Miles, Tigers turn focus to Auburn

Saturday, Sept. 16 has been a date circled on many calendars around the country for quite some time. Although it is only the third weekend of the college football season, it is no doubt the biggest Saturday of the 2006 season. A number of big games dot the lineup this Saturday including Florida-Tennessee, USC-Nebraska, Oklahoma-Oregon, Miami-Louisville and Michigan at Notre Dame.

But there is no bigger game anywhere Saturday than in Auburn, Ala. when LSU visits the Tigers in a game being billed the "SEC Game of the Year."


Five of the last six years, the winner of the LSU-Auburn game has gone on to win the SEC West and represent the division in the championship game in Atlanta. This year, LSU and Auburn are currently the two highest ranked teams in the SEC and the outcome of Saturday's game could go a long way in determining the overall 2006 SEC champion.


On Monday, coach Les Miles met with the media before he and the Tigers began making preparations for this weekend's clash.


"The Auburn Tigers, ranked No. 3, are a tremendous football team," Miles said. "You look at them on film and understand why they are third-ranked."


"In big games there is a lot of motivation," Miles added. "This football team understands who we play. There will be very few differences in our game-week regiment. There will be a lot of differences in how we approach the game in terms of extra time and our players wanting extra time. It is a lot of fun preparing for a traditional opponent in a key rivalry game. It's why you play football."


Auburn (2-0) has faced very little opposition in the first two weeks of the season. The Tigers drilled Washington State 40-14 before shutting out Mississippi State last Saturday 34-0. LSU (2-0) handled UL-Lafayette and Arizona with identical 45-3 blowouts.


"Last week's game against Arizona, I felt there was real improvement in several areas," Miles said. "Offensively, it appears we were more balanced and had the ability to run the football when we wanted to. That was important. Defensively, we were dominant the entire day. We played with great intensity from the start."


Miles did say, though, LSU still has room for improvement despite the lopsided scores of the first two games.


"None of those areas are without correction or adjustment," Miles said. "We must improve to play our best opponents. It was a good day."


While LSU seems to be clicking on all cylinders, they will face the toughest of tasks Saturday going to No. 3 Auburn. LSU hasn't won in Jordan-Hare Stadium since a 31-19 victory in 1998. Since that win, the Tigers have lost three straight games on the Plains by scores of 34-14 (2000), 31-0 (2002) and 10-9 (2004).


"They have a quality, quality football team," Miles said. "I don't think there is any question. We look forward to preparing for them. I think you will find that there will be a lot of enthusiasm around our building with the guys looking to get after and play a traditional (SEC) Western opponent."


Realistically, the contest counts as just one game on the schedule. But in terms of the determining the SEC West, it actually can create a two-game swing considering the outcome of head-to-head competition in the case of a tie. Miles tried to downplay the significance of the game, but he understands what is at stake.


"We understand that this only counts one," Miles said. "We understand that at the end of the year in one of the areas, it's either a 'W' or under the 'L', but it is a very big one. We look forward to preparing for Auburn."


Offensively, the Auburn Tigers have a talented backfield duo in Kenny Irons and Brad Lester. While Auburn does have a run-first mentality, they will go to the air with quarterback Brandon Cox.


"On offense, with Kenny Irons and Brad Lester and Brandon Cox, the quarterback, they are very efficient," Miles said. "They run the football well. Brandon Cox has yet to throw an interception this year. He is a very, very quality quarterback. He handles checks and the mechanism of their offense very well.


"Their offensive line has graduated a number of guys. You'd expect there might have been some falloff, but it appears to me that have replaced those veterans with quality guys inside. They come off the football and check the passer extremely well. Their wide receiver go-to guy, Courtney Taylor, has had several big games and is off to a fast start.


"Defensively, we are going to have to prepare well. They are awfully talented, and we look forward to that challenge."


The Auburn defense was faced with filling some holes from last season, but through two games already this season, new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's defense doesn't look to be missing a beat.


"On defense, their front is a group of guys that really play concept well. They understand where they are supposed to be. Everybody is in their appropriate spot and designation. Their front seven are really capable.


"Probably their biggest test is at linebacker. Will Herring is a guy that gets to the ball. He plays a number of roles for them. He is a very capable of guy. There is another Irons in their secondary, a very talented corner. They always seem to be in the right spot. They make great adjustment and formation changes. They are a very aggressive defense.


One of the more interesting things to watch is the type of scheme with which Auburn plays defense. Muschamp was defensive coordinator at LSU under Nick Saban when the Tigers won the 2003 national title. He is familiar with LSU and knows JaMarcus Russell and the Tiger offense very well.


"Will Muschamp has done a great job with them," Miles said. "They've incorporated it appears to us, a nice okie package that they haven't had before. They have used it extensively in the first two weeks. We look forward to attacking that defense."


Miles handed out the weekly team awards on Monday. Jacob Hester was named the offensive player of the week while Darry Beckwith took home defensive honors. Jason Spadoni was tabbed the special teams player of the week.


Hester was workhorse Saturday touching the ball 14 times, including eight rushing attempts and six receptions. He scored two touchdowns.


"Everything you ask him to do, he does well," Miles said of Hester. "He was the guy who tackled the punter and got credited for a blocked punt at Arizona State. From special teams, to fullback, to tailback, in really anything you ask him to do, he is capable. He takes his responsibility and his role on this team very seriously. He's a guy we count on."


Miles pointed out several other players who stood out Saturday.


"(DE) Tyson Jackson has been off to a fast start in two games," Miles said. "He's playing at the level that we would have anticipated. I think we can look forward to his continued improvement. (LB) Darry Beckwith is also off to a fast start. Here is a guy who is young and had some experience last fall. This fall he is playing extremely strong, very aggressive and understands the defense and what is expected of him. We are enjoying it."


On the injury front, Keith Zinger appears to be doubtful for this weekend's contest at Auburn. Zinger is suffering from an intestinal condition. Peter Dyakowski, who broke a bone in his hand on Saturday, is expected to play.


"Zinger is better and there is an upbeat outlook," Miles said. "But we don't know if he'll play this week. Dyakowski will be fine. He will be splinted, protected and he will play."

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