Previewing The LSU Tigers

Auburn and LSU meet Saturday night in Tiger Stadium with a lot at stake for both teams in the race for the SEC Western Division title.

When the 17th-ranked Auburn Tigers (5-2, 4-0) travel to Baton Rouge this weekend to face the No. 9 LSU Tigers (6-1, 3-1) they will square off with one of the more talented teams they will face this season.

Loaded with high school All-Americans up and down the roster, the Tigers have been dominating on defense this season leading up to Saturday's matchup of the unstoppable force in Auburn's running game versus the immovable object of LSU's run defense.

LSU coach Nick Saban has a 32-13 record in his fourth year as head coach in Baton Rouge.

Allowing a national-best of just 53.1 yards per game on the ground, LSU has been able to shut down every opponent this season and a veteran front four will look to do that again this week against an Auburn running game that has been on fire the last five weeks. Leading the way for LSU is senior defensive tackle Chad Lavalais (6-3, 292), who can dominate a game much the same way Auburn running back Carnell Williams can on offense. This season Lavalais has 27 tackles with eight going for losses and has added five sacks. He has started 28 straight games for LSU and has a tackle in 37 consecutive games. Keeping him under check will be a big task for the Auburn offensive line.

Joining Lavalais up front for LSU will be junior Marcus Spears (6-4, 297) at one end with junior Marquise Hill (6-7, 295) on the other end and senior Bryce Wyatt (6-4, 273) in the middle. Top back-ups are Opelika's Melvin Oliver (6-3, 269, So.) and true freshman Kirston Pittman (6-3, 238) at end and sophomore Brandon Washington (6-4, 302) in the middle.

The playmaker at linebacker is junior Lionel Turner. A big man at 257 pounds, he packs a wallop and doesn't normally miss when he gets his hands on the opposing ball carrier. This season he has 40 tackles, one sack and one interception. He is joined in the starting lineup by senior Eric Alexander (6-3, 223) at strongside linebacker and another senior Adrian Mayes (6-1, 213) at weakside backer. Expect to see a lot of sophomore Cameron Vaughn (6-4, 220) on the field as well. He has 32 tackles and two sacks this season despite not being a starter.

Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell takes a snap against LSU two years ago in Death Valley.

In the secondary strong safety Jack Hunt has been one of the top playmakers for the LSU defense this season. In six games the senior has 34 tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. The most consistent member of LSU's defense may be junior cornerback Corey Webster (6-0, 201). This season Webster has 28 tackles and three interceptions. For his career he has 10 interceptions despite playing wide receiver his first season at LSU.

In last season's 31-7 Auburn drubbing of LSU, the Bengal Tigers had sophomore Marcus Randall under center and he had a terrible game, but that won't be the case this season as junior Matt Mauck (6-2, 213) will start the game and gives the home team a much better chance of winning. This season Mauck has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,389 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. A hard-nosed player, Mauck is also capable of running the ball successfully against a defense. This season he has 51 yards rushing, but has been sacked for 62 yards in losses as well.

When Mauck passes the ball he has the option of throwing to perhaps the top group of wide receivers in the SEC this season with junior Michael Clayton leading the way. The most physical receiver the Tigers will see this season outside of USC's Mike Williams, the 6-4, 200 Clayton has 35 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns this season and is a very dangerous runner after the catch. Not far behind in terms of talent and production is former running back Devery Henderson. The 6-0, 189 senior has 30 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns this season. Rounding out the superb trio is Skyler Green (5-9, 190, So.). The speedster, who excels at returning kicks, has caught 22 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns this season. The trio has accounted for all but two receiving touchdowns for the Tigers this season and nearly two-thirds of the total yards through the air.

The top receiving threat outside of the trio is senior tight end Eric Edwards. The 6-5, 244-pounder has 10 catches for 91 yards and one touchdown this season. In addition to the threat of the pass he's also an outstanding blocker and does a good job of sealing the end on running plays.

LSU possesses one of the deepest backfields around with five capable ball carriers able to get the job done. The best of the bunch have been Joseph Addai (6-0, 205, So.) and Shyrone Carey (5-6, 198, Jr.) this season, but freshmen Justin Vincent (5-10, 208), Barrington Edwards (6-0, 213) and Alley Broussard (6-0, 235) combined to rush for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries in LSU's rout of South Carolina on the road last week. With all five capable of getting the job done expect to see a big rotation by LSU in Saturday's game.

One thing that won't change is that LSU will field one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, but it will be without one key member of the unit. Sophomore left guard Nate Livings (6-5, 313) hurt his knee against the Gamecocks and will miss the Auburn game after having surgery to repair a torn ligament. He may be replaced by sophomore Terrell McGill (6-4, 325) in the starting lineup. If McGill is able to go after spraining his ankle he will be joined by left tackle Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 325, So.), right tackle Rodney Reed (6-4, 287, Sr.), right guard Stephen Peterman (6-4, 321, Sr.) and center Ben Wilkerson (6-4, 296, Jr.). Reed has 41 career starts under his belt while Peterman adds 32, Wilkerson with 26 and Whitworth with 20. If McGill can't play the Tigers will turn to sophomore Rudy Niswanger (6-5, 294) at left guard. Niswanger is currently the second team center for LSU.

The special teams continue to be a strong point for LSU under Coach Nick Saban. Punter Donnie Jones enters the game averaging 43 yards per attempt and has put 10 of his 30 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Ryan Gaudet has been solid this season, making 4-7 attempts with two of the misses outside 40 yards. Green and Henderson are both dangerous return men with Green the most explosive. This season he has returned two punts for touchdowns and is averaging 33.3 yards per return. Henderson is averaging 25.8 yards on eight kickoff returns this season and has a long of 48 yards.

With a hostile crowd expected, Auburn must get off to a good start in this game to keep the momentum from getting squarely behind the home team. If Williams, Ronnie Brown and company can run the football and control the clock and tempo of the game it will go a long ways towards an Auburn victory Saturday night in Death Valley. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:45 and can be seen nationally on ESPN.

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