Getting to Know: Auburn

The War Eagles have struggled out the gate in 2012, losing two of three. How will Auburn respond with No. 2 LSU in town this weekend?

A year removed from exiting Tiger Stadium 45-10 losers to LSU, Auburn enters the 2012 tilt between the two 20-point underdogs, even with the game taking place inside the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

One quick look inside the numbers confirms the mismatch that Vegas is predicting.

Auburn enters this weekend's western division showdown last in the SEC in a slew of offensive categories, including passing offense (160.7 ypg), total offense (336.0 ypg) and scoring offense (20.0 ppg).

Then, perhaps most damning for the War Eagles, Gene Chizik's defense, under first-year coordinator Brian VanGorder (formerly at Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons) is last in the SEC and 107th in the country in run defense, surrendering 217.0 yards per game.

LSU, playing a physical brand of Les Miles football through three games, is the conference's top rushing outfit, averaging 269.3 yards per game on the ground.

But statistics and numbers can only offer a partial glimpse into what could happen when previewing an SEC game.

As always there are behind-the-scenes factors that affect the emotion, intensity and overall situation when two teams like Auburn and LSU tee it up. This Saturday is no different.

At 1-2, with consecutive home games versus LSU and Arkansas on the docket, Auburn will play like a team desperate to avoid a 1-4 start.

Any team backed into a corner like that will exhaust all options and effort to get off the schneid. In some ways, that makes vulnerable Auburn a dangerous opponent.

Then there's the fact that this is the first SEC game of the year, much less first road SEC game, for LSU. It also doubles as the first conference contest for Zach Mettenberger as a starting quarterback and many of the youngsters playing for the first time, most of whom suit up in the secondary.

How quickly those SEC newbies adjust and adapt to life on the road will greatly affect how long this one stays competitive and close on the Plains.

Auburn Offense

Projected Starters: QB – Kiehl Frazier, RB – Onterio McCalebb, WR – Emory Blake, WR – Trovon Reed, WR – Quan Bray, TE – Philip Lutzenkirchen, LT – Greg Robinson, LG – John Sullen, C – Tunde Fariyike, RG – Chad Slade, RT – Avery Young

Key Rotational Players: RB Tre Mason, FB Jay Prosch, WR Travante Stallworth

The War Eagle offense is most potent on the ground. Even without Michael Dyer, the team's leading back the past two seasons, Aubie has managed to stay solvent rushing the football under first-year offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler.

The blue and orange are rattling off 175.3 yards per game rushing, led by 221 yards (on 44 carries) by Tre Mason. Speedster Onterio McCalebb is right in that same area, having gained 214 yards on 31 carries.

Mason and McCalebb carry the mail in different ways, however.

Mason, at 5-10, 198, isn't afraid to mix it up in the middle, running between the tackles and giving Auburn more of a semblance of a pro-style rushing attack than it had during the Gus Malzahn years. McCalebb, at 5-11, 173, is more in the scat-back mold, a player who can be caught behind the line or turn the corner and ruin your day with a long gain.

It's through the air where Auburn is really struggling.

First-year starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who won the job over Clint Moseley, has completed 34 of his 67 passes (50.7%) for 449 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.

The home Tigers will likely take a cue from North Texas and Idaho, ensuring that the ball gets out quickly on safe, short throws to protect Frazier from a fiendish LSU pass rusher and ball-hawking secondary.

Emory Blake is the team's leading receiver with 166 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.

Still, the more Auburn has to pass the worse its chances are Saturday night.

Auburn Defense

Projected Starters: DE – Dee Ford, DE – Corey Lemonier, DT – Angelo Blackson, DT – Jeff Whitaker, SLB – Jonathan Evans, MLB – Jake Holland, WLB – Daren Bates, CB – Chris Davis, CB – Ryan White, FS – Ryan Smith, SS – Jermaine Whitehead

Key Rotational Players: DB Demetruce McNeal, DB T'Sharvan Bell, DT Kenneth Carter

Much like the offensive side of the ball, nothing's been great here. But one facet has been better than the other.

Auburn has fared slightly better versus the pass than run.

The War Eagle defense has conceded 225.0 yards passing per game, which is not great by any means but is manageable thanks to the solid pass rush that accompanies it.

Led by stud end Corey Lemonier (16 tackles, team-high three sacks), Auburn averages 2.3 sacker per game, sixth in the SEC. Expect Lemonier and bookend mate Dee Ford to cause some matchup problems for Josh Dworaczyk at left tackle and, if he plays much, freshman Vadal Alexander at right tackle.

Auburn has only one interception to its name on the season, and that pick belongs to linebacker Daren Bates, a senior who also leads the team and SEC with 38 total tackles.

Defending the run has been almost as futile as throwing the pigskin for Aubie in 2012.

Clemson (320 yards), Mississippi State (166 yards) and ULM (165 yards) have all gashed the Plainsmen in the running game during portions of their contests, and none of those teams project to have the type of steamrolling ground game LSU possesses.

Look for this to be the ultimate mismatch of the game.

LSU's guard-center-guard core of La'el Collins (6-5, 321), P.J. Lonergan (6-4, 305) and Josh Williford (6-7, 332) are just too big and too good for the Auburn defensive tackle tandem of Angelo Blackson (6-4, 308) and Jeff Whitaker (6-4, 307), or rotational player Kenneth Carter (6-4, 289).

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