Les Miles' squad would have played three non-conference games heading into the Auburn matchup but the real test would come when his Tigers took their act on the road for the first time heading into hostile enemy territory.
Well, a lot of things have taken a different course as the Tigers have played only two games in a season that has been disrupted by hurricanes but the significance of this annual meeting remains the same even if it is only one game on the schedule.
“Obviously anytime you play a western division opponent it has very significant consequences,” said Miles said at his Monday press luncheon. “We approach it with the idea that it’s going to be fun to prepare and it’s definitely an important game. But very honestly, it only counts as one.”
The game may only count as one just as Miles alluded to but it is a very big one since the winner has gone on to win or tie for seven of the last eight western division crowns and has been to Atlanta six times this decade.
In fact, none of LSU’s quarterbacks that will make the trip have ever taken a snap in any venue other than Tiger Stadium but one couldn’t tell by listening to Hatch.
“You love playing at home in front of your fans but it’s fun to go one the road and play in a hostile environment too,” Hatch said. “It’s going to be a tough game and a tough place to play but we’re looking forward to it.”
LSU will bring in a dual-quarterback system with Hatch and redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee both getting time under center.
Does Miles have any advice he will share with his young quarterbacks?
“You can always equate a big game in your past with the environment you are walking into [at Auburn],” Miles said. “I just tell them to enjoy taking our team on the road and look forward to competing.”
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville has used two quarterbacks of his own this season with the exception of last week where starter Chris Todd played from start to finish in the 3-2 win over Mississippi State.
Just like LSU, the War Eagle’s passing game has not been particularly sharp in Tony Franklin’s first season as offensive coordinator but the defense has more than held its own and enters the game ranked third in the country in scoring defense allowing only five points a game.
“When you line up against them, there’s where the real challenge is going to be,” Miles said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to match our big guys with their big guys up front.”
The nature of Darry Beckwith’s injury remains unclear but Miles is optimistic that the senior middle linebacker will be able to return soon.
“It would be hard for me to tell you exactly, today, but I can tell you that everything went well [today] and we expect it not to be a tremendously significant injury,” Miles said of how long he expects him to be out.
Jacob Cutrera will fill Beckwith’s role and Miles is very confident that he will be able to step in and assume the responsibilities that Beckwith shouldered.
“I think Jacob Cutrera is a veteran player,” said Miles. “I don’t think there will be any real issue with him stepping in to communicate with the defense. I think he has earned the respect of this team and I don’t think there will be a problem with them joining to make calls. I will certainly miss Darry till we get him back. But, our guys will save him a spot. Certainly I think Jacob will do a great job in his absence.”
What About Byrd?
“We talked about him this morning, and I don’t think he’ll be limited much,” said Miles. “Obviously, today is a very short practice anyway, and we’re not going to do a lot, but he’ll be back and get every rep starting Tuesday.”