That makes the offensive line play for both teams the position to watch as the Battle of the Tigers takes place Saturday at 6 p.m. inside what should be a rowdy Jordan-Hare Stadium.
When Auburn Has The Football:
With a line that features two freshmen, two sophomores, and one senior, Coach Jeff Grimes has asked for more physical play from his group since preseason practice started in August and the results have been mixed so far in 2012. Rushing for 180 yards in a loss to Clemson to open the season with sophomore Tunde Fariyike replacing fellow sophomore Reese Dismukes at center, Auburn struggled to get anything going in week two as Dismukes was back to give Grimes his regular starter at center alongside guards John Sullen and Chad Slade with freshmen Greg Robinson and Avery Young at tackle. Rushing for just 91 yards on 39 carries, the Auburn ground game was unable to get untracked as the entire offense failed to get going.
That changed last week as Auburn pounded out 255 rushing yards in an overtime win over ULM at home. With Onterio McCalebb going for 128 and Tre Mason adding 90 yards, the Tigers were able to find some running room. The one major concern came late following a fumble by third tailback Mike Blakely on the goal line. That took the life out of the offense and running game as after the turnover Auburn managed just 20 yards on the ground until a late two-minute drive on offense.
Facing a defense that is giving up just 47 yards on the ground per game this season, Auburn's offensive line must kick things into high gear this week. Getting the running game going would accomplish two very big things for the Tigers.
The first is putting the offense in more manageable situations throwing the ball, and the second is that more first downs means less time for LSU's offense to grind on Auburn's defense. If Auburn can run the football successfully it will give Chizik's team a legitimate chance to pull off the upset.
When LSU Has The Ball:
When you look at LSU under Coach Les Miles' direction there is no question the running game is the key. LSU enters Saturday night's game with a record of 46-0 under Miles when rushing at least 100 yards and holding its opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground. Overall, the Bengal Tigers are an incredible 74-7 when reaching the century mark on the ground under Miles, but only 4-11 when held to less than 100 yards rushing.
To do that this season Auburn's defense will have to put forth a monumental effort considering LSU is averaging 269 yards per game on the ground led by talented sophomore Kenny Hilliard. It's all made possible because of one of the biggest lines Auburn's defense will see this season. The smallest player, center P.J. Lonergan, is 6-4, 305 and one of the top centers in the country. He has started 28 games for LSU.
At left guard is the talented La'el Collins (6-5, 321, So.) while the right guard position is manned by Dothan native Josh Williford (6-7, 334, Jr.). Williford has played in 28 games in his career with 15 starts. The tackles are held down by a pair of seniors in Alex Hurst (6-6, 331) on the right side and Josh Dworaczyk (6-6, 300) on the left side. Taking over for the injured Chris Faulk, Dworaczyk is LSU's most experienced offensive lineman with 40 games under his belt. He was granted a sixth-year of eligibility after a knee injury kept him out the entire 2011 season.
Something that shows the strength of the LSU offensive line and running game this season is the lack of negative running plays for the Bengal Tigers. On 114 carries by the running backs this season, LSU has a combined 10 negative rushing yards. That means downhill running and very little penetration from the opposing defensive line.
That's the job this weekend for an Auburn defensive line, and in particular the tackle position, that so far this season has struggled in that department. As a team Auburn has 15 tackles for losses in the first three games, but only two and a half of those have come from the defensive tackles. Juniors Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter along with sophomores Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright must get a consistent push in the middle of a tough LSU offensive line if Auburn hopes to do what many say can't be done and knock off the number two team in the country.