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Auburn Tigers vs. LSU Tigers Preview and Prediction

Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette

Auburn and LSU renew their annual rivalry in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon, as the Week 3 all-Tigers matchup is a crucial one in the rugged SEC West. LSU opened conference play with a 20-19 victory over Mississippi State last Saturday, while Auburn needed overtime to survive Jacksonville State. It’s only Week 3, but there’s plenty at stake in this matchup. While a loss here certainly doesn’t end the conference title hopes of either team, the SEC West is loaded with seven quality teams and there’s little margin for error.

While last week was certainly troubling for Auburn, coach Gus Malzahn’s team was shorthanded due to a few injuries on defense, and there was the look ahead factor to this matchup against LSU. For coach Les Miles’ Tigers, LSU’s passing game remains a question mark, but there’s no doubt this team can win a lot of games on the strength of running back Leonard Fournette and a strong defense.

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 3

LSU owns a 27-21-1 edge in the overall series and has won three out of the last four against Auburn. Coach Gus Malzahn’s team won last year’s meeting in convincing fashion (41-7). However, Auburn has not won in Baton Rouge since 1999.

Auburn at LSU

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: LSU -7

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Three Things to Watch

1. Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson

Johnson was widely considered one of college football’s rising stars this preseason, and the junior was picked by most as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks for 2015. However, the hype hasn’t matched the production through two weeks. Johnson struggled in last week’s win over Jacksonville State and has passed for 373 yards and three passing scores in 2015. However, the junior also has five interceptions and is not the dynamic running threat his predecessor (Nick Marshall) was for the Auburn offense. Is this the game where Johnson starts to figure it out? LSU’s secondary is among the nation’s best, but top safety Jalen Mills is still sidelined with a leg injury. The Tigers allowed 335 passing yards in last week’s win over Mississippi State, with a good chunk of it coming in the second half. A strong performance by Johnson would significantly boost the odds of Auburn pulling off a road upset.

Related: SEC Week 3 Predictions

2. Stopping LSU RB Leonard Fournette

The success of LSU’s offense starts with Fournette. Despite question marks about the passing attack and going against extra defenders in the box, Fournette gashed Mississippi State for 159 yards and three scores. If Fournette continues that production, he will be among the leading candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in December. The sophomore faces a similar storyline on Saturday afternoon, as Auburn hopes to slow the ground attack and force LSU to win this one through the air. Auburn’s defense is allowing 199.5 rushing yards per game, but end Carl Lawson – if healthy – would be a big boost for this group. Auburn needs to win the battle on first and second downs to put LSU in long-yardage situations.

3. LSU QB Brandon Harris vs. Auburn’s Defense

The final stat line for Brandon Harris against Mississippi State – 9 of 14 for 71 yards – wasn’t overly impressive. However, Harris didn’t make a mistake (zero interceptions) and added 48 rushing yards. But most importantly for coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron – LSU got the victory. The Tigers don’t necessarily need Harris to throw for 300 yards a week, but he needs to make plays in the clutch and eliminate any turnovers. How much will Harris build off last week’s performance? Safety Tray Matthews is expected back after missing last Saturday’s game, and Auburn has allowed only one passing score so far. Can Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp bait Harris into a couple of mistakes?

Final Analysis

This is a tough one to predict. Auburn isn’t as bad as it played against Jacksonville State, but it needs a healthy Carl Lawson at end, as well as Johnson to play his best game of the year under center. LSU has its own share of question marks. Will the defense tighten up after struggling in the second half against Mississippi State? Leonard Fournette will get his share of carries, but is quarterback Brandon Harris ready to take another step forward in his development? It’s tempting to take Auburn, as Malzahn should have this team ready to play after last week’s sluggish performance. However, it’s tough to pick against LSU in Death Valley.

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Prediction: LSU 27, Auburn 24