StatTiger: AU vs. LSU Inside the Numbers

Columnist Stuart Carter gives an in-depth statistical breakdown of the matchup of Top 10 teams as LSU visits Jordan-Hare Stadium this week.

LSU, 2005 record: 11-2

Offensive Numbers: 151 rushing/223 passing/ 374 total/29 points per game

Defensive Numbers: 91 rushing/175 passing/266 total/14 points per game

Returning Starters: Offense 7/Defense 5

Against Auburn since 1999:

Record: 3-4 (The home team has won the last six meetings) Auburn Numbers: 146 rushing/197 passing/343 total/22 points per game

LSU Numbers: 129 rushing / 205 passing / 334 total / 17 points per game

Hurricane Katrina kept LSU off balance last season in terms of practice, preparation and scheduling. Things should be closer to normal, allowing the LSU coaching staff to focus on football related issues.

Though they must replace six starters on defense, LSU has been in a position of reloading on a yearly basis. Fatigue caught up with Bengal Tigers prior to the 2005 SEC Championship game and the Georgia Bulldogs were able to defeat a LSU club with an empty gas tank. With nearly one month of rest, LSU was able to throttle the Miami Hurricanes in the Peach Bowl.

This year's matchup between Auburn and LSU might be the biggest in school history between the two schools. Not only does a Western Division title tie in the balance, both teams remain in position for a possible mythical national championship.

Thus far, both teams have performed very well, playing like the two strongest programs in the Southeastern Conference. Neither team has been truly tested though Auburn has faced better overall competition after two weeks of football.

Last Time Out

The LSU Tigers have posted a 2-0 record, defeating Louisiana-Lafayette 45-3 and Arizona by an identical score. LSU has scored 10 offensive touchdowns to go along with two touchdowns scored on defense.

The LSU offense has been balanced averaging 200 yards on the ground and 265 yards through the air. JaMarcus Russell is currently the third rated passer in the country with five touchdown passes to just one interception. LSU is currently ranked No. 12 in total offense, No. 7 in scoring offense, No. 3 in total defense and No. 1 in scoring defense.

The Auburn Tigers are coming off a very physical game with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, posting their first shutout of the season, 34-0. Auburn is also 2-0 on the season, including a 40-14 victory over the Washington State Cougars.

Auburn is currently averaging 436 yards per game on offense, which is 19th best in the country. Auburn is No. 18 in scoring offense, No. 12 in total defense and No. 7 in scoring defense.

Brandon Cox possesses a quarterback rating of 168.6, 13th best in the country, and Kenny Irons is currently averaging over 126 yards rushing, placing him at No. 10 in the country.

Inside the Numbers

This will be the first major test for both squads as neither team was in jeopardy of losing their first two games. With that being said, Auburn has faced the better offensive team in Washington State and the better defensive opponent in Mississippi State.

Though LSU possesses the better overall margin of victory (+42) compared to Auburn (+30), it's important to look at the level of competition. The average offensive ranking of LSU's opponents is 110th. Auburn's opponent has an average offensive ranking of 70th in the nation. The average defensive ranking of LSU's opponents is 103rd and 73rd in the nation for Auburn.

Because LSU has faced the lesser competition, that team should have the higher margin of victory. Interestingly enough, Auburn has actually scored 12 more points per game than what their opponent has allowed and held their opponent to 11 points less than what their opponent has averaged. LSU has scored seven more points than what their opponent has allowed while holding their opponent to five points less than what their opponent has averaged.

*LSU has 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including six quarterback sacks. Auburn has 16 tackles behind the line and nine quarterback sacks.

*LSU has five offensive plays of 30 yards or more, while allowing one on defense. Auburn has six offensive plays of 30 yards or more, but has given up two on defense. In last year's game, Auburn registered four plays of 30 yards or more and LSU had two.

*LSU has scored 88 percent of the time in the red zone, including a 63 percent touchdown percentage. Auburn has scored 90 percent of the time in the red zone with a 60 percent touchdown percentage.

*LSU has converted on 65 percent of its third down conversions compared to Auburn's 36 percent. LSU's defense has allowed only 19 percent on third-down compared to Auburn's 31 percent.

*LSU averages only 13.5 yards on kick returns and 8.3 yards on punt returns. Auburn has averaged 33.3 yards on kick returns and 5.0 yards on punt returns. In a close game the importance of special teams magnifies. Last year, Skyler Green of LSU returned a punt for a touchdown.

*Excluding possessions to expire the half, LSU and Auburn have posted a defensive "stop" percentage of 86.4. This means that both defenses have forced a punt, turnover or a loss on downs in 19 of 22 possessions. LSU has scored 10 touchdowns in 20 possessions, while Auburn has scored 8 in 22 possessions.

Keys to Victory

Both teams are identical in offensive philosophy in terms of running the ball and being very physical on offense. The biggest difference comes in the passing game where Auburn will look for the high percentage pass and LSU will stretch the field with its vertical passing game. LSU has six receivers with an average per reception over 16 yards while Auburn only has two.

