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LSU-Auburn preview

This time, it's for reals. Ok, so I spent some time writing up this preview for another site, but they weren't able to get an Auburn blogger to give a rebuttal, so they didn't run it. I was asked to do 500 words, it ran to 1250; I'd still rather have done more but that was as good as I could do in trying to stay within the limits. But in any event, my non-haiku take:

LSU at Auburn

LSU-Auburn - know the history. The Earthquake Game, the Barn Burner, the extra extra point, the list goes on. With LSU lacking a true rival, this game has grown to become the most important of its season for the past few years. Dramatic finishes have marked two contests in a row; all signs point towards this year's tussle continuing that trend.

When LSU is on defense.

The ground game. Containing Kenny Irons will be defensive coordinator Bo Pelini's singular focus this week, after Irons shredded us for 200+ yards last year. Granted, we still won, but the odds of our getting another gift from the heavens in the form of five missed field goals from Auburn kicker John Vaughn, well...you'd be lucky to get 1000:1 odds on that one.

Clearly one of LSU's biggest concerns entering the season was rebuilding a line that lost Kyle Williams, Claude Wroten, and Mel Oliver (not to mention a linebacking corps whose only returning starter is Ali Highsmith). Thus far, the entire front seven has been absolutely dominant in leading the defense to a national ranks of #1 in scoring and #3 in yardage. The defense is hitting hard, and already drawing comparisons to some of the top defenses in recent LSU memory

All that said, Irons is a legitimate Heisman contender, and is probably steaming after a lousy 69-yard effort against Mississippi State, a game in which he should have really padded his Heisman-hopeful stats. Given KI's proven history versus the fact that LSU's new front seven has only had two games to "find themselves," it seems likely that KI will top 100 easily.

The passing game. With four-year starter LaRon Landry back for his senior season, LSU's secondary was universally billed in the preseason as one of the top handful in the nation. Thus far, it has delivered (though admittedly against against weak competition) - LSU is 2nd in the nation in total pass defense (note USC and UConn have only played 1 game). Oddly, of all members of the secondary it's been corner Jonathan Zenon, who received the least preseason press of the four starters, who has made the biggest splash, returning interceptions for TDs in both games.

Auburn is replacing four of its top five receivers from last year in Ben Obamanu, Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, and Cooper Wallace. It's no easy task, but clearly one made easier by the presence of Irons in the backfield to draw the defense's attention and the fact that Brandon Cox is, well, a lot better than serviceable at QB. It'd be a colossal mistake to expect anything approaching Cox's 16-40 performance versus LSU last year, and his play since then has shown he's more than capable of leading an inexperienced receiving corps in the unlikely event Irons is shut down in consecutive weeks.

While the LSU defense has put up stellar numbers thus far this year and is riding a 14-quarter streak of not allowing a touchdown, clearly it will have its hands full with the Auburn offense. Expecting field goals out of this Al Borges-coached unit playing its biggest game of the year at home would be a huge mistake - personally I think 20 points out of Auburn is a wholly reasonable expectation.

When LSU is on offense.

The ground game. With former child star freshman sensation Justin Vincent still struggling to regain his old form and Alley Broussard still somewhat of a question mark while working to return from a season lost to a knee injury, LSU's backfield is without a clear #1. That said, FB Jacob Hester emerged last week as a legitimate threat to move the ball, reinforcing his fantastic Peach Bowl performance last year. Meanwhile freshmen Charles Scott and Keiland Williams have looked impressive in minimal action, so while the term "embarrassment of riches" may not necessarily apply to this group (see Georgia for that), the fact that it logged 235 yards against Arizona without a single rusher going over 50 gives the LSU faithful no doubt we can move the ball.

The big question mark becomes the offensive line, another of the preseason concerns about the squad as it too had to replace three starters. After a rough start to the season in the first half of the ULL game, the unit has steadily improved - while Hester stood out last week, the consistent success for all LSU backs gives rise to the hope that the much sought after "cohesion" is there.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had the same role at LSU under Nick Saban just two years ago, and could be considered to have a slight edge in the matchup, having grown somewhat familiar with the LSU players who were around during his tenure. And though recent LSU teams have had boatloads of speed, the same can be said of Auburn's front seven. In all likelihood Muschamp will have his group up to the challenge, and one of the more intriguing storylines of the game will be to see whether LSU's line can open up holes between the tackles. Any success here will be entirely a byproduct of LSU's success in...

The passing game. JaMarcus Russell's "mind-numbing poor decisions" (per SEC Coach quoted in TSN's 2006 preview) were another of LSU's monumental concerns going into the season, especially after backup Matt Flynn turned in a flawless effort in annihilating Miami to end last season. Well, in camp and thus far in the regular season, Russell seems to have slammed the door on those questions with resounding success. He picked apart both ULL and Arizona's secondaries, routinely hitting wideouts down the field while rolling out in either direction.

WR Dwayne Bowe's lasik surgery has worked wonders for him, and the receiver drops (across the board, not just Bowe) that plagued LSU during the 2005 season have not resurfaced thus far this year, allowing us Baton Rouge types to breathe a huge sigh of relief. LSU's passing game is firing on all cylinders right now, and certainly help open it up for the tailbacks to pick up yards on the ground.

Auburn may even have an argument that their secondary, not LSU's, is in fact the best in the conference. Thus far the group has yielded less than 200 yards of passing offense combined in two games, though clearly any effort against the dreadful MSU offense has to be taken with a giant grain of salt. Still, the group is no pushover, and though it may not quite be up to the task of hanging with the fleet-footed LSU receivers, it will cause problems all day.

The verdict

LSU has answered almost every preseason concern with near flawless play thus far, but turnovers have been a concern - 5 in total, and this absolutely has to be cured before Saturday. It's a tall task made monumentally more difficult by having to do it at Jordan Hare.

Auburn, meanwhile, struggled to pull away from Washington State in the opener and probably didn't handle Mississippi State as well as they would have liked to (notably in the rushing department).

Tommy Tuberville is playing the "underdog" card as much as he can for a team ranked 3rd in one poll, and AU Nation is looking to get some vindication for the historic five-missed-field-goal loss at Death Valley last year. On a neutral site I'd have no idea, but as much as it pains me to do this, I'm going with the home field advantage in this one.

Auburn 27, LSU 23