Auburn’s Scheme Provides Unique Challenge for LSU Football Defense

Auburn running attack main hurdle LSU must overcome to escape with win
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The LSU defense will face the unique challenge of defending multiple big-play skill position players from Auburn, as well as an offense that uses motions, shifts and quirky formations to fool its opponent.

Despite Auburn’s 3-2 record, there’s plenty of talent on The Plains. That’s especially true of Auburn’s offensive skill position talent. When combining those players with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and his sometimes ‘unique’ formations, it can be a difficult task to slow down the Auburn offense. To start, here’s a look at Auburn’s offensive skill position weapons.

Bigsby Leads Auburn’s Attack

Tank Bigsby has rushed 74 times for 432-yards and three touchdowns this season. The true freshman runs like a veteran, and plays like he’s a physically mature 25-year old. Bigsby can run by defenders, and he’s certainly happy to run over them. He’s a great fit for Malzahn’s inside power rushing attack.

During the past two games against South Carolina and Ole Miss, Bigsby totaled 240-yards rushing and three scores. Without question, he’s the No. 1 priority for the LSU defense. Slow down Bigsby and the LSU defense will be well on its way to keeping the Auburn offense in check.

Giving up 157.5 yards per game rushing thus far, LSU’s defensive players should be ready to redeem themselves. Slowing down Bigsby would be a major accomplishment. He’s a very talented running back. On the outside, three wide receivers are prime threats.

A Trio of Receivers to Watch

Seth Williams caught 24 passes for 440-yards and three touchdowns. He’s the prototypical big receiver that can stretch a defense and make contested catches in the end zone due to his height, length and strength. Williams is listed at 6-foot-3 and 211-pounds.

Williams is often the player that Auburn likes to feature when it’s third down. He often draws the opponent’s top cornerback as well. LSU will likely mix and match its coverages against Williams, with Derek Stingley, Jr. a likely candidate to be eye-to-eye with Williams during several plays in a one-on-one matchup the SEC is famous for producing. Auburn has a speedster, too.

Anthony Schwartz is not off to a hot start in terms of big plays. The junior has caught 34 passes so far, but he’s only gained 299-yards. That’s an average of 8.8 yards per reception. Schwartz might be the fastest player in college football, so it’s obvious that Auburn’s prior opponents did a phenomenal job of tackling in open space. LSU needs to do the same.

Schwartz is a prime target for bubble screens. It’s an extension of Auburn’s rushing attack. Look for more of that strategy against LSU, but with added wrinkles. Gus Malzahn needs to get Schwartz in the open field more often for the Auburn offense to reach its peak.

Look for more run-pass option (RPO) plays involving Schwartz because LSU’s secondary has yet to prove they can stay disciplined. How well the Tigers defense, and in particular the secondary, plays the RPO game from Auburn will very likely be a big determining factor in whether LSU wins the football game.

Once Swartz, or perhaps Williams, gets behind the LSU defense, it’s probably six points. They can really run. LSU cannot afford any busted assignments from an RPO because it’s hard enough to defend those two as it is.

The other receiver to monitor will be Eli Stove. The senior is a steady player that’s brought in 16 receptions for 137-yards and two touchdowns. While he’s not as explosive as the other two primary receivers, he should not be forgotten either. That leads to the three X-Factors.

Three X-Factors

Ironically, one of the key players to watch is an H-Back, not a position many would think when discussing the RPO game. H-Back John Samuel Shenker can and will be a blocker for Bigsby. He will motion and be a lead blocker, but he will also be somewhat of a decoy.

Auburn will send Shenker away from the run play every now and again to keep the defense honest. Additionally, Shenker will be a lead blocker for quarterback Bo Nix.

During an option play, quarterback draw, or a busted play when Nix takes off, Shenker can be the X-factor for a big play by administering the block that clears a path for Nix. While he’s not likely to carry or catch the football much, he’s an important facet of the Auburn offense.

Shenker is also a player to watch because LSU will need to constantly make pre-snap adjustments due to Auburn tending to use a lot of motion prior to snapping the football. In Auburn’s offense, the H-Back is oftentimes the motion man.

This will be an area that the LSU coaching staff works on all week long. Which defender goes where when the Auburn offense sends a player in motion. There can be different adjustments based on a speed player like Schwartz going in motion compared to a tight end or H-Back going in motion. It’s the chess match that makes college football quite interesting, and leads to the second X-factor.

As many likely know, Malzahn tends to be quite creative, and that’s why he’s the second X-factor. He’s always trying new gadgets to gain an offensive advantage. Sometimes it’s genius, other times its folly. Look for a few formations and plays that LSU has yet to see this season. It would not be Malzahn otherwise. Either way, LSU defenders need to be ready for a plethora of motions and shifts, plus new formations and plays, similar to the way Missouri attempted to out flank LSU.

If Shenker and other Auburn players are moving before the snap and LSU defenders are pointing at each other and moving frantically, it’s a really bad sign. Auburn will gash LSU. Auburn’s skill talent will be lethal if the purple and gold line up incorrectly. That would also help Nix get into a rhythm, and he’s the final X-factor.

Nix has proved to be frustrating for Auburn fans. He’s very difficult to predict. Nix could play great, or he could throw two interceptions. Neither would be surprising. Point blank, the sophomore signal caller has been erratic this season, but he’s capable of making clutch throws as well. So far Nix completed 101 of 172 passes for 1,107-yards and six touchdowns, as well as four interceptions.