When you look at Auburn’s opponent this Saturday, the No. 15 LSU Tigers (4-1, 0-1), the first thing that jumps out is the talent on the offensive side of the ball for Coach Les Miles’ club. That starts at quarterback where true freshman Brandon Harris will get the start for LSU for the first time after playing behind Anthony Jennings the first month of the season.
An athletic performer capable of making plays with his arm or with his legs, Harris has provided a spark for the LSU offense this season when inserted into the lineup. Playing in all five games, he has completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 394 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. He has added 108 yards on just 16 carries (6.8 yards per carry) with three rushing touchdowns.
Brandon Harris is known for having a strong arm.
Very familiar with Harris from the recruiting process when Auburn made a strong push at getting him out of Louisiana, Coach Gus Malzahn said stopping Harris will be a tough chore because of what he brings to the table.
“First of all, he was a class young man,” Malzahn said of Harris during the recruiting process. “He is extremely talented. He has got an NFL arm. He can throw the ball from one hash to the sidelines, and he can run. He's a dual-threat guy. He's a definite threat.”
Harris is far from the only weapon for an LSU offense that is averaging 41.4 points and 462.8 yards per game. One of the most balanced teams in the country, LSU averages 226.2 yards on the ground with 15 touchdowns and 236.6 through the air with 11 more scores.
Leading the way on the ground is another talented true freshman, big Leonard Fournette. The top-rated high school running back in the country last year, he is off to a good start with 327 yards and four touchdowns in his first five career games. Fellow freshman Darrel Williams has been solid as well with 165 yards and three scores in four games. Throw in veterans Kenny Hilliard (298 yards, 4 TDs) and Terrence Magee (144 yards, 1 TD) and you have a deep and talented backfield for Auburn to deal with.
At wide receiver speedy Travin Dural has been the top playmaker for LSU with 21 of the team’s 66 total receptions this season. His 534 yards is almost half of the 1,183 passing yards on the season as well. He also leads the team with five touchdowns, but he may not be the biggest weapon Auburn has to deal with this weekend. Healthy after being banged up early in the season, big-time prospect Malachi Dupree has nine receptions, but already has 197 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow freshman Trey Quinn is second on the team with 10 catches while big John Diarse is a threat as well with seven receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.
That is a large group of talented players for LSU’s offense, but most are very young. That will be a concern going on the road for the first time in SEC play, but Miles said he’s confident they will be able to handle it.
“I think our guys understand how to play in big games,” Miles said. “I think it will be exciting for them. I think they'll look around and enjoy the fact that this is a real great college venue, but they will realize they need to play big and this is a quality opponent. There will be a challenge with it. I think it brings a really intriguing component to this game. I think our young guys will look to playing big and play like Tigers on the road.”
Up front LSU has experience and size with senior Elliot Porter back starting at the center position after missing some time early in the season. Big La’el Collins is one of the top tackles in the country on the left side with massive guard Vadal Alexander giving LSU one of the top left sides of any offensive line in the nation. Right guard Hoko Faniaki and tackle Jerald Hawkins round out the LSU front five.
On the defensive side of the ball it has been a tale of two teams for LSU, rather a tale of two opponents. Against Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State, LSU allowed a total of just seven points in three games with a combined 238 yards rushing. The scary part of that total for LSU is 172 of that came from New Mexico State last week.
The real scary numbers for LSU came in the season opener against Wisconsin and in a home loss to Mississippi State. Allowing 58 total points to the Badgers and Bulldogs, LSU’s defense gave up a staggering 570 yards on the ground and five of their six rushing touchdowns allowed this season. Those are numbers that should make Auburn’s offensive players take notice, but Malzahn said make no mistake about it this will be another tough LSU defense.
“They definitely make you earn it,” Malzahn said. “There's no doubt about that. In 2010 we played pretty well against them, and that's what we need to do. We need a repeat performance like that, but the thing about it they do a very good job of attacking. They make you earn it. We'll have to do a good job executing all 11 guys.”
Allowing big chunks of yards on the ground is not a normal thing for an LSU defense, but that’s the case this season after losing a huge group of underclassmen off the line each of the last two years. Throw in an injury to starting defensive tackle Quentin Thomas and it’s a shaky situation for LSU’s front four. The good news is that defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco have been as advertised this season, combining for three sacks and seven tackles for losses.
Les Miles and Jermauria Rasco
If Thomas is unable to go that will mean true freshmen Davon Godchaux and true sophomore Christian Lacouture will get the start in the middle with only freshmen and sophomores as possible back-ups for LSU’s defense.
At linebacker Oxford (Ala.) native Kwon Alexander has been the rock for the LSU defense, leading the team in tackles with 30 stops this season. D.J. Welter has started all five games in the middle and is third on the team with 25 tackles, but Kendell Beckwith has played well and could see plenty of action against Auburn on Saturday night.
In the secondary LSU suffered a big blow when sophomore defensive back Dewayne Thomas suffered a knee injury against New Mexico State and was lost for the season. A key performer as the nickel and dime back for LSU’s defense, he will be replaced by freshman Jamal Adams. The leader of the group is seniors safety Ronald Martin. Second on the team with 29 tackles, Martin has one of the team’s six interceptions and also leads the team with four quarterback hurries.
As is the norm, LSU is strong in the kicking game with kicker Colby Delahoussaye a perfect 4-4 on field goals this season. Trent Domingue and Cameron Gamble handle the kickoff duties and have combined for 23 touchbacks in 35 opportunities. Punter Jamie Keehn is among the tops in the country with his 46.6 yard average. Of his 28 punts this season 13 have been inside the 20-yard line with 12 going for 50 yards or more.
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