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Playing Nice: College and Magnolia

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It’s Auburn week! Time to get the low down on the other Tigers with Jack Condon.

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It’s Auburn week. One of the best weeks of the year in my opinion. There’s a different, special kind of hate LSU has toward Auburn.

Yes LSU hates Alabama; yes we hate Florida; we’re not fond of Ole Miss, A&M, Arkansas or any other SEC foe. But there’s something special about the hate LSU has toward Auburn.

Anyway, before I get too teary eyed thinking about why I just absolutely loathe the orange and blue, let’s pay a visit to our pals at College and Magnolia! This week site editor Jack Condon tells us everything we need to know about the Auburn Tigers.

1. So the past two years Guz has had LSU dead to rights but Coach O was able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. How has LSU managed to pull the rug out from underneath Auburn each of the past two seasons?

Despite the fact that LSU was a pretty good team in both of those years, they should have both been Auburn wins. That’s a pair of games that Tiger fans look at when judging Gus Malzahn the hardest (along with 2014 Texas A&M, 20016 Georgia, and 2016-17 Clemson). I don’t know if it was any sort of great strategy by Coach O and his crew, or just a few plays here and there of individual effort where LSU beat Auburn. The punt return in 2017 is one, and the two touchdowns earlier in the game on the goal line are others. Last year, people look at the long touchdown pass, but it was really the fourth down on the final drive that sealed it. It was balls out. LSU lined up and threw a quick slant like it was 2nd and 8 in the first quarter. No pressure, just got it done. I think Coach O’s mindset and motivation have given this team the ability to weather any non-Alabama storm.

From an Auburn perspective, Gus got tight. It’s rare that we see a full four-quarter effort these days, and LSU really took advantage of Auburn’s poor stretches throughout those two games.

2. People in Baton Rouge were a little dismissive of Kyle Trask quarterbacking the Gator offense. Trask, despite his inexperience, responded with a 300 yard outing. Auburn’s coming into Tiger Stadium with a true freshman quarterback, what will Bo Nix have to do to beat LSU?

Well, if the stats hold up, LSU’s defense will likely give up some yards and a big play or two, but it comes down to whether or not Bo Nix can make the plays. Against Oregon and Florida, he was rattled and gave up the ball for five combined interceptions. When he’s been a little more comfortable, you see really efficient performances like we had in College Station and against Mississippi State. My guess is that what we’ll see Saturday is somewhere in the middle. For Auburn to have a chance, we have to challenge the LSU secondary early, and we have to win a couple of plays in that regard. Jump ball to Seth Williams, go route with Anthony Schwartz, whatever. We have to be able to protect and hit the deep shot. Do that, and it’ll loosen things up everywhere else. Bo has been markedly better when the run game is successful, so we’ll need to get some production from our backups since Boobee Whitlow is out for this game.

3. No Boobie Whitlow for Auburn. Who’s stepping up in his place?

Hey, perfect follow-up question. We’ll need the running game to work to help out Bo, and there are several options:

-Kam Martin is the upperclassman. Speedy, but likely won’t break any tackles. Needs to hit the hole with some space around him to gain some good yardage. He’ll probably start, but won’t get the most carries.

-D.J. Williams is the freshman. His game most mimics what we want out of our running back. Solid in short yardage, has some unforeseen moves, and he may get the majority of the carries.

-Shaun Shivers is the quick change of pace back. We’d love for him to be able to be that every down back, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen. If we do have some success with Williams running the ball, watch for Shivers to enter the game and try to hit LSU with some quickness or a gadget play.

-Harold Joiner had maybe his best game last week, going for 59 yards and a score on just 4 carries. He’s 6’4, so he’s an interesting build for a tailback. The staff would love to get him involved all over the field, but we’ll have to see if they’ve been saving something for this week. Likely the fourth guy off the bench.

-Joey Gatewood is the backup quarterback, but he’s large and can run the ball. So far, he’s had mixed success when he’s come in, and teams are starting to key on the fact that we’ll want to run the ball with him in the game. If he’s in, I’d expect to see something new on Saturday. He did throw a touchdown against A&M.

4. The Auburn defensive front is arguably the best in the country and certainly the best group LSU has played all season long. But the LSU offensive line responded beautifully against the Florida Gators, not allowing a single sack and paving the way for the Tiger running backs to average 9.1 yards a carry. I’m still not sure how good the LSU offensive line is, but I know Derrick Brown, Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson and company are studs. Will the Tiger defensive line expose the LSU offensive line?

I don’t think either side will get exposed, but LSU can certainly neutralize our defensive front if the quick passing game is working. We haven’t blitzed much this season, trying to get home with four guys, and we haven’t had quite as many sacks as you’d expect from this line. However, an Auburn defensive lineman has won SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week pretty much every week this year. Marlon Davidson has upped his game to nearly match Derrick Brown’s, and both of them are turnover machines. That’s likely where Auburn can cut into that 12-point line.

5. Little known fact but Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999. It’s true! What will the Tigers need to do to reverse this trend?

If there’s ever a year that we could erase some really sordid voodoo mojo, it would be this season. A win in Death Valley would put Auburn right back into the discussion nationally, and put a damper on LSU’s hot season. To do that, though, it’ll probably be tougher than any trip since 2011. I’ve mentioned a couple things above, but here’s what Auburn has to do to make it not only close, but a win.

Bo Nix has to hit a couple deep balls, preferably early. If Auburn can take the crowd out of it a little, then our chances just increase even more. We have to see the fruits of a bye week before Arkansas in Gus’ gameplanning as well. We need to see a bunch of stuff to keep LSU off balance, and we need to see the ball spread around to our playmakers in unconventional ways. People are wise to what Gus likes to do for the most part, so this is the perfect opportunity to mix it up.

As far as the cliche benchmarks go, we can’t turn the ball over more than once. Preferably, we’d have a positive turnover ratio, and it would help on defense to make LSU drive the ball. Big plays doomed us at Florida, but if we can make the opposition take eight, nine, 10 plays to score touchdowns instead of two or three, then our chances to stop them really go up. Florida’s three touchdown drives spanned five total plays. Not ideal. Can’t allow that to happen again. It’s either going to be a close Auburn win or an LSU win that’s close to covering, in my opinion.