No. 2 LSU (3-0, 0-0) travels to the Plains this Saturday to take on Auburn (1-2, 0-1).
Les Miles' men are big favorites in the game, but rest assured the visiting Tigers will take nothing for granted. After all, Miles has only come away from Jordan-Hare Stadium victorious once (2008) in three tries.
Here are, in one man's opinion, five keys to the game for LSU.
1. Pound the rock. Pound it again. Pound it some more.
No Alfred Blue, no problem. No. 4 might have been in the best form of any LSU back, but, despite his absence due to injury this weekend, the Bayou Bengals would be wise to keep it on the ground. Red-zone terror Kenny Hilliard (303 yards, 6 TD) and Spencer Ware, fresh off a game's rest versus Idaho, are more than capable enough to provide the physical quotient Blue brought to the table. Add in speedy Michael Ford (107 yards) and newcomer Jeremy Hill (61 yards, 2 TD), and there's just no way Auburn, the SEC's worst run defense, can take the physical pounding these guys bring for four quarters. Especially not when you consider these backs are following fullback J.C. Copeland and tight end Chase Clement, two of the country's best blockers at their respective positions.
2. Keep it real simple with the offensive line.
LSU still finds itself in a position of some uncertainty in replacing left tackle Chris Faulk, who sustained a long-term injury days after the season opener versus North Texas. Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk has been the answer so far, but questions abound as to his ability to last a full season after missing all of last year recovering from knee surgeries. Josh D. also sustained a calf injury in last week's in over Idaho. With him learning on the go at left tackle – and the possibility of shifting Alex Hurst to the left side and slotting frosh Vadal Alexander in on the right – there's too much of a musical chairs feel to get too complex with the pass protection schemes. Considering Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford are tried-and-true pass rushers for Auburn, LSU, which has already given up five sacks this season, must do everything it can to protect Zach Mettenberger. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to leave Clement in for assistance from time to time.
3. Gang up on the run and invite the pass.
This horse has been beaten to death so far this season, but the simple fact is, at least right now, Kiehl Frazier ain't beating anybody with his arm. (Before LSU fans laugh too much, don't forget there used to this Jefferson guy on campus not too long ago that brought similar issues.) Given Frazier's lack of prowess in the passing game, expect LSU to go back to John Chavis' preferred 4-3 front this week. Much of the first three games had been spent in nickel (4-2-5) sets, combating pass-first offenses. Vastly different feel this week. It's imperative LSU crowd the line of scrimmage, stop the run with numbers and force Frazier to air it out. Corners Tharold Simon and, to a lesser extent, Jalen Mills have shown their capable of playing man defense behind an aggressive front seven (or eight).
4. Do not kick it to Onterio McCalebb.
There's just no reason to chance it. Yes, everybody remembers LSU, mainly Jarvis Landry, claiming souls on kickoff coverage during last year's Auburn game. It was demoralizing. It was effective. It ended the competitive portion of the contest. But this is a different season, and the visiting Tigers, who will be playing a lot of SEC first-timers this Saturday, don't have that point to prove. The smarter play is never giving Auburn the opportunity to bolster its sputtering offense with a kick-return for six. McCalebb has already done it this year at Mississippi State, and LSU can't afford a repeat on the Plains this weekend. Kick-off specialist James Hairston has leg for days. Boot it through the end zone. Make Auburn drive 75 yards to beat you. So far in 2012, that's proven a difficult task for the War Eagles.
5. Lean on veterans early, get youngsters experience late.
In some cases this won't be possible. LSU has to rely on true freshman Jalen Mills as its starting corner and preferred option at nickel back. Ditto for redshirt freshmen Jalen Collins (third corner) and Micah Eugene (dime back). But, just about everywhere else, LSU can point to experienced starters who know all about what it takes to win on the road in SEC play. Let those players, many of whom have a bad taste in their mouths from losing to Cam & Co. in 2010, take the lead in the early going. Then, so as to ready the young players for future SEC tilts (where they'll inevitably be needed), carve out time for Vadal Alexander at right tackle, Elliott Porter at center, Debo Jones and Kwon Alexander at linebacker and Jeremy Hill at running back. That's simply the best all-around use of this game for LSU.
Keys to the Victory: Auburn
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