This is the seventh consecutive meeting where at least one team was ranked in the top 10 at the time and the second time in three years that both were ranked in the top 10.
Both teams have question marks on offense but both defenses are as good as you’ll find.
Everyone expects a close game and a defensive battle so let’s take a look and break it down to see how the two squads stack up against one another.
When LSU has the Ball
LSU’s Run Game vs. Auburn’s Rushing Defense
The Tigers have looked stout running the football in the first two weeks with Charles Scott leading the way but Auburn isn’t a patsy like the first two opponents. Scott has flashed some good tough inside running and the ability to break the long one but Auburn’s front four will put him to the test this week. Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy have four fewer carries combined than Scott’s 23, but the number to keep in mind is the 164 fewer yards the two have. Les Miles has been adamant all week about all three getting their chance on Saturday and they’ll need to because this will likely be the most physical game of the season for LSU and the Tigers will need some fresh legs in the fourth quarter.
It’s very doubtful that LSU will be able to run for its average of 241 yards against Paul Rhoads’ defense but the odds of Auburn holding LSU to only 53 yards like its stat sheet reads is even less likely. The battle in the trenches is where this game will be won and LSU must do a good job of double-teaming Sen’Derrick Marks because he is one of the best in the country at stuffing the run. The last time LSU traveled to Auburn the end result was a 7-3 loss and in that game the Tigers tried to run between the tackles but were unsuccessful as Tommy Tuberville’s defense held them to a paltry 42 yards on 23 carries. Back then Auburn had to worry about Jamarcus Russell and his trio of receivers that are all in the NFL but it’s a different story with Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee at the helm.
LSU’s Passing Game vs. Auburn’s Pass Defense
After two workmanlike performances against a couple of cupcakes it’s time to see if LSU’s quarterback tandem of Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee are ready for the big stage. Neither have played in an opposing team’s stadium on the college level and Jordan Hare Stadium will be as hostile as it gets on Saturday. Hatch’s strength has been keeping his composure and managing the game but how will he perform if the Tigers need a score late in the fourth quarter on the road? LSU comes in throwing for 201 yards a game with Hatch and Lee combined, and the two throw for 101 and 100, respectively. Both have struggled at times but both have also engineered drives where the Tigers had to go the length of the field, but only four touchdown drives have been 60 yards or more. The Tigers have not shown a whole lot in terms of Gary Crowton’s playbook so look for a heavy does of Richard Dickson lined up in the slot because he is going to be the young signal caller’s safety valve. Southern Miss burned Auburn all day with tight end Shawn Nelson, who is similar to Dickson in terms of what he brings to the table, so look for LSU to try and do the same.
Auburn’s secondary has picked off three passes and Jerraud Powe is one of the top corners in the SEC. The War Eagle’s are giving up 160 yards a game through the air but Southern Miss threw for 268 and had the secondary confused all game. LSU will have a decisive size advantage with its receivers matched up against Auburn’s corners but something to keep an eye on is how long LSU’s line gives its quarterback to throw. Antonio Coleman is one of the top defensive ends in the league and he will be bringing some serious pressure off the edge. Ciron Black should be able to handle it but when Coleman flips sides and goes against Joe Barksdale it will be a big challenge for the sophomore right tackle, who will be starting his first game on the road. Crowd noise is going to be a factor for LSU’s quarterbacks and will also be something that Barksdale and the other linemen will have to deal with because this will be the first time they will have to go to a silent count and go off ball movement this year.
Auburn’s secondary and front four are vey good, and that combined with the crowd and LSU’s inexperience under center gives Auburn a leg up.
When Auburn has the Ball
Auburn’s Run Game vs. LSU’s Rushing Defense
The War Eagles have a veteran offensive line with four starters back and a good running back in Ben Tate, who leads the team in rushing at 92 yards a game. Tommy Tuberville’s squad got some good news on Thursday when Brad Lester went full speed at practice and Tuberville says he will play on Saturday. That’s a big boost to the run game because it gives Auburn an inside-outside tandem and now it has that change-of-pace back it can go to. The Auburn running game could get another shot of adrenaline if backup quarterback Kodi Burns plays more and with LSU’s speed up front I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t see more time because he is much more mobile than the starter, Chris Todd. Auburn has run the ball effectively but when it went against an SEC defense last week at Mississippi State the Bulldogs held the War Eagles to only 161 yards. Granted Mississippi State’s defense is good but Auburn shot itself in the foot with penalty after penalty and three fumbles, including two by Todd. If the execution in Tony Franklin’s offense isn’t any better then it will be a long day for Auburn on that side of the ball.
LSU matches up very well with Auburn up front but how will the loss of Darry Beckwith affect the Tigers. And more importantly, how will his loss come into play with getting the signals in to Jacob Cutrera. The Tigers are allowing only 48 yards a game on the ground but now we’re talking about a top 10 team and not one from the FCS level or the Sunbelt Conference. Auburn’s traditional two-back offense is out in favor of the spread so LSU will have to play nickel or dime most of the game. It will be interesting to see if Cutrera will be able to make plays against the faster players at Auburn since he will have to cover more ground. The junior linebacker struggled at times last season but has looked good thus far in 2008.
Auburn’s front is good and the running game is solid but there is too much confusion on that side of the ball and LSU is too talented up front.
