Can the Auburn defense slow down Leonard Fournette?
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the first Auburn SEC opponent preview of the year! On September 19th, Auburn opens its SEC season in Baton Rouge, against the LSU Tigers. It will be a huge test for Auburn, in the most hostile stadium in the league. A year ago, it was a veteran Auburn team beating up on a young LSU squad. This year, the roles could be reversed.
Auburn will come into this game having played Louisville in Atlanta, then a tune-up game at home against Jacksonville State. LSU will have played McNeese State for an opener, then Mississippi State in Starkville. I like LSU’s schedule better, as they kind of ease into league play against an MSU squad that lost a lot of seniors at the end of last season. Auburn will have to be ready to play high-level football from the beginning.
It’s tempting to say that the loser of this game will be out of SEC West contention, but it’s just too early in the season for that to really be true. In 2013, Auburn lost in Baton Rouge in the rain, and still won the SEC Title. I suspect this year that we will learn who is ready to play physical football, and who isn’t!
Both teams come into this season having made defensive changes. Auburn fired Ellis “We’ll play him like any other receiver” Johnson, and hired Will “Boom!” Muschamp. LSU was forced to make changes when Texas A&M poached defensive coordinator Jon Chavis away from Baton Rouge. LSU has brought in Kevin Steele to run the defense. What’s also notable is that Ed Orgeron has been assigned to coach the defensive line.
When the Steele hire was announced, I wondered if LSU might switch to a 3-4 defense, given that Steele had two different coaching stints under Nick Saban. Judging from LSU’s spring game, that won’t be the case. Steele ran an aggressive 4-3 at Clemson, and that fits right into the philosophy of head coach Les Miles.
LSU last season played a lot of underclassmen in the front seven, and got pushed around at times. Those guys appeared a lot bigger and stronger this spring, and I suspect LSU will be back to the imposing defense we are used to seeing. Coupled with a veteran, athletic back end, LSU will be tough to move the ball on this season. LSU may have occasionally been vulnerable last season, but they still only gave up 17.5 points per game. That’s a touchdown better than any Auburn defense has been the past 6 seasons.
LSU had offensive struggles last season, but still managed to pile up 224 yards per game on the ground. Shaky quarterback play made the Tigers one-dimensional, and easier to defend. By all accounts, LSU will be much better this season throwing the ball, and they’ve got a veteran, powerful offensive line. The quarterback race between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris has yet to be decided, but I think either can perform in the LSU system. The starter will need to avoid turnovers, and hit a few deep shots down the field. LSU has some potent receivers to throw to.
LSU returns veteran special teams units that were among the SEC’s best last season. The triumvirate of Colby Delahoussaye, Trent Domingue and Jamie Keehn at placekicker, kickoff specialist and punter respectively is a very powerful and accurate group. Return men TréDavious White and Leonard Fournette are back, and both did very well returning punts and kickoffs. LSU weakest special teams unit was probably punt coverage, giving up 9.1 yards per punt. The kick coverage was stifling. LSU is one of those teams that will consistently land the kickoff in the corner, inside the five, and the other team will be lucky to hold onto the ball and make it past the 15 yard line.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
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