September 15, 2015

(AP) - Jeremy Johnson and Auburn were being inundated with praise not too long ago.

An uneven performance against Louisville and a near upset by an FCS team have sent No. 18 Auburn tumbling dramatically in the polls and public regard. Coach Gus Malzahn said his players know they can play much better.

They'll have to if they're going to have a chance to beat No. 13 LSU on the road Saturday much less contend in the SEC as many predicted.

Plus, LSU's hard-charging pass rushers are eager to see what they can do against a first-year starting quarterback after their performance against Mississippi State star Dak Prescott last weekend.

''That's behind us and we're looking forward to going to LSU,'' Malzahn said Tuesday. ''That's the way you look at it when you're in the moment and you're a coach or a player. That one's behind you and you look forward and you do everything you can to improve.''

There's much to improve on both sides of the ball following an overtime, comeback win over Jacksonville State.

Safety Johnathan Ford said Auburn (2-0) isn't lowering its aspirations for the season. Back to back games against SEC West teams LSU (1-0, 1-0) and Mississippi State will go a long way to showing whether that's realistic.

''We've got more than enough talent to do what we want to do this year,'' Ford said. ''It's not hard to believe at all. Don't count us out for anything.''

Johnson has been intercepted five times and has been a nonfactor running the ball in an offense that's been at its best with a dual-threat quarterback.

For LSU, it allowed Prescott to amass 335 yards passing in Mississippi State's 21-19 loss, but he needed 52 attempts in a performance that was relatively one-dimensional for the usually dynamic quarterback.

Prescott, who was limited to nine yards on seven running plays, struggled to move the offense with anything other than short passes.

''We were pretty happy with the pass rush,'' said junior defensive lineman Lewis Neal, who in his first career start recorded one of LSU's three sacks. ''But we missed a lot of sacks. We could have had seven or eight. There were more opportunities for us. We'll come out 10 times better in the second game.''

That's bad news for Johnson, who could see his composure tested substantially more than it was in the first two games.

Other presumed playmakers for Auburn have either been ineffective or injured or, in the case of tailback Roc Thomas, both. Wide receiver D'haquille Williams has just five catches for 62 yards and tailback Jovon Robinson didn't play last week with an ankle injury.

Only tailback Peyton Barber and wide receiver Ricardo Louis have been consistent playmakers.

''We need more big plays, that's what we really thrive on. Explosive plays, and (not) turning the ball over,'' wide receiver Melvin Ray said. ''As long as we protect the ball, and really just focus on executing, everybody doing their job to make a big play, it should put us in a good position.''

Auburn whipped visiting LSU 41-7 last season with then-quarterback Nick Marshall passing for more than 200 yards and running for more than 100. Johnson is more of a pocket passer.

''(Assistant coach Ed Orgeron) expects us to get a pass rush all the time,'' said tackle Christian LaCouture, the most experienced of LSU's defensive linemen. ''We may not get there every time, but we must rattle the quarterback. We have to close the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable.''

LSU was led last week by Leonard Fournette, who set career highs with 159 rushing yards and three TDs. The sophomore has run for 448 yards and six scores in LSU's last three games.

Auburn has allowed 399 rushing yards and four TDs on the ground this season. Another issue has been on third down, where the first two opponents have successfully converted at a 48.5 percent clip.

''We've got to get the offense back on the field and give them a chance to get in rhythm,'' defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.

Auburn, which plummeted 12 spots in the AP poll, has lost seven in a row at LSU.

''As a team we're not really worried about it,'' Ray said. ''At the end of the day we know what we have with each other and know what we're capable of. We know we haven't played up to our standard, but we're still 2-0 and we haven't played as good as we want to play, so we know we can only go up from here.

''That's what we plan on doing.''

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