No. 9 Tigers set to host Auburn

The 2003 season did not start off quite like most Auburn fans expected. <br><br> Predicted by numerous publications to contend for the national championship, 5th-ranked Auburn lost to USC and Georgia Tech to open the season and dropped out of the Top 25 faster than you can say War Eagle. <br><br> The Tigers have bounced back to win five games in a row and sit atop the Southeastern Conference Western Division with a 4-0 league mark.

Perhaps LSU's biggest rival, the Auburn-LSU match-up has had its share of memorable moments.


Few rivalries in college football have had as many "named games" as the annual Tiger fight. Fans of both teams remember "The Interception Game", "The Earthquake Game," "The Night the Barn Burned Game", "The Cecil Collins Game," "The Bring Back the Magic Game," the "The Cigar Game in 1999," or "The Night the Band Battled the Kicker Game" of 2001.


LSU leads the overall series 19-17-1, but Auburn has won four out of the last six meetings against the Tigers, including a 31-7 victory over 10th-ranked LSU last season. Playing without running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Auburn still managed to dominate the Tigers on the ground, rushing for 216 yards on 45 carries. Tiger quarterback Marcus Randall was horribly ineffective against the Auburn defense, going 9-of-20 for 79 yards with four interceptions.


The offensive game plan has not changed for Tommy Tuberville's squad this season. Auburn relies on a power rushing attack to take the pressure off quarterback Jason Campbell. Lately, the Aubies have been quite successful in executing their plan.


Relying on a trio of big, strong running backs, Auburn is averaging 202.3 yards a game on the ground and an amazing 4.4 yards a carry. To-date, 18 of Auburn's 23 offensive touchdowns have come via the run.


Williams is the leader of the Auburn ground assault. The junior out of Attalla, Ala. has rushed for 713 yards on 138 carries for 10 touchdowns, six of which he scored in a 45-13 defeat of Mississippi State last week. The Cadillac is also averaging 22.8 yards on six kickoff returns this season.


A multiple-time SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Williams will face LSU for the first time in his career. Williams' 2001 season ended with a broken left clavicle against Alabama. In 2002, a fractured left fibula ended the season abruptly. Both injuries were suffered before the Auburn-LSU contest.


While Williams has been the workhorse of the Auburn rushing attack, Napoleonville, La. native Brandon Jacobs has had a solid season as well. The 6-4, 257-pounder has 382 yards on 61 carries and has scored a touchdown. Junior Ronnie Brown had an excellent game last season against the Tigers, rushing for 95 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns.


With the running attack being the strength of the Auburn offense, Tuberville and his staff have not had to rely on quarterback Jason Campbell to win games for them, rather just not lose them. Campbell has had a solid season at the helm for Auburn, going 89-of-145 for 1127 yards and five touchdowns, compared to only three interceptions.


The junior from Taylorsville, Miss. has been an accurate passer throughout his career. He has completed 61.4-precent of his passes this season while posting a 62.9-percent career mark, which ranks first in the Auburn record books.


Campbell's favorite target has been Jeris McIntyre (6-0, 207). The senior from Tampa, Fla. is Auburn's leading receiver catching 20 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Courtney Taylor (6-2, 192) has also hauled in 20 catches for 204 yards.


Returning four of five starters on the offensive line, the Auburn front is loaded with experience - and very big.


Left tackle Mark Pera (6-6, 312), left guard Troy Reddick (6-5, 297), center Danny Lindsey (6-2, 300), right guard Monreko Crittenden (6-5, 350), and right tackle Marcus McNeil (6-9, 329) have been the catalyst for the prolific Auburn rushing attack.


The enormous Crittenden was named a preseason second-team all-American by The Sporting News while McNeil is coming off a freshman season in which he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team by conference coaches as well as TSN.


Running a base 4-3 defense, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's squad is giving up just 277.7 yards of offense a game and a minuscule 12.4 points per outing. Auburn has nearly been impossible to run on this season, giving up 92.6 yards a game and holding opponents to under three yards a carry.


Senior nose tackle DeMarco McNeil (6-2, 300) leads a heralded Auburn defensive line. He has 30 tackles for the season and leads the team in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries with two.


With three of the four top tacklers on the team, the linebackers are the strength of the Auburn defense. Pre-season all-American Karlos Dansby (6-5, 235) has lived up to expectations so far, leading the team in tackles with 47 and sacks with four. Dansby had a career day against the Tigers in 2002, intercepting two passes and collecting eight tackles en route to being named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.


Another senior, Dontarrious Thomas (6-4, 238) has also had an outstanding 2003 season. Moved from weakside linebacker to the middle during the spring, Thomas has responded with 41 tackles, including five for losses and four quarterback hurries.


Rounding out the linebackers for Auburn is Travis Williams. The youngster of the group, the sophomore from Columbia, S.C. has 27 tackles on the season and is second on the team with three pass break-ups.


The Tigers' secondary has limited opponents to 185.1 yards a game through the air and only six touchdowns. Junior safety Junior Rosegreen (6-0, 185) is the top tackler in the Auburn secondary, collecting 21 tackles and is responsible for breaking up four passes this season.


While junior cornerback Kevin Hobbs (6-0, 179) may only have 15 tackles on the season, he has made his presence felt in several other ways. Hobbs leads the team with two interceptions and is tied for the team lead with four pass break-ups.


Having to replace all-everything Damon Duval on special teams, Auburn relies on a duo of players at place-kicker as well as punter.


True freshman John Vaughn has handled the short to mid-range field goals this season and has converted 4-of-8 attempts thus far. Junior Philip Yost handles the long field goals for Auburn and is 2-for-2 on the season with a long of 57 yards against Western Kentucky.


Another true freshman in Kody Bliss has handled the majority of the punting duties this season for Auburn. Punting 33 times, the Tennessee native is averaging 41.3 yards per kick with a long of 60 yards. Bliss has been a lethal weapon for the Auburn defense with 11 of his 33 punts pinning opposing offenses inside their own 20-yard line. Redshirt freshman Michael Gibson has four punts this season and is averaging 32.8 yards an attempt.


Perhaps the biggest weakness for Auburn has been their return game. Auburn has failed to gain hardly any significant yardage on kickoff and punt returns. Sophomore running back Tre Smith, a fourth string running back, handles a majority of the return duties for the Tigers. He is averaging just 9.5 yards a punt return and 17.2 yards per kickoff return.


Smith did have a career day against LSU last season as he rushed for 80 yards on only 11 carries and had a touchdown.

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