Auburn takes its high-powered offense and four-game winning streak on the road, as coach Gus Malzahn’s team travels to Baton Rouge to take on LSU this Saturday. Auburn has not won at LSU since 1999, but Malzahn’s team has claimed two out of the last three in this series.
LSU is in its first full year under coach Ed Orgeron and hits Week 7 looking to get its season back on track. The Tigers started 2-0 after impressive wins over BYU and Chattanooga but were easily defeated at Mississippi State (37-7) in the SEC opener. Orgeron’s team rebounded with a sluggish victory over Syracuse (35-26), before losing the following Saturday to Troy in Baton Rouge. The defeat was a significant setback for Orgeron, but the Tigers rallied with a 17-16 win at Florida last Saturday. While it’s easy to criticize Orgeron or wonder about his long-term ability to guide this program after a failed stint at Ole Miss, LSU has some significant personnel issues that won’t be solved by changing coaches. The team needs to improve at quarterback, but a lack of depth or proven bodies on both lines of scrimmage is problematic in the SEC.
While LSU is trying to rally over the second half of the season to salvage a winning record, a good bowl destination and potentially a top 25 finish, it’s a different story at Auburn. Malzahn entered 2017 on the hot seat, but the temperature has cooled significantly after a 5-1 start. The only loss for the Tigers? A 14-6 defeat at Clemson in Week 2. Since that game, Auburn has been on fire. The Tigers defeated Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss by a combined score of 168-57. Additionally, no opponent has scored more than 24 points against Auburn’s defense in 2017.
LSU holds a 28-22-1 series edge over Auburn. Just one of the last four matchups (2016) between these two teams have been decided by seven points or less.
Auburn at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can LSU’s Offense Take Another Step Forward?
In last week’s win over Florida, LSU wasn’t particularly prolific on offense, but coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme was on display. Canada’s offense is designed to attack the entire field, using motions and shifts to generate misdirection and mismatches. But while Canada was essentially hired to be the CEO on offense, there was some doubt or confusion on this after a victory over Syracuse. Coach Ed Orgeron asked Canada to simplify some things, which failed to spark the offense in a loss to Troy. Following the surprise defeat to the Trojans, Canada brought back his preferred scheme and pre-snap movement versus Florida. The Tigers generated 5.3 yards per play and 17 points against the Gators but that was more than enough to win in the Swamp.
It’s no secret LSU’s offense is still a work in progress, but the win against Florida showed what Canada’s scheme is capable of doing. The Tigers have struggled to get consistent quarterback play out of Danny Etling or freshman Myles Brennan, lack depth and proven playmakers at receiver, but the problems extend beyond the signal-caller. or passing game LSU is banged up along the offensive line and could be down two starters on Saturday, with three freshmen likely to handle starting roles versus an active and standout Auburn defensive line.
Canada is a proven offensive coordinator and implementing his scheme is going to take time. And the learning curve is only greater considering the personnel issues and youth with LSU in 2017. After a step in the right direction versus Florida, can Canada build off of that against Auburn?
2. Will Auburn’s Offense Continue to Thrive?
After a slow start (and a tough matchup versus Clemson in Week 2), Auburn’s offense is starting to find its rhythm. Over the last three games, the Tigers are averaging 48 points per game and recording at least 6.5 yards per play. In the 49-10 victory over Mississippi State, Auburn gashed the Bulldogs for an average of 9.1 yards per play.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was expected to be an impact transfer for Malzahn, and the sophomore hasn’t disappointed. He’s completing 71.2 percent of his throws for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns and has five completions of 50 or more yards through six games – that’s more than Auburn had all of 2016. The big-play element or the ability to the stretch the field with Stidham was a big reason why the Tigers were expected to be Alabama’s biggest threat in the SEC West. After all, the rushing attack was already in place with Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, and the offense had a cast of talented receivers ready to break out. With Stidham at the controls, Auburn has the necessary balance and big-play ability to support its standout ground game.
The offensive line opened the season with a subpar performance against Clemson but has improved over the last few weeks. After giving up 14 sacks in the first two games, Auburn’s front five has allowed just five over the last four contests. In an effort to get more production out of this group, Austin Golson shifted to left tackle and Casey Dunn was inserted at center. Not only has the pass protection improved, but Auburn’s ground game has averaged 277.7 rushing yards over the last three contests. With Pettway hobbled due to injury, Johnson has received the bulk of the carries and gashed Ole Miss for 204 yards last week.
For Auburn, it’s safe to say the passing game is clicking and delivering big plays downfield, the offensive line seems to be improving with every snap, and the rushing attack is among the best in the SEC. After prolific performances against Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, can this unit continue to put up big numbers versus LSU on Saturday?
3. Auburn’s Defense Against LSU’s Rushing Attack
With a passing attack still developing under first-year coordinator Matt Canada, it’s imperative LSU find ways to jumpstart its ground game. After averaging 233 rushing yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry, the Tigers have slipped to 4.8 per touch and just 196.7 per contest. It’s hard to specifically target one area for the drop in production, but as mentioned above, the offensive line has struggled to consistently open up holes, and top running back Derrius Guice has been limited due to injuries. Guice has just 364 yards and five touchdowns on 82 attempts and did not play in the loss to Troy. Since rushing for 102 yards against Chattanooga in Week 2, Guice has not rushed for more than 76 yards in any of his last three contests.
Finding room for LSU’s rushing attack to operate on Saturday afternoon isn’t going to be easy. In addition to the injuries up front on the line and Guice’s knee ailment, Auburn’s rush defense is holding opposing ground attacks to just 111.2 yards per game and 2.95 a carry. This unit limited Clemson to just 96 yards on 36 attempts and no opponent has managed more than 194 rushing yards in a game this season. Coordinator Kevin Steele’s group is also adept at getting into the backfield and creating havoc, ranking second in the SEC with 41 tackles for a loss. Buck linebacker Jeff Holland (6.5 TFL) has been the main force around the line of scrimmage, with Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson leading the way in the trenches.
Can LSU establish the run to take some pressure off of Etling and the passing attack? Or will Auburn dominate line of scrimmage, keep Guice in check and force LSU’s offense into third-and-long situations all afternoon?
Everything on paper suggests Auburn will snap an eight-game losing streak in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Auburn’s offense is playing at a high level and getting better with every snap, especially as Stidham continues to knock off the rust at quarterback. Additionally, Auburn’s defense is one of the best in the SEC and has suffocated opponents to only give up 4.1 yards per play. Despite the clear advantages on paper, the guess here is LSU will keep this close until the fourth quarter. Orgeron’s team seems to be moving in the right direction after the Florida victory, and LSU has dominated Auburn in Baton Rouge in recent seasons. However, Auburn simply has too much firepower on offense to stumble in Death Valley.