LSU looks to redeem themselves against Auburn after losing their first SEC game to Mississippi State. LSU has won six of their last seven bouts against the Tigers
Going into Saturday, LSU is 4-1 and has seen their share of ups and downs. The Tigers came back from a 17 point third quarter deficit against Wisconsin, shut out two cupcake teams in a row and lost at home to Mississippi St. for the first time since 1999. The Tigers have also made a change at quarterback, switching to true freshman Brandon Harris. Incumbent Anthony Jennings just wasn’t playing up to par, and Harris has filled in very well in his stead.
Harris and the young skilled players are ready to start spreading the ball out to create holes for the running game and open up the passing game as well. The LSU offensive line has played better when operating out of the spread and the Tigers have been more successful as a result.
Defense is generally something LSU is known for but they haven’t exactly lived up to their usual expectations. The middle of their defense was gashed by the Wisconsin and Mississippi State running games. To stop a run-heavy Auburn offense, LSU needs to lock down the middle of the defense and fill holes.
The middle linebacker race that seemed finished in summer camp has been reopened due to the poor play of DJ Welter and the improvement of Kendall Beckwith. Beckwith played more than Welter in the New Mexico State game and returned an interception for a touchdown. Welter was part of the reason New Mexico State got their only score of the night due to a missed read on a 79 yard option run. The leash will be short on Welter this weekend, and Beckwith could emerge as the starter if he keeps playing well.
Their secondary had a bad game against Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott but has looked incredible otherwise. With the season-ending injury to nickel back Dwayne Thomas, look for freshman Jamal Adams to see lots of playing time. LSU hasn’t racked up the sacks but ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco have consistently gotten in the backfield and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their play along, with that of the outside linebackers will be huge in order to stop dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall and typical outside-the-tackles running back Corey Grant.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has his team at 4-0, picking up right where he left off last year. Losing running back Tre Mason to the NFL hasn’t kept the Tigers from a great ground attack this year. The Tigers’ rushing attack consists of quarterback Nick Marshall and running backs Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne. The tandem provides both power and speed running styles, which complement each other very well in Malzahn’s offense.
Marshall is a run-first quarterback and doesn’t have the arm to win games throwing 30+ attempts. When he does have success, it comes when the opposing defense respects their running game. Marshall is not the guy you want behind center to run a two-minute drill when you’re losing. LSU has a good secondary that won’t let much get by them and should have success containing the Auburn receivers.
Auburn has experienced injuries across the offensive line and has had to switch things up several times. All of the linemen have trained to play multiple positions and feel confident about the changes.
Auburn’s defense has been stout in the early going but hasn’t faced a high-profile offense. They ranked 15th in the nation with 16.3 points allowed, Gabe Wright and Montravious Adams anchor the defensive line and will need to step up this weekend against the run-by-committe strategy LSU employs.
Linebackers Casanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are veteran starters, but they are a little banged up and questionable for the game Saturday. Look for true freshman Tre’ Williams and Anthony Swain to get more playing time due to the injured veterans.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson does a good job rotating players and keeping fresh legs on the field. A major question mark and X factor will be Auburn’s linebackers. Their ability to contain and pressure Harris will be pivotal, rattling the youngster in a big road contest will pay dividends. Auburn also has the explosive Quan Bray on special teams. LSU needs to cover him closely, he’s a big play waiting to happen if a lane appears.
LSU is healthier than Auburn and has a new weapon in Harris that the whole offense is excited about. I think Harris will lead LSU to a 28-27 victory on the road in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The game will air on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. EST.
*Section Photo credit to Stacy Revere, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Scott Sewell, USA Today Sports