Offensive line gearing up for challenge

Updated: October 22, 2003, 11:16 AM ET

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's supposed to be the best offensive line LSU has ever had.

Tough, experienced, savvy.

Against South Carolina, the Tigers line looked all of that. Against Auburn they will need to be even better.

"Of all the teams we'll play, they have the best front seven," LSU offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "All seven are extremely talented. And it's not just their front seven, because they'll stack a lot in the box. They'll make it very hard to run.

No. 9 LSU (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) will be without starting left guard Nate Livings when they play No. 17 Auburn (5-2, 4-0) Saturday.

Livings, who injured his knee in the 33-7 win over South Carolina, will be replaced by sophomore Terrell McGill, who is nursing a sore ankle this week, or sophomore Rudy Niswanger.

"Losing Nate is really difficult," right tackle Rodney Reed said. "He'd been getting better each week and was really playing well the last couple of weeks."

Auburn's front four is solid, but the keys to its defense are linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas. The pair combined for 22 tackles and three stops behind the line with a sack and hurry in the Auburn's 10-3 win over Arkansas two weeks ago. In a 28-21 win over Tennessee on Oct. 4, the Vols gained 4 yards on 16 rushes.

"Their defense is probably as good as any in the country," said LSU coach Nick Saban, whose team is No. 1 in the nation in rush defense and scoring defense. Auburn is fourth in scoring defense and 18th in run defense.

"Dansby and Thomas are probably the best two linebackers that I have seen anywhere on any team for a while," Saban said.

LSU, which has ranked high in passing offense and passing efficiency throughout this season, showed a new dimension in a 33-7 win over South Carolina. The Tigers rushed 52 times for 263 yards -- LSU's highest rush total in an SEC game since gaining 272 against Alabama in 1998.

The most LSU had rushed for in an SEC game this year was 163 against Mississippi State. It managed just 56 yards on the ground on 25 attempts in the 19-7 loss to Florida as the offensive line committed countless penalties.

"I think our ability to run the ball and the play-action passes that go with that can be really instrumental in having a successful offense," Saban said. "And not just become a drop-back team that people can scheme and blitz and pressure and make it much more difficult."

The offensive success against South Carolina may have been sparked by a pep talk Saban gave the offensive line.

"He made it more urgent that we have to run the ball effectively," Reed said. "He saw the outcome against Florida and wanted to say that the team that runs better usually wins. But basically, he kind of calmed us down after the Florida game. He said not to stress out trying to get better."

Saban spent a lot of time recruiting this line and beat the best schools in the country to get some of the linemen. He wanted dividends.

"The line wasn't functioning as a unit with enough consistency," Saban said. "Four guys would make a good block. One guy doesn't and his guy gets in the backfield. It was a number of mental errors.

"With all the experience and the potential we have on the line, I told the guys they needed to take a greater burden on yourselves to make this easier for everyone else. We had all these freshmen running backs, and we needed to make it easier on the quarterback. If the line can operate, other people can make more plays."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index