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Stat Tiger Column: Previewing the LSU at Auburn Football Game

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers for his StatTiger column to forecast what is likely to happen on Saturday night in the SEC West matchup as the Auburn Tigers play host to LSU.

Les Miles (above) has a winning record in games vs. Auburn.

No. 17/18 LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) at Auburn (1-2, 0-1 SEC)

Series Record: LSU?leads 28-21-1

Last Meeting: (2015) LSU 45-21

About the teams:

*Coach Les Miles of LSU is 141-54 all-time and 114-33 at LSU. Gus Malzahn is 37-18 all-time and 28-15 at Auburn. 

*The last time out Auburn lost to Texas A&M, 29-16, and LSU defeated Mississippi State, 23-20, in Baton Rouge.

*LSU returns 18 starters from 2015 with nine on offense and nine on defense. Auburn returns 11 starters with six on offense and five on defense.

*Les Miles is 8-3 against Auburn, but 2-3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

*LSU quarterback Danny Etling made his first start last week against Mississippi State, throwing for 215 yards on 19 completions. He has a pass efficiency rating of 127.4 on the season.

*LSU’s Leonard Fournette leads SEC runners with 142.5 yards per game, averaging 5.59 yards per rush.

*Travin Dural leads LSU with 10 receptions, but has only 95 yards on the season.

*Auburn’s Sean White is the No. 6 rated passer in the conference with a rating of 134.8, but John Franklin might see significant action this week.

*Tony Stevens leads Auburn with 13 receptions and is the team’s most targeted receiver through three games.

*Auburn has a two-headed monster at running back. Kerryon Johnson has rushed for 278 games through three games and Kamryn Pettway has 275 yards in two games.

KAMRYN PETTWAY (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Kamryn Pettway has back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances.

*Auburn has produced 16 plays of 20 yards or more through three games and LSU has produced only nine.

*LSU has surrendered 11 plays of 20 yards or more and Auburn has given up 14.

*LSU is currently No. 12 in the conference in total offense and No. 11 in scoring offense.

*During seven games against LSU, Malzahn’s offense has averaged 370 yards and 22 points per game, winning only two times.

How they match up...

•Auburn is No. 1 in the SEC in rushing and will face the No. 5 run defense in LSU. Auburn’s No. 8 run defense will face off with LSU, which is ranked No. 9 in rushing.

•Auburn is No. 10 in pass efficiency within the conference and will face LSU, which is ranked No. 5 in pass efficiency defense. LSU is No. 12 on offense and will face an Auburn defense ranked No. 9.

•Which team will be the most physical Saturday night? The edge appears to be in favor of LSU when it comes to the play on both fronts.

•Looking at both teams in their two Power-5 games, LSU is scoring 12 percent more than its opponent allows and is holding its opponent to 32 percent below its scoring average. Auburn is scoring 16 percent more than its opponent has allowed and is holding the opponent to 38 percent below its scoring average.

•Take the above percentages compared to their average scores against Power-5 competition and it projects a 21-12 Auburn victory and a 27-10 LSU victory. Average the two scores and LSU wins 20-16.

Keys to Victory...

During the last 27 meetings between the two schools the team with the most rushing yardage has won 20 times. Both offenses have struggled to throw the football this year with the running game being the most consistent element of their offense.

LSU is currently +5 in tackles for loss and Auburn is -17 through three games. The winner of the “tackle for loss battle” has won 14 of the last 20 meetings between the two programs. 

Malzahn’s offense at Auburn has won 88 percent of its games when converting at least 40 percent of its third downs. When Tigers have fallen below 40 percent they have won only 41 percent of their games. This includes a 2-0 record against LSU when converting at least 40 percent of their third downs and 0-4 when they don’t.

Malzahn needs to identify his “starting” quarterback and build a game plan to attack the opponent based on the strengths of that player.

Auburn has lost the “turnover battle” during its last seven games. During the last 20 games against LSU, Auburn is 6-3 when it doesn’t lose the “turnover battle” and 2-9 when it does.

Malzahn’s offense is 53-3 in games with at least 250 yards rushing. In seven games against LSU the offense has reached this goal three times.

What to Watch...

*Unless there are a high number of turnovers or big plays on special teams, look for a low scoring game with both teams waiting for the other to make a mistake in the passing game. 

*LSU has allowed 95.0 yards rushing per game on 2.6 yards per attempt vs. two Power-5 opponents while Auburn has surrendered 191.0 yards rushing per game on 4.7 yards per carry vs. two Power-5 teams.

*During seven meetings against LSU, Malzahn’s pass-offense has accumulated a pass efficiency rating of just 111.6. His offense at Auburn is 7-16 in games with a pass rating below 120. 

*Auburn’s offensive line has struggled through three games. It has allowed 32 tackles for the loss, the most at the FBS level. 

*Will Malzahn call an aggressive game on first down? His offense at Auburn has won 80 percent of the conference games when averaging at least six yards per play on first down and only 45 percent when it did not.

Matt Bush/USA Today

Leonard Fournette is LSU's top offensive player.

*Limiting Fournette will be a defensive priority for Auburn on Saturday night. Malzahn’s Tigers are 7-9 in games the opponent fielded a 100-yard rusher. 

Final Word...

Franklin’s entry into the Texas A&M game might have opened the quarterback race once again although Malzahn said again this week that White will start. After three games into the season the offense still appears to lack direction, which is the responsibility of the coaches. Auburn's offense lacks identity, which likely stems from a lack of trust from Malzahn. At some point he needs to confirm his starter at quarterback and build the offense around him. Continuity won’t be achieved without repetition and experience. A conservative game plan sends a strong message to not just the opponent, but Auburn's personnel on offense. If the players do not believe the coaches trust them, they will never live up to their full potential. 

Examining their matchups against Power-5 competition reveals the offenses in this game are about the same. Auburn is averaging 330 yards and 15 points while LSU has averaged 324 yards and 19 points. The primary difference comes on defense where Auburn has allowed 438 yards and 24 points to LSU's 304 yards and 18 points. The numbers point to a low-scoring game, which means special teams could play a significant role Saturday night.

The series history favors the team with the better running game, which means Franklin could be the better fit at quarterback for this showdown. White and Auburn’s talented wide receivers can only become a major factor if Malzahn attacks the LSU secondary vertically. Malzahn’s history in passing the football against LSU would strongly indicate a concerted effort to run it on Auburn's part. Give Franklin a primary read on passing plays and the freedom to exit the pocket if the receiver is not open.

With a 1-2 record priorities must be established coming into the LSU game. Is winning this game more important than the overall growth of the offense and quarterback position? Though both could be accomplished, Auburn needs the victory more for so many reasons. White and his wide receivers might be the best option for overall success, but Franklin and a commitment to the running game could be the best immediate solution.

Combine the high probability of a low-scoring affair and Malzahn's history of being extremely conservative against quality defenses, and the most likely scenario is a 2013 approach to the game. Franklin’s last three series of offense against Texas A&M produced 159 yards at 5.9 yards per play. During the previous 62 snaps Auburn produced 240 yards at 3.9 yards per play. If it is a close ball game, it slightly favors Les Miles, who is .691 in games decided by seven points or less. Malzahn .687 at Auburn in one-score decisions. LSU 20, Auburn 17.

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Alabama over Kent State

Ole Miss over Georgia

Florida over Tennessee

Mississippi State over UMass

Missouri over Delaware State

Western Kentucky over Vanderbilt

South Carolina over Kentucky

Texas A&M over Arkansas

Season Record: 29-6

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