Into Death Valley!
Can LSU defend its home turf against Auburn once again?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s LSU week! We’ve enjoyed the corndog jokes, if not so much the 18-year drought of wins against LSU in Baton Rouge. What are Auburn’s chances this year, down in the Bayou? It depends upon the metrics in which one puts faith. As a certain American writer loved to opine, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics!”
I had a little fun playing around on ESPN’s national stat pages and came across some interesting revelations. To the naked eye, the Auburn offense is on a tear for the most part this year, and LSU has struggled. However, on the ESPN “offensive efficiency” table, Auburn is ranked 34th in the nation, and LSU is 24th, a whopping 10-place differential! On defense, though, it is a different story. Auburn is 5th in the nation, in “defensive efficiency.” LSU is ranked a surprisingly pedestrian 54th in the nation. If one were to average the two scores, Auburn is 39 places better in the rankings than LSU.
Honestly, the matchup of Auburn’s defense vs. the LSU offense looks good for the orange and blue Tigers. Auburn’s defense is much more efficient, statistically, than LSU’s offense. Likewise, the Auburn offense is a lot more efficient than the LSU defense. Unless the home crowd and the voodoo/cigar curse is about a 20-point swing factor, Auburn wins this one comfortably.
However, the devil is in the details. Auburn opponents Clemson and Mercer brought a ton of pressure up front and succeeded in causing the Auburn running game to stall and the passing game to be erratic and sack filled. Then, Auburn started hitting the deep balls. By the time Ole Miss rolled around, the Rebs had 6 or more dropping into deep zone coverage nearly every snap. Auburn responded with the first 300+ yard rushing game of the year.
If I were calling the LSU defense, I’d send the house and play a lot of man-to-man/cover one. The LSU defense should put a premium on stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback, at least until Auburn proves it can handle the blitz and hit a man deep down field on the scramble. I think we will also get every offensive trick offensive coordinator Matt Canada can pull out. May the best team win!
SEC tidbits, after the jump!
Missouri used its bye week to build to a moral victory (a 40–34 loss) against a tough Kentucky team to get momentum. The Tigers have a chance to save the season this weekend as they visit Georgia. A win over the Bulldogs in Athens would turn things around. I don’t think that’s likely.
Vanderbilt got off to a hot 3–0 start, including a nice win over Kansas State. The wheels have come off since with double-digit losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The Commodores travel this week to Oxford, Mississippi with a chance to right the ship and work towards a bowl game. There is opportunity to move the ball against a suspect Ole Miss defense, but can Vanderbilt score enough? The Vandy defense has given up 142 points in the last few weeks, and the Ole Miss offense can eat up yards by the bushel through the air.
I read this week an opinion that Kentucky is the worst 5–1 team in the country. Take away one bad play of your choice against them, and the Wildcats would be 6–0 right now. They haven’t won impressively against anyone, even their cupcake opponents. However, they have won. We’ll get a bit more of a measure this week as Kentucky travels to Mississippi State for a late afternoon battle. Kentucky can get bowl eligible before the middle of October with a win. How often has that happened?
The South Carolina Gamecocks go on the road to Knoxville this week to play Tennessee in a morning game. Last week, Carolina waxed a struggling Arkansas team, 48–22. My best guess is that Tennessee might be in for a similar whipping. A couple of weeks ago, I had a hard time seeing how the Gamecocks could become bowl eligible. At 4–2 now, all the Gamecocks need is a win over the Vols and a win over Wofford later in the year.
Georgia will host Missouri this week after racing out to a 6–0 start. I’d imagine a win is likely for the Bulldogs, but we’ve seen Georgia have letdown games every year for the past few decades. Of Georgia’s remaining 6 games, 3 of them are at home and road trips to Jacksonville against Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. If Georgia wins 2 of 3 against Florida, Auburn and Kentucky, the dawgs win the SEC East.
For Tennessee this weekend is time to win or stay home for the holidays. The Vols sit at 3–2 on the season and host South Carolina. Road trips to Alabama and Kentucky follow. Southern Miss won’t be an easy out, and season-ending games against LSU and Vanderbilt are dicey as well. I’m still trying to figure a scenario where Tennessee actually gets 3 wins and gets to a bowl. I don’t think it will happen if the Vols lose to South Carolina.
The luck ran out for Florida last weekend as it fell at home against LSU on the strength of a missed extra point. Florida has a week off to lick its wounds, but that loss put the gators in a bind in the SEC East race. All is not lost, though. Florida needs only to run its remaining SEC slate to win the division. That slate is Texas A&M, Georgia, at Missouri, and at South Carolina. The battle with Georgia in Jacksonville will likely decide the division.
Texas A&M seems to be a team that plays down or up to the caliber of its opponent. I’m curious to see what we will get in Gainesville, this week when the 4–2 Aggies play Florida. The Aggies kept it close against Alabama and were impressive at times in losing 27–19. Are things starting to click for them, or did Alabama have an off week? A loss to Florida would pretty much eliminate the Aggies from the SEC West race. The last time a 2-loss SEC West team won the division was way back in 2007.
LSU’s SEC season has barely gotten started. The 4–2 Tigers opened with a bad blowout loss at Mississippi State, then the Bengal Tigers shocked Florida on the road, 17–16. While one would expect LSU to be boosted by a home date with Auburn, the bayou bengals haven’t been exactly dynamite at home this season. Two weeks ago, they lost their homecoming game to Troy. Should LSU win over Auburn this week, it would still be alive in the division race. A loss points towards a post-season Music City, Independence or Birmingham trip.
The least fortunate team in the SEC West this week is Arkansas. The 2–3 Razorbacks limp into Tuscaloosa, Alabama after taking a 48–22 beating at South Carolina last week. After a very likely loss to Alabama, Arkansas will have to find a way to get 4 wins on their remaining schedule, to become bowl-eligible. That slate is Auburn, at Ole Miss, Coastal Carolina, at LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri. Coastal is likely, Missouri is possible. Razorback fans can hope for yet another “Novembert,” and an upset of either the Bulldogs or the Tigers, late in the season.
Mississippi State hosts an unusually woeful Brigham Young team, this weekend. Typically one of the best independent teams in the nation, BYU is off to a 1–5 start, this year. The Bulldogs got off to a torrid 3–0 start but suffered bad blowout losses to Georgia and Auburn before taking last week off. MSU will likely get to 4 wins against BYU, then has to find a couple more wins to become bowl eligible. It finishes against Kentucky, at Texas A&M, U-Mass, Alabama, at Arkansas, and then the Egg Bowl at home against Ole Miss. My guess is that BYU, U-Mass and the Egg Bowl should get the Bulldogs back to a bowl game for the 8th consecutive year.
Ole Miss is 2–3 on the season and is just playing out the string as it is out of bowl contention due to NCAA issues. Ole Miss can play loose and can test any defense out there with its brand of pitch and catch. Defensively, its had a tough time with an overly conservative scheme. Every team remaining on the Rebel schedule is beatable, but it’s doubtful that Ole Miss will take advantage. The Rebs have Vandy, LSU, Arkansas, at Kentucky, Louisiana Lafayette, Texas A&M, and at Mississippi State remaining.
Alabama survived a bit of a scare last weekend, pulling out a 27–19 win over Texas A&M. The intensity dials back in coming weeks as Alabama hosts Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU before traveling to Mississippi State. The Tide can pretty much name the score in any of these games as well as in the homecoming tilt against Mercer. Here’s hoping that Bama is a bit bloated by all of the cream-puff games coming into the Iron Bowl at Auburn!