No matter how successful LSU has been throwing the football this season, the first job for coordinator Ellis Johnson and the Auburn defense is still going to be slowing a powerful running game led by talented sophomore Jeremy Hill. The Bengal Tigers are averaging 218.7 yards per game this year on the ground and will match up against an Auburn group allowing 157.3 yards per contest.
Perhaps the good news for Johnson's unit is how they yards have come. Of Auburn's 472 total rushing yards allowed through three games, 245 yards have been given up to quarterbacks this season. That means Auburn is giving up just just under 80 rushing yards per game to the running back position. That could be significant with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger not a threat to run the football this Saturday night, allowing Auburn to focus squarely on the running backs to carry the load.
Even if Auburn can slow LSU's running game the job will be far from finished as wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham provide perhaps the top one-two punch on the schedule in 2013. This season the two have combined for 32 catches and nine touchdowns. That includes all but 14 of LSU's receptions this season and every touchdown. In fact, no other LSU player has caught more than one pass in a game this season.
100 Is The Number
When it comes to the number game there is a key one to look for this Saturday night and that is the century mark on the ground. Under Les Miles it's almost an automatic win if the Tigers run for more than 100 yards. LSU has a record of 83-8 when surpassing the century mark on the ground and just 5-13 when held to less than 100.
On the flip side, LSU is 51-4 when holding its opponent under 100 yards rushing. Combine the two with LSU gaining more than 100 yards rushing and the opponent under 100, and LSU is a perfect 50-0 under Miles.
Containing Jeremy Hill and the LSU running attack is a must for Auburn.
"Special" Teams For Auburn
If Auburn has one advantage going into Saturday's SEC West contest it may be in the kicking game with seniors Cody Parkey and Steven Clark potentially able to help Malzahn's Tigers control the field position.
This season Parkey's kickoffs have been a strong point with 14 touchbacks in 20 attempts. Opponents average starting drives at their own 22-yard line following Parkey kickoffs.
Clark has been even better. He's averaging 43.5 yards per punt and has not allowed a return in 13 attempts. Opponents' average field position is their own 21-yard line following a Clark punt.
Keeping returns to a minimum is especially important with Beckham one of the more dangerous return men in the country in that role for LSU. With three career kick returns for touchdowns, including a 100-yard missed field goal return for a score against UAB two weeks ago. This season he has added 171 kickoff return yards and 68 punt return yards in addition to the missed field goal return. He can be a serious game-changer on Saturday night so keeping his impact minimal would greatly enhance Auburn's chances of coming out with the upset victory.
Third Down Holds The Key For Auburn Defense
If Auburn's offense hopes to reach its goal of 80 plays, the defense must get off the field more often on third downs against LSU. The numbers don't look good for Johnson's group going into the contest, however, as LSU converts 63.6 of its third down conversion attempts, second in the SEC. Auburn is allowing 23.7 third downs per game, second-worst in the league only ahead of Texas A&M.
The good news for Auburn is that its defense gets stronger as the game goes along thanks to a steady rotation in the front seven. That means if the Tigers can play toe-to-toe with LSU for the first 45 minutes then Auburn could make some noise on the Bayou. Last week Auburn held Mississippi State to 0-7 on third downs in the fourth quarter. For the year Johnson's charges have allowed no points and just 277 total yards in the fourth quarter through three games. If AU Tigers come close to that average this weekend there could be a big surprise coming.