Breaking down Saturday's SEC West clash at Auburn.
1. Defense. Defense. Defense. This SEC clash under the Jordan-Hare Stadium lights will feature two of the nation's best defenses. Headlined by tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn's unit is giving up an SEC-low 1.8 yards per rush and 53 rushing yards per game. The Tigers are coming off a defensive shutout in last weekend's 3-2 win over Mississippi State. Not to be outdone, LSU is giving up 2.0 yards per rush and 48 rushing yards per game. The Tigers' opponents (Appalachian State and North Texas) aren't exactly USC and Oklahoma, but there's no questioning next-level talent like Ricky Jean-Francois and Tyson Jackson. Considering the relatively unproven offenses that will be on the field, these stingy defenses should be the most riveting aspect of the game. Speaking of those offenses ...
2. Auburn's spread is still very much a work in progress. New coordinator Tony Franklin's offense was supposed help the Tigers catch up to the rest of the SEC, but so far it's stuck in neutral. Franklin's M.O. is running an up-tempo attack that produces as many plays as possible, but it's been difficult with the Tigers turning the ball over eight times through three games. Behind the tandem of Brad Lester (who may not play after landing awkwardly on his neck vs. Mississippi State) and Ben Tate, Franklin has made the scheme run-heavy, calling 55 more running plays than passing so far. As a result, the Tigers have averaged 4.7 yards per rush and scored four of their five TDs on the ground. The group's biggest problems are turnovers and penalties (67.3 yards per game), which could make LSU's job even easier.
3. LSU is about to test Auburn's run defense. With inexperienced quarterbacks Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee (33-for-59 with two interceptions combined) at the controls, the Tigers are riding the Charles Scott-led running game. Massive linemen Herman Johnson (6-foot-7) and Ciron Black (6-5) have helped pave the way for Scott's impressive 11.4 yards per carry. Through two games he has 262 yards and four scores, including 160 yards and two TDs in the opener against Appalachian State. For LSU to win, it's imperative that it establishes some kind of ground game because Hatch and Lee are so untested. If the run game gets shut down, expect to see offensive coordinator Gary Crowton lean on the short and intermediate routes.
What problems does LSU's defense create for opposing offenses? I asked a coach from one of the Tigers' opponents for his take. Here's what he had to say:
"They're just loaded with speed and talent. They have a good mix of upperclassmen, and also you're seeing some young players come into the mix. I don't want to say they're an intimidating force, but they're really close to it.
"I would think that they're top-five in the country as far as [defense is] concerned. They're extremely fast and explosive and make plays. They just keep reloading.
"We wanted to make sure not to stop ourselves. You want to attack them because if they get a bead on you, they're extremely dangerous ... They're a defense that can get on a feeding frenzy in a hurry if you don't watch out.
"They're extremely explosive up front: big, powerful players. They do a good job of getting off blocks and they do a good job of stopping the run. I was really impressed with that."
LSU 17, Auburn 13. LSU comes into this game off back-to-back 41-point outbursts, but this won't be Appalachian State or North Texas on the other side of the field. Auburn's Marks-led defensive front should take away some of that explosiveness, but Les Miles has too many weapons at his disposal. With a defense that will disrupt Auburn's evolving offense, LSU has more than enough to win this SEC West showdown and snap the home team's run of eight straight victories in the series.