West Title on the Line Against LSU.
Can Auburn take LSU at home?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On October 4th, Auburn resumes its SEC West Schedule in earnest, taking on the LSU Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. I’d look for this game to either be the CBS afternoon headliner, or a primetime game on ESPN. Both teams will likely be undefeated coming into this matchup, and the loser will be on the outside looking in.
LSU begins the season playing the Wisconsin Badgers in Houston, which may be a tough matchup. Thereafter, LSU plays a quartet of games in Baton Rouge, before heading to Auburn. The home slate includes Sam Houston State, UL Monroe, Mississippi State, and New Mexico State. Some would point to MSU as a tough opponent. I’d point out that the Bulldogs haven’t beaten LSU since 1999, in Jackie Sherrill’s prime. MSU hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1991. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, and Louisiana Tech for homecoming, prior to this matchup.
On paper, LSU again appears physically ready to challenge for the SEC West title, behind a strong defense. Tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson as well as linebackers Lamin Barrow and Tajh Jones are gone, but there was replacement depth available. The secondary took a hit when cornerback Jalen Mills was arrested, but he’ll likely be back by the Auburn game, as the arrest details get fuzzier and fuzzier by the week. LSU ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are particular terrors, and Auburn must find a way to block these two if the offense is to be effective. Last year in Baton Rouge, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson got control in the second half, but he’s gone to the NFL.
On offense, LSU was riddled by graduation and early NFL departures, but there’s a wealth of talent still returning. The biggest question on offense will be the quarterback position, where sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris are still battling it out. Last season, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron rejuvenated the LSU offense, and the team averaged 35.8 points per game. However, midseason offensive swoons delivered losses against both Ole Miss and Alabama. In addition to replacing starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, LSU also loses starting running backs Jeremy Hill and J. C. Copeland, receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and guard Trai Turner. Four returning starters on the offensive line will help, but there’s a lot of youth that will have to develop in September.
LSU special teams should be ok with the return of kicker Colby Delahoussaye and punter Jamie Keehn, and good punt coverage. LSU was a little suspect on kick coverage last season, and they must replace return specialist Odell Beckham Jr.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. LSU offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Elijah Daniels now the likely rush end starter. Carl Lawson may be a factor by October, but he’s coming off spring knee surgery. LSU has a veteran line returning, one that paved the way for 202.3 rushing yards per game last season. Senior center Elliot Porter leads the way for the LSU line. Senior tackle La’el Collins and sophomore Jerald Hawkins are on the outside, with senior Fehoko Fanaika and junior Vadal Alexander at the guard spots. Auburn took a beating last season up front from this bunch in the first half, and needs a better showing this year. Advantage: LSU.
Auburn linebackers vs. LSU backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. Against LSU, one would have to count star Robensen Therezie as a linebacker, and he’ll be helped out by Justin Garrett. While LSU lost both starters to graduation at fullback and tailback, they’ve always been a team that uses a lot of players here. Both seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are veteran runners that are difficult to get on the ground. Senior Connor Neighbors is a solid fullback. Advantage: LSU.
Auburn corners vs. LSU receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. Last season, few teams could consistently cover Beckham and Landry. This season, LSU will likely start sophomore Travin Dural and senior Quantavius Leslie at the receiver spots. Those two combined for just 8 catches last season. Dural was explosive on his 7 catches, scoring 2 touchdowns and averaging 20.7 yards per catch. Still, with a young quarterback, it’s Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. LSU secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. LSU didn’t throw much to secondary receivers last season. Sophomore DeSean Smith and junior Dillon Gordon combined for just 7 catches at the tight end position. LSU hit running backs out of the backfield some, but the leader Jeremy Hill is on to the NFL this season. Still, LSU might be the best blocking team in the conference at tight end and fullback, and it will be interesting to see if Auburn can match up physically. With Moncrief in the lineup, Auburn has a chance. Advantage: Auburn.
Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. LSU junior punter Jamie Keehn was solid last season, averaging 41.0 yards per attempt, killing 18 of 43 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Both Auburn and LSU were stifling on coverage. Auburn gave up only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. LSU gave up 15 returns for 47 yards. Both teams are still auditioning for return men, having graduated their starter. Advantage: LSU.
Kickoffs: Auburn and LSU both must replace the legs of Cody Parkey and James Hairston, respectively. LSU will likely go with sophomore Colby Delahoussaye, and redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. Carlson showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. Both teams were a bit suspect in coverage last season, with LSU giving up 23.1 yards per return and Auburn giving up 25.8. LSU lost return man Odell Beckham, who had 32 of LSU’s 36 returns. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Advantage: Even.
Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. Colby Delahoussaye was a machine for LSU last season, hitting 13 of 14 field goals. Advantage: LSU.
Auburn offensive line vs. LSU defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. LSU ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter return, having given Auburn trouble last season. The new starting tackles for LSU will likely be sophomore Christian LaCouture, and junior Quentin Thomas. LSU is very young behind the starters, with mostly redshirt freshmen providing depth. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. LSU linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. LSU returns senior D. J. Welter at linebacker, and he’ll move to the middle to lead the front seven. Welter was second on the team with 80 tackles last season. Filling the outside linebacker spots will be juniors Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis. All three guys can fly to the ball and make tackles. Advantage: Even.
Auburn receivers vs. LSU corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Junior Jalen Mills, if he returns from his arrest, will be a big factor. LSU asks a lot of their corners, with little safety help over the top unless it’s 3rd and long. Sophomore Tre’Davious White and junior Jalen Collins are the next two guys on the depth chart. Both guys have experience, and can run. Covering Auburn’s trio will be a tall order. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. LSU safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. LSU moves up a pair of safeties this year, senior Ronald Martin and sophomore Rashard Robinson. Both have experience, but can they adjust to Auburn’s formations? Advantage: Auburn.
Both offenses appear to have physical advantages up front, and it’s tempting to foresee a high-scoring game. However, that has not been the case when the teams have been evenly matched, the last decade. Auburn hasn’t scored more than 24 points on LSU since the year 2000, in Nick Saban’s second season on the bayou. Late in last year’s game, Auburn got the offense going in the second half, but LSU proponents will counter that there were a lot of backups in at that point.
I believe that the Auburn front seven must play well for Auburn to stay in the game. If LSU can run at will like last year’s contest, the Auburn offense will have difficulty keeping up. If Auburn can force LSU to throw the ball to move the chains, that could be dicey with a young quarterback.
No one plays defense like LSU. In the past 5 seasons, LSU has played Oregon, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Petrino-Arkansas, TCU, Clemson and Ole Miss, and has given up an average to those teams of about 20 points per game.
Prediction: With a roaring Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd behind them, the Auburn “rhino package” defense solves the LSU running game. A few big plays in this one make the difference, and Auburn wins, 27-17.