Tigers Expecting Physical Test At LSU

The Auburn football team returned to the practice field on Tuesday evening as the Tigers prepare to play a highly-ranked LSU team. News, notes and quotes from Gus Malzahn's team are featured in this report.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football team returned to the practice field on Tuesday evening for a full pads workout as the Tigers began preparations for Saturday night's road game vs. sixth-ranked LSU.

Coach Gus Malzahn's team will take a 3-0 record to Tiger Stadium, but are major underdogs for their first road game of the year. The Tigers worked out for two hours in preparation for what the head coach called his team's biggest challenge so far this season.

LSU is also 3-0, but unlike Auburn this is the first SEC game this season for Coach Les Miles and his team, which has not lost to Auburn in Baton Rouge since 1999--a streak of six games.

Auburn junior defensive end LaDarius Owens said he believes his squad will arrive in Baton Rouge with momentum after its exciting 24-20 victory over Mississippi State in the SEC opener last Saturday.

"Beating Mississippi State was truly a team win," Owens said. "When the offense was off, the defense had to take up for them and vice versa. We were pulling for each other and I think the win was something we really needed."

LaDarius Owens is off to his best start this season after making the move from linebacker to defensive end in August.

The victory over the Bulldogs snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Tigers in SEC games that included a 12-10 loss to LSU last season that began a five-game losing streak the 2012 Tigers never recovered from on the way to a 3-8 finish.

In that game Auburn held the Bayou Bengals to a season-low total of 351 yards, but only managed nine first downs on offense to go with 96 rushing yards on 30 carries while quarterback Kiehl Frazier hit 13-22 passes for 87 yards with two interceptions. Frazier is now a backup safety for the Tigers, but he did see limited action last week as a "wildcat formation" quarterback. He ran the ball one time for four yards.

In addition to Auburn featuring a very different offense this year with the Tigers moving from a pro style attack to a spread formation with newcomer Nick Marshall directing the attack at quarterback, the defense Auburn is facing is very different with LSU having to replace seven starters on that side of the ball.

When LSU has the football Auburn's defenders will see plenty of familiar faces with eight starters back for Miles, including senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger who has been sizzling as his team cruised past TCU 37-27, UAB 56-17 and Kent State 45-13.

In the opener the 6-5, 235 senior completed 16-32 passes for 251 yards with one touchdown vs. TCU. In game two he hit 16-19 passes for 282 yards and five touchdowns vs. UAB. Last Saturday night vs. Kent State the senior threw just 18 passes. He completed 13 for 264 yards and three scores.

"Their quarterback has done a good job and protected the ball," Malzahn said on Tuesday. "I believe he hasn't thrown an interception yet and he has thrown quite a few touchdowns (nine). Any time you can couple that with a good run game--which they do have, a very good run game--that is a challenge."

Last year vs. Auburn Mettenberger hit 15-27 passes for 169 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass or an interception. The former Georgia Bulldog, who arrived at LSU after transferring to Butler County Community College in Kansas after the 2010 season, played in the same league that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was in last year as a one-season performer at Garden City Community College.

Mettenberger's improved accuracy this season has been significant and caught the attention of Auburn's defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson. Mettenberger is leading the SEC in passing efficiency with a gaudy 205.1 rating. He finished his junior season with a 128.3 rating.

"I do see a lot of improvement in the throwing accuracy and timing of the quarterback," said Johnson, who notes that LSU's new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, is likely responsible for helping the six-foot-five, 230-pound quarterback improve this season. Cameron made the move to LSU from the NFL Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, where he had been offensive coordinator since 2008.

Zach Mettenberger is in his third season at LSU.

Even though LSU has improved throwing the football, Johnson said his defense must be tough enough to stop a physical running game featuring four big tailbacks--Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence McGee. LSU is averaging 218.7 rushing yards per game at 5.5 yards per carry. Johnson said it will be essential for Auburn's defensive tackles and ends to be ready to match LSU's physical style of play.

Each of those running backs has rushed for 100 yards as an LSU player and each has led the Bayou Bengals in rushing in at least one contest.

"It's going to be a box game," Auburn's defensive coordinator predicted. "There are going to be some helmets that get kind of messed up. Dana (AU equipment manager Dana Marquez) is going to have a lot of work on his hands getting all that paint off the helmets."

Johnson said it will be a different type of challenge for the Tigers on Saturday night. "We haven't played anybody with this type of style this year and they're going to be in 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends), 23 personnel (two running backs, three tight ends), 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) and they can spread it out, too.

"Their skill receivers are as good as anybody in the country and they get them isolated out there with all that power football," Johnson noted. "It's going to be a challenge and it's a total change of complexion from what we've been dealing with the three previous opponents."

Juniors Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are the key receivers for the Bayou Bengals. Beckham has caught 15 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns while Jarvis Landry has 17 catches for 246 yards and five scores. Beckham is a big threat in the return game and is averaging 234.0 all-purpose yards per game.

A sellout crowd of 92,542 is expected at Tiger Stadium for a game that will be televised on ESPN with a 6:45 p.m. CDT start on Saturday.

"We know it's going to be a hostile environment," said Auburn junior tight end C.J. Uzomah, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the 24-20 victory over Mississippi State.

"We know we are going to have to prepare extremely hard because LSU's a great team, but we're going to have a great week of practice and get after it," he said.

"We felt like getting that first SEC win was a really big, positive step forward to us," Uzomah added. "However, we know that going out in this game, this will be a huge measuring stick and would really show a lot of people that it is a new day and we are on the right track and ready for the season."

In other news and notes:

*Auburn's top defensive back, senior cornerback Chris Davis, is questionable for the LSU game with an ankle injury. He did not see action last week.

*Two of LSU's top defensive players who were hurt last week are expected to see action vs. Auburn. Craig Loston is a 6-2, 209 senior safety who made 55 tackles with three interceptions last season. Lamin Barrow is a 6-2, 232 senior linebacker with 150 career tackles.

*Mettenberger is the first quarterback in LSU history to pass for 250 yards in three consecutive games to open a season. He is also the first LSU player to throw for nine touchdown passes in the first three games.

*Auburn has an all-time record of 77-36-6 when playing on the road for the first time during a season. The Tigers are 42-32-6 in SEC road openers.

*After losing his first two SEC openers as head coach at LSU, Les Miles is on a six-game winning streak in those contests.

*LSU has a lead of 26-20-1 in the series vs. Auburn and is 15-5-1 in games played in Baton Rouge.

*In addition to have the most passing yards (339) for an Auburn quarterback in an SEC opener last week, Nick Marshall's total vs. Mississippi State was the 16th highest single-game performance in school history. Marshall's passing yardage number was the most since Brandon Cox threw for 342 vs. Georgia Tech in 2005.

Steve Clark has punted the football 13 times this season.

*Auburn senior Steven Clark has yet to have a punt returned this season. He is averaging 43.5 yards per punt through three games and is on a streak of 30 consecutive punts without a return. The last team to return one against him was Texas A&M in game eight last year.

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