Game Is On, LSU Offers Tough Test

Auburn, Ala.--Following home wins over Ball State and Ole Miss, the Auburn Tigers take their show on the road for the first time in the 2001 season when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers in a key SEC Western Division showdown Saturday night at 8 p.m.

SEC officials announced on Wednesday that all league games would go on as scheduled. Some games in other leagues have been cancelled due to the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

LSU and AU officials released this statement on Wednesday: "Fans coming to the LSU-Auburn football game on Saturday night, September 15 are asked to arrive early. The stadium will be opened at 5 p.m. Fans are strongly urged to minimize the number of items they expect to bring into the stadium. All items such as backpacks, purses, diaper bags, etc., will be searched at the gates so fans should anticipate that it will take longer than normal to enter the stadium.

LSU comes in after solid but unspectacular wins over Tulane (48-17) and Utah State (31-17) to open the season. Head coach Nick Saban has resurrected an LSU program that was near the bottom of the conference when he arrived. Beginning just his second season, Saban already has the Tigers ranked 14th in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll and solid favorites along with Mississippi State to fight for the divisional title later in the season. In his eighth year as a head coach Saban has a record of 53-30-1 and his record at LSU is 10-4, including last season's Peach Bowl win over Georgia Tech. He has the Tigers looking for only their fifth 3-0 start in the last 20 seasons.

Leading the way for the Tigers on offense is quarterback Rohan Davey (6-3, 239, Sr.). After guiding LSU to come-from-behind wins over Tennessee and Georgia Tech last season, Davey had almost reached cult hero status entering the 2001 season and he hasn't done anything to make the rowdy Tiger fans change their minds. In two games Davey is 32-53 for 482 yard and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In fact, Davey has thrown 78 consecutive passes without being intercepted, dating all the way back to the Florida game from 2000.

On the receiving end of most of Davey's tosses are a trio of dangerous pass catchers for the Tigers. Junior Josh Reed (5-11, 205) has already put up outstanding numbers in just two games with 11 catches for 259 yards, but has yet to get in the end zone. His counterpart, Jerel Myers (5-11, 180, Jr.), is just as dangerous with 10 catches for 75 yards and tight end Robert Royal rounds out the trio with his seven catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Michael Clayton (6-4, 185) and reserve tight end Joe Domingeaux (6-5, 260, Sr.) add still more depth to what is considered one of the deeper units in the SEC.

While the passing game may get more attention, the meat of the LSU offense is with running back LaBrandon Toefield (6-0, 225, So.) and the Tiger offensive line. Following a career-high total of 183 yards and four touchdowns last Saturday night against Utah State, Toefield finds himself as one of the leading rushers in the country with a two-game total of 241 yards and seven touchdowns. When he's resting it doesn't get much easier as speedy Devery Henderson (6-0, 190, So.) is a very capable replacement. In two games he's rushed for 140 yards on 29 carries in spelling the dangerous Toefield. Junior Solomon Lee (6-1, 229, Jr.) will get the nod at fullback for the Tigers.

On the offensive line the Tigers have changed from big, huge linemen into smaller more athletic versions of themselves. Last season's mountainous linemen are now smaller but more physical and that should help LSU improve on what was the weak spot of the offense last fall. With three returning starters, left tackle Rodney Reed (6-4, 288, So.), center Rob Sale (6-2, 310, Jr.) and right guard Dwayne Pierce (6-3, 315, Sr.), along with new starters Stephen Peterman (6-4, 300, So.) at left guard and right tackle Jason Baggett (6-5, 310, Sr.), the LSU offense has rolled right along and will present the Auburn defense plenty of problems Saturday night.

Defensively, most tough units begin with the players up front and the LSU Tigers are no different. All four starters return from last year and that could spell trouble for opponents this year. At the ends junior Kenderick Allen (6-6, 300) and senior Jarvis Green (6-3, 265) are back after terrorizing teams last year. In the middle senior Muskingum Barnes (6-2, 265) and former tight end Chad Lavalais (6-3, 270, So.) help lead a defense that has given up just 139 yards rushing on 50 attempts this season. Depth comes from 6-4, 275 senior Kyle Kipps, 6-2, 291 junior Byron Dawson, 6-3, 320 senior Howard Green and 6-4, 258 sophomore Bryce Wyatt.

While several teams boast of linebacker groups that are worthy of being called the best in the SEC, that distinction belongs to LSU in many expert opinions. Starters Jeremy Lawrence, Trev Faulk and Bradie James are back after leading a defense that improved steadily throughout the 2000 season. Both Faulk and James are preseason All-SEC picks after finishing with 113 and 110 tackles, respectively, last season and Lawrence adds to that with his steady play to round out a group that gives opposing offensive coordinators nightmares every time they look at films of the LSU defense.

If there is one question mark for LSU on defense it is in the secondary where the Tigers have given large chunks of yardage to both Tulane (343 yards) and Utah State (235 yards) in the first two games of the 2001 season. Their effectiveness could be even further limited with starting cornerback Robert Davis (5-10, 180, Sr.) questionable because of a knee injury. If he's unable to go Saturday night, look for junior Norman LeJeune (6-1, 180) to take over the left corner spot opposite Demetrius Hookfin (5-11, 174, Jr.). At the safety spots proven starters return in seniors Ryan Clark (6-0, 192) and Lionel Thomas (6-0, 204). Veteran backup Damien James (5-11, 191, Jr.) is on hand to lend his experience in nickel packages and can spell either safety spot in case of injury.

What has been a sore spot in the past for LSU teams is a strength this year as kicker John Corbello (5-11, 220, Jr.) and punter Donnie Jones (6-3, 217, So.) have gotten off to an outstanding start after two games. Corbello is perfect on extra points while adding three of four field goals with his only miss from 41 yards out. Jones is averaging 43.3 yards per attempt on six punts this season. In the return game, the dangerous Domanick Davis should be back after missing the Utah State game with a minor injury. In the first game he returned the opening kickoff 59 yards to set up a touchdown. Just two games into his junior season, Davis is only 530 yards away from breaking the all-time yardage record for kickoff returns in LSU history.

Kickoff for the contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN2.

The SEC made this statement on Wednesday concerning the playing of football games this week:

The members of the Southeastern Conference mourn the tragic loss of lives, bodily injury and condemn the acts of destruction which occurred yesterday in this nation. Each of our institutions has been personally touched by these events.

"After reviewing all of the issues involved, the Southeastern Conference announces that all Conference athletic events will be played as scheduled, including the football games on Saturday, September 15.

"The Conference believes these events present a meaningful opportunity to bring our people together in a common expression of sympathy and mourning. An appropriate ceremony to express these sentiments will be held prior to each game.

"The Conference also announces that the member institutions will donate $1,000,000 from the gate receipts and television fees to funds which will assist the victims of this tragic event. In addition, fans at each event will be encouraged to make donations to these funds.

"In taking this action, we join the President of the United States and other leaders of our nation by "not allowing this event to change our way of

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