Saturday has arrived, and the annual LSU-Auburn rivalry is set to kick off at 6 p.m. (ESPN) inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Whether you plan on watching the game live on the Plains, at home on T.V., or listening to it on the go, it's time to boil down a week's worth of preparation to several key talking points.
Here, from an LSU perspective, are the three things I'll be watching most closely tonight.
Some will have a major impact on the visiting Tigers' ability to win the game. Others have more to do with tracking the progress this LSU team is making as bigger landmines (Florida, South Carolina, Alabama) loom on the horizon the next six weeks.
- The situation at the two offensive tackle spots
To me this is far and away the most important thing to monitor, and perhaps is the biggest question mark, on LSU's team entering the Auburn game. Les Miles and Greg Studrawa seem comfortable leaving Josh Dworaczyk out at left tackle in place of the injured Chris Faulk, opting for the straight swap while leaving Alex Hurst at his usual right tackle spot.
Questions surrounded Dworaczyk, who missed the 2011 season recovering from knee surgeries, heading into his second straight start versus Idaho. Then, late in the second quarter, he was part of a line that gave up consecutive sacks, came out of the game and reporters learned afterward he sustained a calf injury. It just doesn't seem likely that Josh D., a sixth-year senior, will make it through an entire season. At this juncture it seems more likely he'll deal with the same types of issues Ciron Black dealt with in his final season in purple and gold.
Still, he'll start at left tackle tonight and is expected to see a lot of Corey Lemonier lined up across from him. It'll be interesting to see how LSU does in pass protection. Five sacks of Zach Mettenberger through three games is too many. Don't be surprised to see tight end Chase Clement over on the left side helping out in a number of situations.
Last note on this subject: For two weeks now, Miles has hinted that the long-term solution to Faulk's absence might well be moving Hurst, the team's best offensive tackle, to the left side and playing young Vadal Alexander on the right. So far the coaching staff has been hesitant to throw Alexander into the fire during meaningful portions of the game. We'll see if that continues tonight, on the road against SEC competition.
- Lots and lots of youth on display for LSU
Here's a quick run-down of the first or second-year players expected to get a decent amount of run tonight at Auburn: CB Jalen Mills, CB Jalen Collins, S Micah Eugene, S Ronald Martin, DE Jermauria Rasco, DT Anthony Johnson, OG La'el Collins, OT Vadal Alexander, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham Jr., RB Jeremy Hill.
Now, a couple of those guys – like Beckham and Johnson – are already old pros at playing on the road in the SEC, having logged serious action as true freshmen. But for the rest this game represents something new, a challenge they haven't yet faced on the college level: playing a conference game away from home in a hostile environment.
How will they react? That's something I feel every LSU fan should be excited to watch unfold. Seeing Jalen Mills matched up against Emory Blake … or La'el Collins pulling around one end to lead the way for a counter play … or Jermauria Rasco going for two sacks in as many years versus Auburn. This is the future of LSU football, and it can take a big step toward growing up and maturing in front of your eyes tonight.
Where this youth will be tested the most is in the secondary. We'll see if the defensive backfield can erase the few mistakes made against North Texas and Idaho in front of a bunch of pom-pom shaking Barner fans.
- Mettenberger taking the reins in SEC play
Yes, LSU's first-year signal caller did see some time in Oxford a year ago, but this is truly his initiation into Southeastern Conference football. The Auburn Tigers may not be clicking on all cylinders, by any stretch of the imagination, but the athleticism and speed their defenders possess will be new to Mett.
Much like the youngsters mentioned above, it will be interesting to see how Mettenberger responds – not only to duress from a pass rush, but to all the screaming yahoos in the stands who, unlike the first three weeks, won't be wearing purple and gold. Communication will be more important for him tonight than it has been so far this season.
Then there's the question of how much the coaches will let him do. Through three games, Mettenberger is averaging only 22 pass attempts per contest. That number figures to go up, maybe by 5-8 attempts, against SEC opposition. But that may not necessarily be the case against the War Eagles, who are dreadful against the run.
It was fairly obvious in player interviews this week that Mettenberger would prefer to throw more, saying, "We definitely have the (passing) plays in, but we'll see what Coach Stud wants to call." He may have to be patient through at least one more week.
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