GUILBEAU: Tuberville began early on LSU

So how early Saturday did the coaches and players start thinking about LSU versus Auburn? Right after Jonathan Zenon's interception gave LSU a 10-0 lead over Arizona with 7:44 to go in the first quarter Saturday night?

Right after Auburn took a 14-0 lead over Mississippi State on tailback Brad Lester's 2-yard touchdown run with 11:35 to play in the second quarter Saturday afternoon?

 

Evidently, Auburn has a jump on LSU. Because Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville started thinking L-S-U right then - more than a full week before the 2:30 p.m. clash of the top 10 undefeateds on CBS in Auburn.

 

"Oh about 14-0," Tuberville said when asked the LSU question after his Tigers waxed Mississippi State 34-0. "You've always got them in the back of your mind because we know we have to beat them. I'm sure it's in the back of their mind because they know it's the same thing. There have been some great games over the last few years."

 

And Tuberville has won his share, whether he's looking ahead or not.

 

Since joining the SEC as Ole Miss' coach in 1995, Tuberville is 6-5 against LSU. As Auburn's coach, he is 4-3. The last two games have been decided by four points with Auburn winning 10-9 at Auburn in 2004 after a cheap call that gave Auburn another chance to make the extra point for the one-point lead in the final moments. Auburn went on to win the West and to an undefeated season.

 

LSU won 20-17 last year in overtime thanks to a voodoo hex on Auburn kicker John Vaughn, who missed 5-of-6 field goals, including one in overtime that gave LSU the win. LSU went on to win the West.

 

The winner gets the SEC West tiebreaker. Either Auburn (2-0) or LSU (2-0) has won the West in five of the last six years. The loser of this game has never won the West. This game has replaced Florida-Tennessee as the marquee early season title bout.

 

Tuberville actually started game planning for this game early this year when he hired former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp from a defensive assistant's job with the Miami Dolphins under former LSU coach Nick Saban, who was 2-3 against Tuberville. Muschamp is also a former graduate assistant coach at Auburn and a good friend of LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, a former quarterbacks coach at Auburn when Muschamp was there in the 1990s.

 

"Well, I've known Will from obviously working for Nick," said Tuberville, who is friends with Saban and they share agent Jimmy Sexton. "We liked what they did down there and how they did it. I like his enthusiasm. He's a young guy that is up and coming and got a great love for football."

 

Muschamp replaced David Gibbs and is Auburn's third defensive coordinator in as many years.

 

"You know when I lost my guy, I needed somebody who, No. 1, had run a defense and understood it," Tuberville said. "No. 2, he could give us some new options on putting some new things in for our book. Because being in this league for 12 years, people get a pretty good book on you of what you're going to do and how you're going to do it. Me being an old defensive coach, I thought that he'd have some new ideas. The other, I loved his work ethic and enthusiasm he brings to the game. He's done a good job. We're not a great defense right now, but we've got a chance to improve each week. I think he's done a good job."

 

Tuberville said Saban tried hard to keep Muschamp, who joined Saban's LSU staff in 2001 as linebacker coach and quickly rose to coordinator, then followed Saban to the Dolphins. LSU coach Les Miles offered Muschamp his same defensive coordinator post at LSU, but Muschamp turned it down for the NFL experience.

 

"Nick knew what he had," Tuberville said. "He gave Will a lot of rope over the years, and again he had a lot of opportunities to get better. Nick was very high on him.

 

"Will knows this league. Knowing this league really enticed me, too, other than bringing in somebody else that didn't know this type of league that we played in and the type of offenses."

 

Muschamp also knows LSU's personnel. He visited Mobile, Ala., with Saban in 2003 to recruit cornerback Chevis Jackson of St. Paul's High.

 

LSU quarterback JaMarucus Russell, who is also from Mobile, has had Auburn on his mind as well.

 

"Uh, now," Russell said to answer the Auburn question after LSU's 45-3 win over Arizona. "We just have to go in and have a good week of practice. Just grind it out and just get ready for next week's game. We didn't look ahead. We can't. We focus on the task at hand. We were on Arizona this week. Now it's Auburn. Now it's over and done with and time to focus on next week."

 

While Russell is trying to decipher Muschamp's blitz packages, LSU's defense will try to throttle senior tailback Kenny Irons, who gained a career-high 218 yards on 27 carries last season in Tiger Stadium and led the SEC in rushing with 1,293 yards.

 

"This week is going to be a much bigger task for us," LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon said.

 

Irons gained 183 yards in Auburn's season-opening, 40-14 win over Washington State - another Pac-10 patsy - and put up 69 yards at State. Irons also graded out at 99 percent for his blocking in the opener, but that was against a Pac-10 team.

 

"He's come light years since this time last year," Tuberville said.

 

And Tuberville has someone in the bullpen for Irons this time around. He is sophomore tailback Brad Lester, who gained 40 yards on five carries at State.

 

"He gives us a quicker guy other than Kenny," Tuberville said. "Kenny's more of a north and south guy who has a lot of speed now and can make you miss. But Brad is a kinda like throwing a curve ball. You throw fastball, fastball, fastball, then you put a curveball in the game. He's got very good hands, scored (vs. Washington State) on a screen. He's got tremendous acceleration. There's not a lot of difference between both of them."

The breezy Pac-10 part of LSU's and Auburn's schedules are done, and they were days at the beach.

 

"Next week will be a little bit more of a challenge," LSU coach Les Miles understated after the Arizona scrimmage.

 

It's LSU-Auburn.

 

The difference between a great season and a very good one rests in the balance.

 

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Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU and the Southeastern Conference for Gannett News Service. Read him at www.LSUbeat.com  or in the Shreveport Times, Monroe News-Star, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Lafayette Advertiser, Opelousas Daily World and occasionally USA Today. You can contact him at gguilbeau@gannett.com.


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