Under Tuberville, Auburn is 3-1 when the Tigers out-rush LSU and 1-2 when they don't. LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will be conservative in his schemes, but will attack the Auburn secondary deep, especially when Auburn sells out to stop the run. JaMarcus Russell is very good at buying time to allow his receivers to break off their original routes for big plays. It's essential Auburn's defensive backs finish out the play.

Kenny Irons rushed for 218 yards last season vs. LSU.

In a game in which both teams are so equally matched, field position, turnovers and big plays will be the difference. Thus far, LSU's offense has been much more efficient compared to Auburn. Of its 10 offensive touchdowns, the average length of each drive has been 60.3 yards. Auburn's average touchdown drive has been 46.0 yards. Four of Auburn's eight touchdown drives have been under 50 yards and only two of LSU's 10 touchdown drives has been under 50 yards.

Playing on a short field would certainly benefit Auburn more than LSU. Last season, Auburn scored on 78 percent of its possessions starting inside the opponent's 50-yard line. This year, Auburn has scored on 86 percent.

AU offensive coordinator Al Borges hasn't shown much in the first two games, but the flow of the game will actually dictate his play calling. The last two meetings between Auburn and LSU have been close ball games, which means keeping it simple to avoid mistakes that could decide the outcome of the game. Auburn will certainly show more motion and shifts on offense to create confusion on the part of the LSU defense, but it won't take long for LSU to adjust.

Auburn needs to utilize playmakers other than Kenny Irons and Courtney Taylor. The tight ends along with Brad Lester need to have more touches to keep the LSU defense honest. On defense, Auburn needs to establish a good pass rush with 4-5 defenders because of LSU's ability to break the big play.

Final Thoughts

Since 2004 Auburn has faced eight quality defenses (Top 15 nationally) and has averaged only 19.2 points in those games. Against LSU, Borges has scored only 13.5 points per game on five scoring drives. Against these quality defensive opponents, Auburn has averaged only 3.2 scoring possessions per game and no more than four. With this in mind, Auburn's maximum scoring will be no more than 24-28 points and more than likely 17-21 points. Auburn has allowed 19 points per game in the last five meetings against LSU, so the Auburn defense will need to hold LSU under 20 points to give themselves the best chance to succeed.

Auburn has the better running game, but Russell is the better quarterback in terms of size, athletic ability and his consistent ability to hit the big pass play. In a close defensive battle, Russell will need only one sustained drive and a couple of big plays to win this game should Auburn's offense be held to 17 points or less. Russell's ability to hit the big pass play gives LSU a distinctive advantage.

Quarterback Brandon Cox is in his second season as an Auburn starter.

The odds of Auburn rushing for over 200 yards again are slim, leaving the game in the hands of Cox on offense. Passing on early downs will be essential for the junior quarterback to perform well against LSU.

Cox has a QB rating of 202.8 on first down, 159.4 on second down and 107.4 on third down. Last week, Auburn ran the ball 12 of 18 times on first down (67 percent), building its 24-0 lead against Mississippi State. Cutting it down to 60 percent would open up Auburn's passing game and increase the opportunity to sustain drives.

In 2004, Auburn won the field position battle against LSU with an average starting field position of its own 32 compared to LSU's own 17 yard line. During that game, Auburn's offense had 4 of 10 offensive possessions that gained at least 40 yards or more, putting Auburn into scoring position four times.

Last year the field position battle was a virtual tradeoff with Auburn starting at its own 25 and LSU starting at its own 23. Auburn's offense had 6 of 14 possessions that resulted in at least 40 yards gained, putting Auburn into scoring position six times. Despite the loss of an All-SEC backfield from 2004, Auburn had more success on offense against LSU in 2005. The majority of the credit should go to Borges and his play calling.

An alarming statistic for Auburn this week is that during the 2004 season former Tiger Jason Campbell was more efficient passing on third down than on any other down. It was one of the key reasons why Auburn was so successful offensively. So far this season, Russell has not thrown an incomplete pass on third down. He currently has connected on all nine of his pass attempts for 200 yards, giving him a QB rating of 378.7 on third down. Five of his passes went for a first down and two were completed for touchdowns. The average distance needed for a first down was nine yards. In comparison, Campbell compiled a 241.0 QB rating against the likes of Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Monroe and The Citadel.

Several numbers stand out in favor of LSU this Saturday. Russell has improved each year and is clearly on pace for a record-setting season. Based on the quality of the opponent, it's difficult to say just how good this LSU team is, but there is no doubt the Bengal Tigers are one of the best, if not the best team, in the conference right now.

LSU has been very efficient on third down and has a higher number of sustained drives compared to Auburn. Based on scoring margins, LSU should win this game, 24-23, but basing a prediction on scoring margins after just two games is not very accurate, especially when neither team has been truly tested. Last year, I picked Auburn to win, 21-17, based on scoring margins, but will stick with the home field advantage this season. While at Auburn, Tuberville is 12-4 at home in games decided by seven points or less. Auburn 23, LSU 20

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