What To Watch: Louisiana Tech vs. Auburn

Auburn, Ala.--Here we go again. That is probably the mindset of the Auburn defense as it prepares to face Louisiana Tech, another team with a pass-first and pass-often mentality. Liftoff is set for 1:07 p.m. Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

If last week's performance is indicative of what can be expected from the Auburn defense this week, an attempted aerial assault could be a good thing in marked contrast to the 2000 season.

Facing pass-happy Florida and Louisiana Tech in back-to-back games is nothing new for the Tigers. Last season it wasn't the most exhiliarating experience for the AU defense. Auburn got waxed by Rex Grossman and the Gators at The Swamp as the then-freshman tossed five first-half touchdown passes en route to a 38-7 victory.

The next week, Bulldog quarterback Luke McCown did his best impression of Grossman and moved his team up and down the field against the Tigers as he broke the NCAA record for completions by a freshman with 47. Auburn held on to win that game 38-28, but if there were any lessons learned from the torching by Grossman, it sure didn't show vs. the Bulldogs.

Thanks to a strong performance by the Auburn offense, and tailback Rudi Johnson in particular, the Tigers were able to send their homecoming crowd home with a 38-28 victory. Auburn entered that contest as a team that was drained physically and emotionally, its confidence shot after winning its first five games and then losing back-to-back games to Mississippi State and then the Gators. And it showed vs. Louisiana Tech. However, Rudi rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns and the Tigers were able to win despite a scary performance on defense.

This year is different in many ways. Auburn's confidence is higher, particularly on defense, as well it should after stunning the No. 1 ranked Gators 23-20 last week. This isn't the same wounded Auburn defense that allowed more than a combined 800 yards passing and nine touchdowns to Grossman and McCown last season. In fact, the Tigers will be pleased if McCown does his best impression of Grossman's performance from last Saturday. The Tigers picked off four of the Gator quarterback's passes and held Florida to 28 points below its season average.

If the Tigers can pick off McCown four times Saturday and hold the Bulldogs to just 13 points, which is 20 below their season average, then they should be in good shape to record their 10th straight homecoming victory. However, if Auburn hasn't floated down from the clouds, the Tigers could be in for a rough afternoon. Louisiana Tech already has the confidence of hanging with the Tigers in last year's 38-28 loss and has played solid football in building a 3-2 record.

Which of these teams is more fired up could go a long way in deciding which leaves Jordan-Hare's turf Saturday as the victor. That is just one item in this week's What To Watch:

The Cutting Edge

Some games it is hard to get motivated to play. Last season's tilt vs. Louisiana Tech looked to be such a contest for Auburn. Tech, small, independent school still looking to creep onto the national scene, came to Jordan-Hare Stadium hoping to prove that the prior season's 29-28 upset of Alabama was no fluke and was a highly motivated team.

Now an member of the reorganized Western Athletic Conference (WAC), Louisiana Tech is expected to again arrive in Auburn as a motivated team with a dangerous offense. At 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the WAC, the Bulldogs could be in line for just their fourth bowl trip in school history. A win on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium over the 20th-ranked Tigers would certainly help that cause and help put the Bulldogs on the college football map.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville seems well aware of the potential for trouble and has been rallying his players and fans, warning them that these visiting Bulldogs can bite if his team is not careful. That should be enough motivation to get the Tigers ready. If any more is needed, consider the fact that the Tigers are still working on win some respect for themselves. Auburn has the best record in the powerful SEC, yet four league teams are ranked ahead of the Tigers in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls.

There is a possibility that Tech will catch the Tigers napping, but if Tuberville and staff have done their job, that shouldn't be the case. Glaring Weakness

As impressive as the Bulldogs' offensive passing statistics are, their defensive rushing statistics are almost as unimpressive. If you want to find a weakness on this Tech team, look no further than the amount of yards it is yielding on the ground each week. After holding SMU to just 72 yards in their first contest, the Bulldogs have given up 165, 247, 206 and 321 in their last four games. That can't be too encouraging when you are getting ready to play a team whose strength is running the football. It's not that Auburn's rushing attack strikes fear into its opponents, but the unit usually gets the job done. The Tigers are only averaging 153.0 yards a game, but when your defense is allowing just 96.2 on the ground and 178.8 through the air, there is not a whole lot more that needs to be done.

Added Experience

Even though redshirt freshman Jason Campbell has taken more snaps this season than Daniel Cobb, the six-foot-four senior brings an added piece of experience and confidence to the Tiger huddle. After relieving Campbell on the Tigers' fourth offensive series last week, it was clear that Cobb had a better grasp of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's complicated schemes. He will make his first Auburn start at quarterback against the Bulldogs. If the Tigers can move the ball early and get some points on the board, it could give Cobb and the offense the kind of jump-start needed to make a strong stretch run when they return to conference play next week. With three of the four remaining SEC games on the road, time is running short for Auburn to get the offense running in high gear.

The Injury Factor

Auburn is showing signs of getting over its injury problems, which have caused major shuffling across the defense. Tech star QB Luke McCown is reportedly slowed by an ankle sprain, which if true, would not be good news for the visitors against a very quick Tiger defense.

Home Field Advantage And History

Auburn seldom loses on homecoming and has never lost to Louisiana Tech in nine previous contests. With an 11-game home field winning streak on the line, the visitors will have to play very well to pull off the upset on Saturday if Auburn defensive back Roderick Hood is correct. "The Florida game is in the past and we are looking forward to this one," the junior says.

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