The SEC West is home to three huge showdowns on Saturday, and after Ole Miss-Alabama and Texas A&M-Mississippi State carry the spotlight early in the day, LSU-Auburn is set to close out the SEC’s monster slate with a meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium at night.
LSU and Auburn have experienced mixed success in SEC games in 2014. Auburn won its only conference matchup, defeating Arkansas 45-21, while LSU lost 34-29 to Mississippi State on Sept. 20. Considering the depth of the SEC West, there has to be some urgency on LSU’s part this weekend. An 0-2 deficit will not be easy to overcome in the West, and Saturday’s game against Auburn is a must-win situation for coach Les Miles.
LSU has won six out of the last seven meetings against Auburn. LSU’s defeated Auburn 35-21 last year, with Auburn’s last victory in the series coming in 2010 (24-17). LSU owns a 27-19-1 overall series lead over Auburn.
LSU at Auburn
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -8
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s Rush Defense
In LSU’s loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers allowed 302 yards on 49 attempts (6.2 ypc). And LSU’s struggles on the ground aren’t a one-game fluke. The Tigers gave up 268 yards to Wisconsin and 172 to New Mexico State. Total yardage can be a misnomer, but LSU’s defensive front is a significant concern. Youth is largely to blame for the Tigers’ problems against the run, as seven freshmen are listed as contributors up front. LSU has to be tougher and more aggressive at the point of attack to stop Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s offense averages 260.5 yards per game on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per touch. Malzahn has multiple weapons to choose from, starting with Cameron-Artis-Payne (5.4 ypc, 468 yards), Corey Grant (216 yards) and quarterback Nick Marshall (273 yards). Auburn’s offensive line isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit is still one of the better groups in the SEC.
2. LSU QB Brandon Harris
Anthony Jennings started LSU’s first five games, but true freshman Brandon Harris is slated to take the first snap against Auburn. In last week’s win over New Mexico State, Harris led LSU to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman has been significantly more efficient than Jennings (smaller sample size of course), completing 73.3 percent of his passes and tossing six touchdowns on 30 attempts. Harris is the better quarterback and should spark a passing attack that was inconsistent under Jennings’ direction. Making your first start on the road in the SEC is no easy assignment, so while Harris has played well, this is by far his toughest opponent. Auburn’s secondary has limited its opponents to just three touchdowns on 138 attempts, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 58.7 percent of their throws. This is a tough spot for Harris, but the limited sample size suggests he is capable of rising to the occasion. Can Auburn’s defense give the young quarterback a few different looks to confuse him on Saturday night?
3. Auburn’s Defense
In Ellis Johnson’s second year as Auburn’s defensive play-caller, the Tigers – at least so far – are performing better on the stat sheet. Auburn is allowing just 4.6 yards per play, an improvement after giving up 6.0 last season. Johnson’s defense is also limiting opponents to 16.3 points per game. With Harris starting his first game for LSU, expect coordinator Cam Cameron to utilize the rushing attack to decrease the pressure on his freshman quarterback. So far, Auburn has been steady against the run, holding opponents to just 90.8 yards per game. Can that success continue on Saturday? LSU’s strength on offense is its rushing attack, and Auburn needs to stop the ground game and force Harris to win this one through the air. So far, the stats say Auburn’s defense is improving. Will that theme continue on Saturday night?
LSU’s backs are against the wall. An 0-2 deficit in SEC play is difficult to overcome for any team in the West, so Les Miles’ team should be motivated. LSU defensive play-caller John Chavis has coordinated successful efforts against Auburn, limiting Auburn to 24 points or less in all four meetings against Gus Malzahn’s offense. Despite Chavis’ past success, it’s tough to see LSU containing Auburn for all four quarters. Harris should provide a spark on offense, and the rushing attack will have success, but LSU’s defensive struggles against the ground show up once again in the second half. The development of Auburn’s passing attack (and quarterback Nick Marshall) only adds to the difficulty of defending Malzahn’s offense. LSU hangs around early, but Auburn pulls away in the second half.