Brandon Harris will make his first career start against an Auburn defense that ranks fourth in yardage allowed per game (313.2). The Plainsmen are only surrendering 90.8 yards per game on the ground (third in the SEC) and 222.5 yards per game in the air (seventh in SEC).
LSU had a decent amount of offensive success against Auburn a season ago. Zach Mettenberger threw for 229 yards, and Jeremy Hill ran wild for three touchdowns and 184 yards on the ground.
The new faces on LSU’s offense will have a challenge in front of them though facing Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense, which features a hybrid safety/linebacker in the STAR role.
We’ll provide a scouting report on that Auburn defense below, but first, here are the projected starters for Saturday’s game.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
DE: Davonte Lambert (Jr., 6-2, 293)
DT: Montravius Adams (So., 6-4, 306)
DT: Ben Bradley (Sr., 6-1, 303)
DE: LaDarius Owens (Sr., 6-2, 259)
STAR: Robenson Therezie (Sr., 5-9, 212) —OR— Justin Garrett (Jr., 6-1, 224)
MLB: Cassanova McKinzy (Jr., 6-3, 249)
WLB: Kris Frost (Jr., 6-2, 234)
CB: Jonathan Jones (Jr., 5-10, 182)
FS: Joshua Holsey (Jr., 5-11, 192)
BS: Johnathan Ford (So., 6-0, 199)
BC: Jonathon Mincy (Sr., 5-10, 196)
Key backups: LB Anthony Swain (Jr., 6-2, 249), LB Tre Williams (Fr., 6-2, 225), CB Trovon Reed (Sr., 6-0, 190), DT Gabe Wright (Sr., 6-3, 284)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Let’s start with that STAR position, which is a vital part of Johnson’s defense. Auburn has two productive options there, and they often use both on the field at the same time.
Robenson Therezie returns after starting all 14 games at STAR a year ago. He was facing eligibility issues during the offseason though, and that moved Justin Garrett up the depth chart in his place. Therezie was declared eligible just before the first game, and now both factor heavily into the Tigers’ game plan.
Therezie picked up where he left off last season, doing a bit of everything for this Auburn defense. He has nine tackles, 2.5 for loss and 0.5 a sack. He also has three quarterback hurries, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and one recovered. Auburn will play both he and Garrett in a variety of roles, both rushing the passer and dropping back in coverage. Brandon Harris will need to account for that position on all plays.
The two linebacker positions are a bit of a question mark entering this game though. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are still considered questionable for Saturday’s game after suffering injuries last week. McKinzy sustained a mild concussion against Louisiana Tech while Frost injured his leg.
Gus Malzahn said earlier this week the two linebackers were limited during practice, but he hasn’t ruled them out for the game this week. If they can’t play though, Auburn will be starting a less experienced duo in Anthony Swain and Tre Williams.
Swain replaced McKinzy last week and racked up four tackles with 1.5 for loss plus a quarterback hurry. Williams, the former five-star prospect, totaled seven tackles in place of Frost last week.
Along the defensive line, Montravius Adams, another former five-star, has had a breakout season for Auburn. He leads the defensive linemen with 13 tackles, including five for a loss. The sophomore also came five yards shy of returning an interception for a touchdown last week against Louisiana Tech. Davonte Lambert, a junior college transfer, currently leads the defense in sacks (2.5) in his first season with Auburn.
That defensive line has been a big strength for the Tigers, and LSU’s offensive line will have a big challenge this week.
LSU may have an advantage going against the Auburn secondary though. Both of their opposing corners measure 5-foot-10, which gives LSU’s outside receivers — Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre — a leg up in the height department. Jonathan Jones has also had his problems in coverage, getting beat several times in that narrow victory against Kansas State two weeks ago.
Those Auburn defensive backs spend a lot of time around the ball though. Jonathon Mincy, Johnathan Ford and Joshua Holsey rank second, third and fourth in tackles. That trio has combined for 71 takedowns this season.
But with Auburn’s stout defensive front, LSU could try to exploit their weakness in pass coverage if the coaches have enough faith in Harris to let him test it.