For LSU, winning the one on one matchups is key to beating No. 9 Auburn
LSU right tackle Austin Deculus remembers tearing up right before his first SEC start against Auburn in 2018. Deculus remembers a phone call he had with his father right before the game that left both men in tears.
Football means everything to Deculus and his family, being the first one to go to a Division I program for football.
"For me, I'm not only playing for LSU on my chest, I'm playing for Deculus," Deculus said. "There's so much deeper meaning that goes in the history for us."
His uncles and brother all went to Division II schools, playing linebacker and running back, but Deculus was the first lineman. At 6-foot-7, 322 pounds, the junior tackle calls himself the "goofy" one in the family, passing up his 5-foot-6 father in sixth grade.
On the football field, Deculus is part of an offensive line unit that coach Ed Orgeron called the most improved unit on the team. Orgeron also said the unit faces one of, if not the toughest defensive line on the schedule this weekend.
"Consistency has always been good for us but I feel like it's stepped up since last season," Deculus said. "Everyone's holding each other accountable and the chemistry is still there. Me, Saahdiq, Ed, we've all known and played with each for three years now."
Deculus said Orgeron tells the team to always treat the opponents the same, going by the motto that there's no game bigger than the next one.
That's because everyone from the quarterback to the safeties to the linemen know what this week requires, winning the one on one battles.
It's easier said than done but for the offensive line, that means figuring out a way to keep potential top-5 defensive tackle Derrick Brown in check on Saturday. Brown enters Saturday with 28 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and five tackles for a loss, making it a big challenge for Deculus and company.
"It'll probably be the biggest people we've gone against besides Florida," Deculus said. "We held our own last year so it'll be good to see this year."
"Stringing the finish and being on your blocks," Deculus said are the main keys in winning a one on one matchup. "You can win the block but you have to stay on the block, keep on going and really being able to finish in the first and second levels."
Center Lloyd Cushenberry agrees the Auburn defensive line is a little bigger than Florida's and said Auburn presents more of a bull rush scheme than a speedy scheme like the Gators presented.
"We have to get ready to stop the bull rush, get our hands on them quick," Cushenberry said. "This is why you come to LSU, for matchups like this and he [Derrick Brown] is probably one of the best d-linemen in the country. We really embrace this challenge."
Burrow said the Auburn defense is going to be the most physical defense the Tigers play possibly all season. The senior quarterback said it all starts up front.
If the offensive line can hold the Auburn defensive line in check, with only a five man protection, Burrow said it'll open up the offense exponentially.
"They have three or four guys up front that are very physical, very twitchy," Burrow said. "We're going to have our work cut out for us with those guys but I think we're going to have a good plan for them though."
Winning those one on one matchups at the end of the day does a lot for Joe Burrow and the skills players. LSU likes to play with a five man protection up front, giving Burrow five weapons on the outside to choose from.
"I have all the confidence in the world in those guys. They've been playing like one of the best units in the country the last couple of weeks and they keep getting better every week."
Burrow has advocated for having a five man protection for the offense all season, saying it gives him more skill position players to choose from on a given play.
"It pulls one more linebacker out of the middle of the field, opens those holes up a little more," Burrow said. "It makes linebackers not be able to green dog blitz when they don't see the running back pass block. I have a lot of confidence in my film study that when they do blitz I'll be able to pick those up."
Defensively, Orgeron also said the Tigers face the best offensive line unit the team has seen thus far. With a recently healthy front seven, LSU will look to keep the improved pass rush play continue.
Senior defensive end Glen Logan said the keys to winning a one on one matchup against an offensive lineman is getting on the edge and simply being disruptive.
"We have to go back and look at the film, see what we're doing wrong," Logan said. "Being able to read the sets, basically we have to go back to square one to be able to accomplish those things. They're tough, they're big and strong but we're tough too and we always play our best against the best o-line and we're going to bring the fight to them."
Winning those one on one matchups is a must for LSU this weekend if it wants to avoid losing to Auburn in Death Valley for the first time since 1999. In fact, 16 of the last 19 games have gone to the home team.
"Home-field advantage," Orgeron said. "I expect it to happen again. It's the winning edge. The crowds are great. This is a big rivalry game between Auburn and LSU. Our fans love it. They'll have a good showing. Plus the athletes they put on this field, there will be a lot of NFL draft choices on both sides of this football. It's a great matchup. Home-field advantage. I think the crowds get fired up for it."