Can Auburn handle LSU up front like 2010?
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On September 21st, Auburn gears up for its first road trip of the season, to face LSU in Baton Rouge. At first glance, LSU is a team gutted by graduation and early entries to the NFL. The Tigers lost 11 underclassmen off last year’s roster, and only return 2 defensive starters. Add in new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and some off the field problems, and LSU looks vulnerable in week four.
However, recent history is against Auburn in this one. Not since the infamous “Cigar Game” in 1999 has Auburn won in Baton Rouge. The game has not even been competitive in Death Valley since Tommy Tuberville left Auburn. One of the keys has been the quarterback position. Auburn took rookie Jason Campbell in there in 2001 and lost 27-14 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. A dysfunctional offense in 2003 did no better, in a 31-7 blowout. Brandon Cox got only his second road start in 2005, and if Auburn would have had any semblance of a passing game in that one, history would not remember 5 missed field goals and an overtime loss. With veteran Cox in 2007, Auburn held a lead for much of the game, but a 17 point 4th quarter meltdown left the visiting Tigers with a 30-24 loss. In 2009, Chris Todd’s arm was ailing, and Auburn took a 31-10 beating. In 2011, Clint Moseley was given his first start ever, and it was an exceptionally ugly game for the Tigers, a 45-10 loss. Can Auburn go into Baton Rouge and win with the current crop of QBs on the Plains?
If you’ve ever wanted to know what a “trap game” is, LSU’s opener is exactly that. They play former BCS-buster TCU in Arlington, Texas in a made for TV evening matchup. LSU will be tested early in the Jerry Dome. Following the opener, LSU has moribund UAB at home, followed by bowl team Kent State, before playing Auburn. LSU follows the Tiger battle with Georgia in Athens, MSU in Starkville, Florida at home, Ole Miss in Oxford, Furman for homecoming, then an off week. Following the break, LSU has Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then Texas A&M at home. LSU finishes the regular season with a black Friday matchup with Arkansas in Baton Rouge. I don’t think I’d trade schedules with them!
It’s another year, and another round of questions about the LSU offense. It seems each year that LSU is seen as a team with strong defense and special teams, and an average at best offense. That will need to change this year, with a lot of new faces on the opposite side of the ball. LSU does have the advantage of 9 returning starters on offense, including starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. What’s odd about this year’s offense is a thinning tailback situation. The past few years, it’s seemed like LSU had a bottomless stable of great backs. With the multiple arrests and suspension of formerly likely starter Jeremy Hill, LSU has only three scholarship guys right now, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, and Terrance Magee. That’s a pretty good trio, though. LSU worked extensively on the passing game this past spring, with mixed results in the spring game. There were a lot of big plays down the field on the reserves, there was clearly work still to be done on the screen game.
The only returning starters on the defense are senior linebacker Lamin Barrow, and senior safety Craig Loston. However, a number of the new starters on defense have contributed significant minutes in the past, starting with junior tackle Anthony Johnson, who was for all intents and purposes a third tackle starter in 2012. Regardless of who winds up starting, LSU does have the talent to be strong in the front seven, and will try to force Auburn to pass. LSU’s last look at a Gus Malzhan-style offense was last New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, against Clemson. Tajh Boyd had a big day throwing the ball in the Clemson upset win, but LSU shut down the run, holding Clemson to just 99 yards on the ground. Auburn will have to have some success throwing the ball to have a chance in this one.
LSU seems to always field brutally effective special teams units, and this year may be as well, although a good number of newer players should be on the field this time. Gone are the spectacular legs of Brad Wing and Drew Allemon, though. Can LSU continue to be special in the kicking game with a couple of walk-on starters replacing those two? Junior kicker James Hairston was the kickoff man last season, and he was effective there. Heir-apparent sophomore punter Jamie Keehn did have 12 punts last season, for a 43.7 yard average.
Unit matchups, after the jump!