The 2019 college football season has seemingly been lagging in high-profile action outside of SEC games, and America's top conference is ready to deliver to fans again Saturday when No. 9 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) travels to Baton Rouge to square off against No. 2 LSU (7-0, 3-0). The SEC West divisional showdown has conference title and College Football Playoff implications.
Auburn takes the 420-mile track southwest to Death Valley on Saturday, fresh off a revitalizing 51-10 road win against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Tigers poured on 34 second-half points against the Hogs, rushing for 298 yards off 51 carries with three scores in the win. The romp was a nice victory that took off the sting of a 24-13 road loss in Week 6 to then-No. 10 Florida. Auburn has worked its way into one of the nation’s best behind a ground game that averages 240 yards per game and a stout defense that holds opponents to 319 total yards per game.
LSU takes its home field Saturday afternoon knowing that it took down Florida, 42-28, just one week after the Gators took down Auburn. When Auburn could only muster 269 yards of total offense against the Gators, LSU fired off for 511. And while neither defense excelled against Florida statistically, Auburn was able to limit the Gators to 398 yards, whereas LSU gave up 457. The question remains: Can LSU get the same kind of production against another stout defense?
Auburn at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -10.5
When Auburn Has the Ball
As the Tigers’ run game goes, so goes the team. Auburn is at its best and winning games when the trenches are controlled by its linemen and the running backs are popping off clock-eating and drive-propelling runs. In its lone loss, Auburn was limited to 124 rushing yards in 34 attempts and failed to reach the end zone. Since JaTarvious Whitlow went down with a knee injury, the rotation has focused on Kam Martin. Martin had a game-high 84 yards against the Razorbacks off 10 carries. Watch for freshman D.J. Williams against LSU. The Auburn staff is high on his talent and hope he can be a difference-maker.
With true freshman Bo Nix directing the passing game, Auburn has kept the aerial assault to a minimum. As a unit, the team has only gone over 200 passing yards twice with a best of 361 yards against Mississippi State. Nix was efficient and on point against the Hogs, completing 12 of 17 for 176 yards with three scores. Seth Williams, Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz are Nix’s top targets. Williams is the clear-cut leader of the group in receptions (25), yards (458), and touchdowns (7).
One of the more exciting in-game matchups will be the strength of Auburn’s rushing attack against LSU’s run defense. LSU’s total defense is ranked 24th nationally out of 130 FBS teams on the back of a unit holding teams to 93.3 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Jacob Phillips continues to shine, leading the team in tackles (57), while safeties JaCoby Stevens and Grant Delpit are arguably the conference’s best one-two punch in the secondary.
When LSU Has the Ball
Auburn and Florida are statistically even on defense, giving fans a good barometer of what to expect from Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Burrow this weekend. Burrow is the second-leading passer in the nation with 2,484 yards, tied for the lead in passing touchdowns (27), and leading in completing rate (79 percent). This notion does not equate to great success for Auburn. Burrow was electric against the Gators, hitting on 21 of 24 pass attempts for 293 yards with three touchdowns.
Because the passing attack is so impressive, averaging 386 yards per contest, the Tigers' run game tends to get overlooked. The team is pushing the ball downfield an average of 154 yards per game but has shown progress of late with back-to-back 200-plus yard games against Utah State and Florida. However, Mississippi State did a great job of hemming LSU to a season-low 86 yards on 25 carries last week. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is guiding the group with 547 yards and seven scores.
Auburn has seen good passing offenses in Oregon, Florida, and Texas A&M, but nothing like LSU. Only A&M has been able to cross the 300-yard mark, dropping back 31 times for 335 yards with two touchdowns. Tigers safety Jeremiah Dinson gets the headlines, but it is Auburn’s three-man front, led by three-time 2019 SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week Marlon Davidson at end, who gasses this engine. Davidson leads the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (8.5).
LSU is talented and balanced enough to test Auburn’s standout defense, but will the visiting offense pick up enough of the burden by putting points on the board in a hostile environment? LSU has the defense to slow Auburn’s roll on the ground by pitting strength against strength. If Auburn can get big third-down plays from Nix, either with his arm or legs, this meeting promises to be a slugfest that could go down to the wire. If Burrow has another typical day at the office, keeping up with LSU’s scoring proficiency may be too much to ask a limited Auburn offense.
LSU has won six of the last eight in this series, but the last three have been thrillers decided by 10 total points, including the 22-21 affair a year ago that was capped by a 42-yard Cole Tracy field goal as time expired, giving the Tigers a win in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Prediction: LSU 42, Auburn 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.