The game of the year in the SEC's Western Division takes place this Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium as the third-ranked Auburn Tigers take on number six LSU in a game that could have not only SEC but national championship implications down the road.
Entering the contest with a 2-0 record after identical 45-3 victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Arizona to open the 2006 season, LSU is on a serious roll defensively coming into Saturday's 2:30 contest that will be nationally televised by CBS. This season the Tigers have allowed six points and LSU's defense has scored 12 on two interception returns for touchdowns by Jonathan Zenon.
On the year LSU has allowed just 164 yards per game of total offense to its opponents and is the only team in the country that hasn't allowed a touchdown so far this season. The defense comes into Saturday's contest having held 12 of its last 13 opponents to less than 20 points.
While the defense gets most of the headlines at LSU the offense hasn't been too bad in its own right. Second in the Southeastern Conference in total offense at 465 yards per contest, LSU features one of the top passing attacks anywhere around triggered by massive quarterback Jamarcus Russell. Despite attempting just 46 passes this season LSU averages 264.5 yards passing per game and has five touchdown passes on the year.
The key to that is Russell. Listed at 6-6, 260, he is likely closer to 280 pounds and carries the weight well on his powerful frame. With a career record of 16-2 as a starting quarterback, Russell doesn't get a lot of publicity for his ability but he just keeps on winning football games. Coach Les Miles says he's happy with how Russell has played so far this season and he believes the big junior gives him a great chance to come away with a victory this weekend.
"The games that he won last year in the SEC kind of predicts to me that he's going to be quarterback enough for us," Miles says. "He's improved weekly. There's a throw he wishes he had back last week. He certainly understands that we'll make that correction and go on. I have great confidence in Jamarcus Russell. I look forward to taking him to Auburn with us."
When running the football LSU is similar to Auburn in that the Tigers come at you in waves. Senior Justin Vincent (5-10, 223) and juniors Alley Broussard (6-0, 250) and Jacob Hester (6-0, 228) are the main weapons for the LSU running game but freshman Charles Scott (5-11, 221) could also see some action in certain situations.
On the outside LSU features what many feel is the best receiving corps in the league led by big seniors Dwayne Bowe (6-3, 217) and Craig Davis (6-2, 207) and junior Early Doucet (6-0, 207). The top performer of the group, Bowe has seven catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns this season to lead the team. For his career Bowe is seventh all-time in career receiving touchdowns with 16 and is just four catches away from 100 for his career. Tight end Keith Zinger (6-5, 250, Sr.) is a returning starter and a very good blocker in the running game.
Bowe is a physical presence for the Tigers at receiver.
Up front LSU is one of the most physical offensive lines Auburn will see this season but it's a unit that lacks experience at several positions. Leading the way is veteran junior Will Arnold (6-4, 319). Also in the starting lineup is left tackle Ciron Black (6-5, 314, RFr.), center Brett Helms (6-2, 283, So.), right guard Brian Johnson (6-4, 307, Sr.), and right tackle Peter Dyakowski (6-5, 310, Sr.). Arnold and Johnson are the only two players that have started more than two games at their current positions in their LSU careers.
Defensively LSU returned just one starter on the line coming into the season but it hasn't kept the Tigers from destroying their first two opponents on the line of scrimmage. Senior Chase Pittman (6-4, 265) is the leader of a unit that has been dominant this season, allowing just 74 yards rushing and three points per contest. Joining Pittman in the starting lineup will be Tyson Jackson (6-5, 292, So.) at the other defensive end and Glen Dorsey (6-2, 299, Jr.) and Marlon Favorite (6-1, 295, So.) in the middle.
At linebacker LSU is a fast and active group that is paced by new starter Darry Beckwith. The 6-1, 232 sophomore leads the team with 15 tackles this season and uses his speed to track down opponents from sideline to sideline. Returning starter Ali Highsmith (6-1, 226, So.) and middle linebacker Luke Sanders (6-4, 235, So.) round out the starting unit for the Tigers. Highsmith is one of five returning starters for LSU on defense.
Much of that experience is in the secondary where seniors LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels patrol the middle of the field with a vengeance for the Tigers. A 6-2, 202, Landry is a head hunter that can be physical when needed but also plays the pass well. The same is true of the 6-0, 205 Daniels. On the outside returning starter Chevis Jackson (6-0, 190, Jr.) hasn't been challenged much to open the season, opening the door for junior Jonathan Zenon (6-0, 176) and he has responded with three interceptions already in 2006.
Just like any close football game Saturday could come down to special teams. That was where the game was won and lost last season and it could be that way again this time around. Sophomore Colt David (5-9, 175) handles LSU's kicking duties but has attempted just one field goal this season. Veteran Chris Jackson (5-11, 174, Sr.) is one of the league's top punters and is averaging 41 yards per kick on just two attempts. Chevis Jackson and Doucet are LSU's main returners.