Despite showing some improvement on both sides of the football in the 31-28 overtime victory, Coach Gene Chizik said his team needs to improve much more this week to get ready for the test it will face this week against the nation's No. 2 ranked team.
"Well, I think you start with their defense first, and you can start with their defensive linemen," Chizik said. "They're very talented up front. They play great defense. You start with their rush defense category and they're giving up less than 50 yards a game, I believe, somewhere in that area, but the last two or three years they have just been very dominant on the defensive side of the ball, and you can start there.
"Obviously, on offense, they can throw the ball. I think they have a little different throwing-type threat than they've had in the past. Obviously, they've got great running backs and a very good scheme running the football. They're dominating for a reason and it's because they're really good. It really doesn't matter who the competition is, they're very physical, and if you watch them on film, that's pretty evident."
The challenge starts on offense for Auburn facing a defense that is allowing 47 rushing yards per game and 1.7 yards per carry this season in three games. While Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler and his Tigers will continue to try to establish the running game, more pressure will fall on quarterback Kiehl Frazier to make plays throwing the ball. That won't be easy either with LSU's secondary, which is still one of the best in the country even without Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed from the team this summer.
"Your window of opportunity is there and gone because they've always got great speed guys," Chizik said. "When you are coaching the secondary what you want is guys that recover. They may get beat initially on a route, but they have great recovery speed. They certainly have that. It's going to be challenge for him yes.
"Obviously, the situation of the game could certainly dictate how much he throws or how much he doesn't, but we'll go into the game with an inital plan," he added. "We know that it's going to be much tougher to run the ball than it has been in the first three games. We know that. We were efficient at running the ball Saturday, but we understand the challenges that come with playing a defense like this."
Chizik, who is looking to improve to 4-0 in SEC home openers, said, "We can't change conceptually what we're doing with Kiehl. We have to be able to give him things that he's comfortable with, that he has confidence in. We have to be able to throw the ball vertically down the field and we certainly have to be able to run the football. However, we have to create ways to run the football, that's what we're going to have to do--especially in a big game like this for him, putting everything on a quarterback's shoulders. Everybody's got to shoulder a part of that, it can't be just him."
Frazier celebrates his touchdown catch on Saturday.
It's not just the defense that stands out for LSU, however, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger has brought another dimension to an already effective offense. Leading the lead with 48.3 points per game, the Bengal Tigers top the SEC with 269.3 yards per game on the ground while adding 203 yards through the air per contest. Chizik said that a more potent passing game has made LSU's offense a different animal so far this year.
"They've got a got a guy that can consistently throw the ball," he said. "Not that they didn't before, but I think he's a different kind of guy. They're always going to start with the running game, and they're always going to be very physical and very sound in the run game, which is exactly what they are. Now I just think they have another guy that. He's very efficient with what he does, throwing the ball down the field. He's your drop-back, pro-type quarterback so I think it's a great complement to how much they've been able to run the ball already this year."
Tiger Ticket Notes:
Chizik said that linebacker Cassanova McKinzy's role could expand in the coming weeks as they work to find more ways to use him on defense. He gave up a pair of touchdown passes on goal line defense Saturday, but Chizik said that can happen to a young player. He said McKinzy would continue to work at middle linebacker now and they'll evaluate his progress to see if and when he's ready for more.
"Yesterday he struggled," Chizik said. "We put him in there and it was his first time in a game. A guy like that will struggle, but we're really looking as we move forward with nine games left in the regular season, where and how can he help our defense? It's all going to be a learning process for him, but we're certainly looking at expanding his role and seeing what he can do."
One of the bright spots on offense for Auburn on Saturday was the play of Sammie Coates. Coming up with a touchdown catch on a Hail Mary and also nearly making a spectacular touchdown grab, the redshirt freshman could be just the guy the offense needs to open up the passing game along with Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen.
"It was good to see Sammie make two big catches," Chizik said. "We talked to him last week about he's going to have to start making some plays when he gets the opportunity. It was good to see him do that, but overall, we know we need to see it continue in that direction, but it's good to see it spread around a little bit more yesterday.
"Yeah, I think potentially that's exactly what he can do. He's got great speed, he's 6-foot-3, and he's got to become a consistent receiver both blocking and route-running. He's obviously improving, but again, we would envision him down the field to be a pass-catching threat, both on the deep and the intermediate routes."
On the subject of sophomore safety Erique Florence, Chizik said that the defensive back is still dealing with some personal issues, but is expected to practice for the Tigers this week.