Who has the edge?
Another week, another backup quarterback for the opponent and another chance for LSU fans to appreciate a guy like Jarrett Lee sticking it out through hard times to give the Tigers a veteran leader when things could’ve unraveled in a storm of pre-season controversy. Lee continues to run the offense well and the re-emergence of Jordan Jefferson and a two-quarterback system is working well and making LSU even more formidable.
Running back: Auburn
AU has two proven veterans in Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb to rely on and both had success against LSU last season when Cam Newton led a dominating day on the ground. Both are electric, home-run types when they get the chance. LSU’s running game took a hit with Spencer Ware’s suspension, but could be more diverse and dangerous without the bull-dozing sophomore. But Auburn has two proven weapons.
Receivers/tight ends: LSU
If Emory Blake and Trovon Reed were healthy, this might be a spot to debate, especially with the season tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is having (11 catches for 108 yards, 3 TDs). But Auburn’s top two receivers are 50/50 at best, while LSU’s duo of Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. are healthy and have been more productive than AU’s best threats anyway. Russell Shepard is making a nice impact and DeAngelo Peterson – though erratic – is always a threat. LSU also has more depth with Kadron Boone, James Wright, Jarvis Landry and Armand Williams.
Offensive line: LSU
With PJ Lonergan and T-Bob Hebert healthier and ready to go, LSU can rely on seven veterans up front against a defense that is struggling to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Auburn has clamped down against the run the last few weeks, but is vulnerable to schemes with diversity and multiple threats. AU has had its own success on the ground, but Dyer was limited to 73 yards last week by an athletic Florida defense.
Defensive line: LSU
Although Ken Adams may be limited this week, the depth up front will ensure that LSU doesn’t miss a beat. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are two of the peskier pass rushers in the SEC, and Mike Brockers, Bennie Logan, Josh Downs and Anthony Johnson figure to take away most of the running lanes Dyer and McCalebb will look for inside. With a first-time starter at quarterback, the LSU pass rush will have some chances to do some damage. Corey Lemonier has been a major impact player with an SEC-best six sacks and 12 quarterback hurries, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help.
This is the strength of AU’s defense, featuring three of the unit’s top four tacklers – Neiko Thorpe (50, 2 interceptions), Daren Bates (49, 8 QB hurries) and Jake Holland (37, 3½ tackles for loss). LSU’s backers are coming on for sure, especially Kevin Minter and Tahj Jones. But there are still occasionally some gaping holes in the middle of the defense on running plays.
Yeah, the secondary will look very different without Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon. But LSU’s depth and talent in the defensive backfield is better than most teams in the country, especially an Auburn defense that ranks 12th in the SEC allowing 222 yards a game. Two of the last three foes have thrown for 160 yards or fewer, but if LSU can generate the kind of balanced offense it has used most of this season, there should be some chances to throw the ball downfield.
Special teams: Even
It’s almost impossible to distinguish where either team has a huge edge in any of the kicking games. Both punters have been weapons, both teams have potentially explosive kick returners and now LSU will likely hand the punt-return reins to Odell Beckham Jr., which could enhance their chance for home runs in that facet of special teams.