseley "anemic."
Moseley said LSU's pressure was relentless.
"I have definitely never been under that kind of heat before," the sophomore from Leroy, Ala. "I thought taht Sweet Water (Ala.) in high school was bad. This is a whole different league. They really put the pressure on me and it definitely got to me a couple of times.
"I have never been under that much pressure before."
LSU had 393 yards to 249 for Auburn (5-3, 3-2), which got 86 of its yards on a meaningless late touchdown drive. Moseley was 12-for-20 for 145 yards.
Lee also completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard, marking the second straight week Lee and Shepard connected for a score. Jefferson completed 2 of 3 passes for 54 yards.