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What To Watch For: Auburn

Everyone who has ever liked Auburn is a bad person

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Jake Crandall via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This is a big week, needless to say. The first SEC game in full capacity Tiger Stadium, the return of TJ Finley, the kickoff of a gauntlet of a schedule for the rest of the way, it has all the narrative and all the fun. Neither team is particularly complex or impressive schematically so there’s not a ton to watch for there, it’s gonna come down to execution, it’s gonna come down to playmakers making plays, and it’s going to come down to something extremely, extremely weird.

For Auburn

TJ Finley revenge game

For the sake of this, I’m going to assume TJ Finley will start this game. If it’s Bo Nix, a thing to watch for is him throwing to things that are not his receivers. If Nix starts, everyone in the first few rows at Tiger Stadium should be on alert for projectiles entering the stands. TJ Finley has never made a real road start. All of his significant snaps have come in the 2020 season and its half empty stadiums. It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles both the emotion of his return, the pressure of his first Auburn start, and Tiger Stadium. Lot of intangibles at play here.

Diversifying the pass game

We know that Auburn’s pass game is very much not helped by Bo Nix being terrible, but it’s not like they’re giving him a ton to work with. The passing game is extremely dry, with an almost obsessive leaning on 4 verts which, without good receivers or an accurate QB, isn’t really all that effective. LSU is going to play a lot of cover one, so they’d be wise to start calling some deep overs off play action like UCLA did with great success.


Attacking downfield

Like LSU, Auburn is going to play a ton of cover one, it’s what they’ve built their back end around. They are going to really dare LSU to protect Johnson and throw the ball downfield. Against Mississippi State, they did a better job leaving 6-7 people in the protection and taking shots downfield. They need to do this again, but start using a lot more play action. When you’re protecting with 7, you don’t have the underneath routes to hold second level defenders under your intermediate routes like your over routes, digs, and the like. The substitute is play action, which sucks them into their run fits and forces them to have to recover to get underneath your intermediates. Even with more bodies in the protection, you actually have to.....block people. Auburn has one of the nastiest defensive fronts in the country, they have been elite at generating pressure without a ton of sim pressures or blitz packages, they just beat blocks. LSU will be in for a long night if they can’t at least be serviceable up front.

Stopping the run

It’s very simple, and very retro to be focused primarily on stopping the run, but it’s what Auburn does best. This is a team that is very very limited in the passing game, but generates a lot of explosive plays on the ground. If you can keep them inefficient in the run game, you can basically put them away. LSU’s assignment soundness will be tested, their ability to shed blocks and disrupt will be tested, and Daronte Jones’ ability to adjust his fronts as needed will be tested.

For Both

The LSU/Auburn effect meets the Joe Tess effect

When LSU plays Auburn, weird things happen. It’s just a matchup that is conducive to the bizarre and the fun. You compound that with Joe Tess on the call, and it’s pretty clear that this game is going to be decided by something bananas. A DJ Chark punt return, a last second TD found to be snapped after expiration, a 20 point comeback by a weirdly bad team against the eventual SEC West champs, Flynn to Byrd, etc. It’s not very I’m analytical or data driven of me to say this, but we all know that this is going to be an abnormal football game. Embrace it.