Auburn’s Passing Game vs. LSU’s Pass Defense
Auburn fans dreamed of a high scoring offense when Tony Franklin was named the offensive coordinator and they got that in the Peach Bowl when the War Eagles ran 90 plays, rolled up 423 yards of offense, and beat Clemson 23-20. Since then, though, there has been nothing but confusion and aggravation from the coaches all the way down to the players. Chris Todd has started the last two games and is completing 58 percent of his passes but he’s fumbled three times, losing two, and thrown one interception. Todd ran the spread in high school and in junior college so he is familiar with that type of offense but the problem is Auburn doesn’t have the personnel to run that system right now. Kodi Burns gives them a good running threat but his passing skills are not even close to Todd’s. Auburn has been good at spreading the ball around with 13 different receivers getting in on the action but no one has proved that they can be that go-to guy.
If LSU can get pressure on Todd and hit him a few times early then the Tigers could get the first-year starter rattled. Having a rattled leader in an offense that has been struggling could spell doom for Auburn and it’s time for Tyson Jackson to step up and bring the kind of heat he brought as a sophomore. Auburn is going to throw the ball downfield and force LSU’s young cornerbacks to have to make plays so it is imperative that the line applies pressure and doesn’t give Todd all day to throw the football. The quick passing game will not allow the Tigers to rack up a lot of sacks but every chance they get they need to hit Todd to let him know that they’re there. LSU is a well-conditioned team but Auburn will put that to the test with its no-huddle offense.
If we were taking only the secondary into account then this would be a little tougher to pick but with LSU’s D-line and Auburn’s lack of execution it isn’t.
LSU’s Special Teams vs. Auburn’s Special Teams
Anytime one team has to kick then the opposing coaches and fans will be holding their breath because two of the most dangerous return men in the conference will be on the field.
Trindon Holliday made a huge splash last week with his 92-yard punt return for a touchdown and then he almost broke another one but was dragged down after picking up 59 yards. The one thing that Holliday will have to be cautious of is his propensity to field the ball inside the 10-yard line trying to make the big play. He did so three times last week and although he fielded each punt cleanly he has dropped a few in the past. Giving Auburn a short field is something that LSU can’t afford to do. In saying that, Brady Dalfrey must do a better job of punting the football because a 29 yard average isn’t going to cut it. Sure, that average is skewed a little because of a couple of pooch punts and the wind he had to deal with last week but punting is a huge question mark and will have a big impact in this one. Colt David looked solid on his two field goals last week but deeper kickoffs are a must. The only saving grace is that LSU has been spectacular on covering kicks this year.
Trying to match Holliday’s returns will be Robert Dunn, who has averaged 21 yards a punt return and has taken one for a 66-yard score. Tommy Tuberville likes his ability to make the first guy miss and compares him favorably to Holliday but with not quite as much speed. While LSU’s punting game has struggled the same cannot be said for Auburn as Clinton Durst is averaging 43.7 yards a punt and has downed seven of his 19 kicks inside the 20. Auburn had one punt blocked against Mississippi State and a couple of others have been close so LSU needs to go after a few to try and flip the field. The kicking department has not performed as well as Tuberville thought it would with Wes Bynum connecting on only 5 of 8 field goals after nailing 17 of 23 last year.
Auburn usually has a big advantage over LSU in special teams but this year things are more even. If only LSU had a more consistent punting game the Tigers would have the edge.
LSU’s Coaching vs. Auburn’s Coaching
Auburn’s two new coordinators, Tony Franklin and Paul Rhoads, are highly thought of in the coaching profession. It will take a little time but Franklin will have his offense clicking once he gets his type of players in the system. Rhoads really has his defense playing well and it has adapted well to his system which plays more zone then what Will Muschamp used while he was at Auburn. A lot of people don’t like him but you have to give Tommy Tuberville credit for being one of the top coaches in the league.
You also have to give Les Miles credit for the job he has done on and off the field. Miles had to listened to the critics rant and rave about how this would be the year he falters since he is now playing with his players for the most part. But a win this weekend should silence many of those naysayers if last season’s national championship hadn’t already done so.
One of the keys for LSU to win this game is going to be running the football and the best way to do that is by spreading the field with four and five wide outs to get Auburn’s outstanding linebackers off the field and force Paul Rhoads to play more nickel and dime. If the Tigers can run the ball then that will take a lot of pressure off the quarterback, who must do a good job of keeping his composure and keeping the defense honest with some short to mid-range completions. LSU isn’t going to throw for 300 yards but if it can get in the 175-200 range then that should be enough.
Defensively, getting pressure on Chris Todd will make it a little easier, not only on the two corners but also on the linebackers in Jacob Cutrera and Perry Riley. It’s time for Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois to show that they are capable of filling the void left by Glenn Dorsey and this is the stage to do it on.
While establishing the run is critical this game is going to be won or lost on special teams and I think it will come down to field position. LSU can’t give Auburn a short field or make the bonehead mistakes it made last year against Kentucky and Alabama in the 15-yard variety.
LSU’s youth at quarterback will come into play in this one but the defense will keep the Tigers in the game. LSU has scored only two touchdowns in its previous three trips to Auburn but the Tigers will get into the endzone twice in this one and eek out a 17-16 win to give the visiting team its first win in this series since 1999.