GAME PREVIEW: No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn

After dismantling Arizona to move to 2-0 on the year, LSU will meet with its first real challenge of the season when they travel to Auburn, Ala., for a meeting with the 4th-ranked Auburn Tigers. Auburn is also 2-0 for the season, defeating Washington State 40-3 in the season opener and then topping another SEC West foe, Mississippi State, 34-0 in week two.

Against the Bulldogs, Auburn got off to a slow start.  They remained scoreless until the end of the first quarter when quarterback Brandon Cox connected with a touchdown pass to tight end Gabe McKenzie with 1:07 left in the opening quarter.


The Tigers would get it rolling from there, however, compiling 111 rushing yards and 277 passing yards on 32 attempts, to run away with the victory. The defense all looked strong against Mississippi State, holding the Bulldogs to just 161 yards of total offense.


When LSU and Auburn met last season, Auburn out-gained the Bayou Bengals 230 yards to 149 yards on the ground, as well as 31 more yards through the air.


Auburn held a three-point lead late in the game before LSU's Chris Jackson connected with a field goal in the game's final two minutes to send the game into overtime. He then connected with another one in OT to give LSU the win with a 20-17 score.


LSU leads the series with Auburn 21-18-1.


Leading the Auburn offense in 2006 is senior running back Kenny Irons, who led the conference in rushing last season with 1,293 rushing yards. When Auburn came to Baton Rouge in 2005, Irons ran for a career-high 218 yards in LSU's overtime victory.


Through two games this year, he has run for 252 yards and one touchdown, while his running back counterpart, Brad Lester, has accumulated 77 yards and three touchdowns, proving to be a scoring threat when defenses key in on Irons.


On the passing end of the offensive attack, junior quarterback Brandon Cox will be calling the shots from behind center. Cox, who started in 11 games as a sophomore, has thrown for 2,765 yards and 18 touchdowns since the start of last season, including 440 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games of this year.


In his first meeting against LSU, he completed 16 of 40 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown.


Aiding Cox in the air attack will be the receiving corps of Courtney Taylor, Rodgeriqus Smith, Lee Guess and Prechae Rodriguez. Taylor has led the wideouts through the first two games of the season with 154 yards, followed by Smith with 132 yards and one touchdown.


Taylor is also the leading receiver returning from last season, where he had 278 total yards and one touchdown. Auburn's top three receivers from a year ago were all seniors, leaving gaps to be filled by the young but talented corps.


Also contributing to the receiving game this season have been senior Cole Bennett and redshirt freshman Gabe McKenzie, who have hauled in a total of five catches for 60 yards and one score so far this year. Bennett has gotten the nod to start thus far this year, though McKenzie's 42-yard performance against Mississippi State may land him the job against LSU.


Paving the way for the offensive attack are Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth, a second-team All-SEC selection last season, at guard, King Dunlap and Jonathan Palmer at the tackles, and Joe Cope at center. Duckworth, Grubbs and Cope were all starters last season, while Palmer and Dunlap were both lettermen, though they were not regular starters.


On the other side of the line, Auburn loses all but one starting lineman from 2005, with defensive end Marquies Gunn being the lone returnee. Gunn, however, has yet to receive a start this season, with Quentin Groves, a letterman last year, making the appearance at end instead.


Also starting on the defensive front are Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Browder at tackle and Josh Thompson at nose guard. Marks has led the line through the early season with six tackles and 2.5 sacks, while Thompson has added four tackles and one sack.


Groves and Browder have each tallied three tackles.


Karibi Dede is the Tigers lone returning starting linebacker from last season, where he finished seventh on the team with 42 tackles. Dede will be joined by Will Herring at the other linebacker spot.


Herring led the team with 69 tackles last year from his free safety position before making the switch to linebacker prior to this season. His performance at safety also earned him a spot on the All-Conference team in 2005.


Through two games, Dede has a team-best 14 tackles, while Herring has accumulated seven tackles and one interception.


The greatest amount of experience on the Tiger defense in 2006 is found in the secondary, which features cornerbacks David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite and strong safety Eric Brock. Aaron Savage and Zach Gilbert have also started in the defensive backfield in both games this season.


Last year's strong safety, Steve Gandy, also returns to the squad, but he has played behind Brock thus far.


Irons, a starter and second-team All-SEC selection last year, led the Tigers with 11 pass deflections. Through two games, he has picked up the secondary's lone interception.


The special teams features Auburn's only first-team All-SEC player other than Kenny Irons in punter Kody Bliss, who averaged 44.9 yards per punt last season and put 14 kicks inside the 20-yard line.


Bliss has punted six times this season and is averaging 48 yards per punt with three ending up inside the 20.


John Vaughn serves as the Tiger place-kicker again this season, making all 50 extra point attempts and connecting with 12 of 20 field goal attempts last season.


Vaughn's distance was in question last year as he was 0-6 beyond 40 yards, though he has already been successful beyond that mark three times this season, including a 55-yard kick against Mississippi State. He is 6-7 on the season.


Matt Clark has handled kickoff responsibilities, with 13 of his 16 attempts resulting in touchbacks.


Tristan Davis is the Tigers' kickoff returner, with three returns for a total of 100 yards this year. Robert Dunn has handled punts, with 11 returns for 55 yards.

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