For Auburn and the offense though this game has extra motivation after last year's loss in Baton Rouge. Part of a three-game stretch that included disappointing losses to Kentucky and Arkansas, senior center Ryan Pugh said the LSU game is the one that stands out to him and the offensive line because of how they performed.
"It's harder for us as offensive linemen to watch that game," Pugh said of last year's LSU loss. "The Kentucky game was really hard and Arkansas you shot yourself in the foot really. You just kind of wonder how you lost the game. LSU was a complete debacle in Baton Rouge as far as offensive line play. We didn't look like a very unified group when we went in there. We didn't play up to our capability. The score showed. It wasn't close throughout the game and we never got anything going on offense. That game is hard to watch but the best thing to do is go back and watch and learn from it. They're going to do a lot of the same things on defense and that's going to help us this week."
Falling 31-10 on the road, Auburn gained just 193 yards of total offense for the contest with just 42 yards in the first half. The challenge won't be any easier this time around for coach Gus Malzahn's group as LSU's defense enters Saturday's game allowing just 242.1 yards of total offense and 14.4 points per game. Led by a strong front seven and perhaps the nation's top defensive back Patrick Peterson at corner, Pugh said LSU's defense is as good as advertised.
"Obviously I think their stats speak for themselves," Pugh said. "They are probably the most athletic, fastest, most physical group that you're going to play every year. They are always well-coached. They play hard and physical. They are always going to have a lot of talent. I think this group is a very good front seven and the back end speaks for itself."
While LSU is a similar defensive team to last season, it's a much different Auburn offense in 2010 than the one that was shut down last year. With Cameron Newton's running ability opening up the playbook for the Tigers, they are leading the SEC in rushing at 283.7 yards per game and scoring 40.7 points per game in Malzahn's second year as coordinator. Pugh said the challenge is what you always look forward to and that's the case for the offense and in particular the offensive line this weekend.
"As an offensive lineman the physical grind is what you do it for, it's why you play the game," Pugh said. "This week is no different. LSU and Auburn is always going to be a physical match up. It's going to be a hard-hitting game for four quarters and you do whatever it takes to win the game."
Called out following lackluster performances in wins over Mississippi State and Clemson when the Tigers ran for their two lowest totals of the season (190, 221), the offensive line has responded by being a more physical group and the results have been staggering. In the three SEC games since Clemson, Auburn is grinding out 325 yards per game on the ground with 13 rushing touchdowns over that span. Pugh said it has been a matter of not just the offense but the entire team coming together and playing as one.
"I think we've gotten better at what we do," Pugh said. "Playing in games and getting experience and having a right tackle (Brandon Mosley) able to step in there for A.J. has been huge. Being able to come together with team chemistry has been the biggest thing. Each week you're going to test your team chemistry and test the character of your team whether you do down seven points or 14 points in the fourth quarter. I think each week the special teams, offense and defense has to come up with a big play to get a spark going. It's no different this week. This team we're getting ready to play is very good, very talented, and very well coached. It's going to take not playing a perfect game but playing as a team once again to get the job done."
The last time Auburn played in a game this late in the season when both teams were unbeaten was in 1994 when the Tigers, coming off a tie at the hands of Georgia, fell to unbeaten Alabama in Birmingham. Pugh said having a very veteran team helps Auburn as they move forward each week but it's not something he nor the team shy away from. They know the stakes are high but so are the rewards of playing to stay alive in the hunt for a championship.
"I think each week they get bigger," Pugh said. "When you're on a winning streak or having a season like we are right now the stakes get higher. It gets harder and harder and that target gets bigger and bigger on your back. It's a match up of the last two undefeated teams in the SEC. LSU has a very good team. They are as talented across the board as anybody you'll ever face. This week is just as big of a week as last week was about keeping your goals for the season alive. A 2:30 national game on CBS, it doesn't get any better in college football."