Monday, September 29, 2014

The LSU Preview

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This week has been circled on everyone's calender...at least since the game 2 Thursdays ago in Manhattan, Kansas. Let's be honest, here. We all expected Auburn to win that critical road game. We just didn't expect it to be so sloppy.  I think we all know it was sloppy, as we talked about in the Kansas State Review. But, it's the SEC. No one cares how you are undefeated...as long as you ARE undefeated. 

Though Arkansas is a decent team, they weren't really a test to Auburn, as the betting line showed weeks before the game. But LSU is week is here. IT'S HERE! And it's always a game. Unless Auburn gets run out of the building. Let me rephrase. When Auburn is a good team, this is always a pivotal game. Auburn's lone SEC loss in 2013 has to weigh on the minds of fans and players. That ill-fated game in Death Valley was destined to be a loss for Auburn.The team that would lead the NCAA in rushing was stymied in the first half thanks to costly turnovers and a torrential flood. 

But, 2013 aside, Auburn has struggled with LSU mightily. In the past 20 years, Auburn has won just 8 games against LSU and only once have they won back to back meetings (1999-2000). Here is the good news: Of those wins, 6 came from inside the confines of Jordan-Hare. I guess that's good news....

As an offensive coordinator and head coach at Auburn, Malzahn is 1-3 having scored 65 total points. Of those 65 points, 21 came in garbage time last year when the game was out of reach. That ain't too good. In that same period, LSU has scored 140. 

Anywho....we sold our tickets the day they showed up. Why? Because I don't think LSU is any good, sure. Also, the money was good. And also, our tailgate is awesome and we planned to watch it from the corner of Plainsman Park and the Tiger Walk.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Yours truly was ordered out of town to spend the next 10 days (Saturday included) inside of a rocket for 12 hours a day, making sure it's a quality piece. So, enjoy it for me. I won't know the score until sometime early Sunday morning. And the crowd goes wild....

So LSU has a brilliant comeback win against my surprise team of 2014, the Wisconsin Badgers who I predicted would finish in my Top 10 Teams of 2014. And then those pesky Dogs from Mississippi State came down to Death Valley and did exactly what we all thought they would do but none of us wanted to put money up. The Bengal Tigers responded with a  63-7 drumming of New Mexico State...a game that featured a QB controversy ending with Harris padding the stat book. 

Auburn had a sloppy win against Kansas State and responded with an equally sloppy win against La Tech. The only real highlight of the homecoming game was Quan Bray going out of his mind, taking a punt to the house for the second time this year as well as catching two TD passes. I would be a liar if I said I wasn't surprised...because I was. But, I had said earlier this year  in What Did D-Day Tell Us About the Offense that the development of the slot receiver, specifically Bray, would make this offense truly elite. While I spent the better part of my Saturday yelling at the TV (specifically Marshall), the Rose Tinted Glasses have convinced me that Malzahn had instructed Marshall not to keep the ball on the zone read. The play calling was very vanilla. Defensively, the Tigers played very well, though they began pulling starters out with any indication of injury. 

As we stated, Auburn has had the most success against LSU at home. That's not a surprise, as the Bengal Tigers are nearly unbeatable at home. On the flip side, Auburn has the ability to make miracles happen inside JHS. The weather says 60% chance of rain on Friday and 0% on Saturday. But, it's weather in Alabama. Keep an eye on that. A wet field sways this game hard in Auburn's favor. LSU gives Harris his first SEC start in one of the most hostile environments out there, rain or not. 

Well, let's get to it. 

Auburn's Defense vs LSU's Offense
LSU has scored only 10 total points in the first half of their two meaningful matchups. Harris has to play a much improved Auburn defense who has been dominant against the run, but not very good in pass rush. While I don't really trust pure numbers, the fact is that Kansas State and Arkansas can run on anyone. Aside from some first half hiccups against the Hogs, Auburn has played shutdown D up front against the run. If Auburn can get the pass rush going, they have the ability to put the LSU QB on his heels. The other thing that I will be watching for is if Miles feeds Fouronette or Hilliard in the 1st quarter. I have maintained that it was a mistake to break in the young running back when a capable Hilliard is available. Against one of the nations best run defenses, I wouldn't be surprised if the young star puts one on the dirt early, whether it is due to a bad read or a strip. It would be sweet repayment for the early fumble Auburn had on a 3rd and short last year. Across the board, Auburn seems to matchup well, especially on the back end. Dural is the only true deep threat, which Auburn can mitigate by putting their best cover corner on him. Additionally, with only limited deep threats, Ellis Johnson can dial up the star blitz, which has absolutely wrecked any and all offenses. Therezie has been a terror coming into the backfield. Not only does he have the speed to blow through the line, but he has been unblock-able when he gets picked up. Sacks are contagious and if Auburn can get one early, this battle could be won early. If Adams gets started early, it could be a bad day for Harris. The Wright/Adams combo could be devastating. 

Auburn's Offense vs LSU's Defense
Auburn has scored 31 first half points in their two meaningful matchups so far. Though Auburn has the edge there, they have started much slower on offense than previous Malzahn coached clubs. Against a stout SEC West defense, this could be cause for concern. Most importantly, CAP has been bottled up for 2 games straight, having to earn his last 100 yard game much later than we all anticipated. LSU certainly has great talent, but the continual loss of players to the NFL are starting to show. In their two close games (Wisc and Miss St), LSU has been unable to consistently stop the run, even when they knew it was coming. Wisconsin put up 270 yards on the ground and State thumped them for 300. Add in an Auburn offense that is desperate to show they are every bit as good as the running team in 2013 and you get a game that could quickly get out of hand. Prescott isn't Marshall and Marshall isn't Prescott. But, they both do the same thing well, just in different ways. Marshall may ultimately be more dangerous because he doesn't need a gaping hole to hit. Additionally, Auburn has a far superior receiving core to anything LSU has faced. They may be able to matchup against Duke and Coates, but the stretch on covering an upstart Bray and the ever dangerous Uzomah could be a challenge too great for the LSU D to overcome. The thing that favors LSU is Auburn's inability to maintain offensive momentum. The critical drops and missed throws have plagued Auburn's O so far this season, keeping the Tigers in games they should be running away with. I wouldn't be surprised if the targets to Louis begin to drop and we see the rise in production from Melvin Ray or Marcus Davis. Both of these two players have been lights-out when they are targeted. With the increased spotlight on Duke and Coates, a mismatch in the making against Uzomah, it would be easy for either of these two players to shake loose, as we have seen a few times this year. 

Special Teams
The special teams edge has to go to Auburn. Carlson is on his way to being a special weapon. And while Bray hasn't returned a kick from a reputable team, he is doing a fantastic job. It's hard enough to field kicks cleanly. When he has decided to return them, he has been dangerous. Additionally, Corey Grant hasn't broken loose yet on kick offs, which has been a surprise to me, especially against the non-conference opponents. Don't be surprised to see Grant or Thomas shake loose for a big return. 

Auburn thumps LSU 31-10