But before the battle of the Tigers ensues, TSD is providing scouting reports on both sides of the ball for the defending SEC champs.
Up first: An examination of Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offense, a group that hasn’t yet lived up to the high bar set a season ago but is still churning out 42.3 points per ballgame.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
RB: Cameron Artis-Payne (Sr., 5-11, 210)
WR: D’haquille Williams (Jr., 6-2, 216)
WR: Sammie Coates (Jr., 6-2, 201)
WR: Ricardo Louis (Jr., 6-2, 212)
H-Back: Brandon Fulse (Sr., 6-4, 258)
LT: Shon Coleman (So., 6-6, 310)
LG: Chad Slade (Sr., 6-5, 315)
C: Reese Dismukes (Sr., 6-3, 295)
RG: Avery Young (So., 6-6, 315)
RT: Patrick Miller (Jr., 6-7, 289)
Key Backups: TE C.J. Uzomah (Sr., 6-5, 264), RB Corey Grant (Sr., 5-11, 205), WR Quan Bray (Sr., 5-10, 195), WR Marcus Davis (So., 5-9, 180)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Auburn can morph into various looks offensively, going with Fulse as a blocking H-Back or Uzomah as a tight end with pass-catching ability, but you can count on at least three receivers to be on the field the majority of the time. What’s more, Malzahn’s options at wide-out are varied. The three typical starters – Williams, Coates and Louis – go an average of 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, providing Marshall big-bodied targets with big-play capability in the vertical passing game. Then there are the next two guys up at WR, Bray and Davis. Both 5-foot-10 and under, they are the quick, change-of-pace options who help move the chains, test slot defenders and could possibly even participate in the run game, stretching a defense horizontally.
- Unlike Mississippi State’s dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott, who’s more dangerous with his arm, Marshall’s legs must be accounted for first. As ITAT’s Mark Murphy detailed, Marshall has actually taken a step back as a passer in 2014, particularly with his completion percentage. That’s all the more reason for an LSU team with a stout secondary to take its chances with Marshall through the air, allowing the corners to play man coverage, and commit men and schematic resources to stopping the run. Marshall is rushing for 68.2 yards/game and leads Auburn with an average of 6.5 yards/carry.
- Up front the offensive line is led by seniors Dismukes and Slade. The duo has started a combined 80 games, and individually they rank first and second on the entire Auburn team with 41 and 39 starts made, respectively. And for the issues Marshall has had passing, they aren’t for a lack of protection. Auburn signal callers have been sacked only two times through four games. For what it’s worth, the average size of the starting AU O-Line: 6-foot-5.5, 305 pounds. Yup, it’s SEC play all right.
- Tempo is still a major part of the game for Malzahn. Four games in the Auburn offense has run the following amount of plays: 70, 73, 76, 70. In the process the War Eagles have rolled up 98 first downs compared to only 74 first downs from its opposition. It stands to reason Malzahn & Co. will try to wear down an LSU defense that’s struggling up front in a similar fashion. This forces a defense’s hand in terms of depth. John Chavis has extra bodies he can rely on in the back seven, but there are major questions about who the Tigers can turn to, and how effective they’ll be, up front.
- One final note: Because of how spread out the Auburn offense tends to be, this will be a game where defensively LSU figures to be in more of a base nickel look. That makes the recent injury to sophomore Dwayne Thomas all the more critical. His replacement, true freshman Jamal Adams, has the tools to be even better than Thomas in run support (the good news playing against Auburn), but he'll be put to the test when it comes to sticking stride-for-stride in coverage with the likes of Bray (the bad news). Look for this to be an interesting part of the chess match Saturday night, an influential game within the game.