The Auburn game is one of my favorites every football season, but due to the new world we’re living in LSU-Auburn won’t be an annual thing after this season. Thanks to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, LSU’s streak of playing Auburn every year since 1991 will come to an end once the game clock hits 0:00 Saturday night. Thankfully it’s not a game we’re losing forever, and that’s doubly good for me because that lets me keep working with Ryan Sterritt.
1. LSU and Auburn have played 32 consecutive years but that streak will end in 2024. What does this game mean to you?
Every Auburn fan has a slightly different relationship with the LSU game. For some, it’s a hated rivalry after the vitriol of the helmet-cracking brutality of the 2000s matchups. For others, it’s the most fun game of the year, with a chance to interact with fans that hate Alabama, cook some great food, and tailgate like there’s no tomorrow. Personally, it’s a little bit of both, with some strong family ties all across Louisiana, and while I love them and thoroughly enjoy a trip to Baton Rouge myself, there’s been some heated shit-talking with the cousins over the years. The games almost always play out with some sort of insanity, which is bound to happen with two of the biggest “chaos” teams in college football, and even nationally I feel like it gets recognized as one of the most fun CFB matchups in the sport, even when the two programs may not be national title contenders (like this year). It’s a shame realignment is bringing an end to this matchup - while Auburn is tied to keeping Bama and Georgia on the schedule, I’d much rather have a batshit Auburn-LSU game in the first half of the season every year.
2. How has year one of the H*gh Fr**z* experiment gone? And what would constitute a successful coaching tenure?
Where do I start? I will preface this by saying the opinions of the ghost staff of College & Mag do not exactly match that of the majority of the fanbase. Several of us were on record *adamantly* anti-Hugh Freeze even before Harsin was fired, some for on-field reasons (what did he ever actually win?) and many more for off-field reasons (Auburn hired him 6 months removed from him DMing a sexual assault victim with an active lawsuit against his employer, AMONG OTHER THINGS). That being said, for us, the bar was always going to be high, perhaps intentionally unachievably so. He’s certainly gotten Auburn back on the right track in terms of recruiting, which Gus had faltered on and Harsin possibly intentionally sabotaged. How he finishes this recruiting class, with so many 4 and 5 stars still on the board, is arguably more important than the on-field product. Looking competent against two weeks ago, which hasn’t happened in a while, will likely end up going a long way towards that. However, the complete lack of a passing game with a QB was not great, but certainly good, at Michigan State last year means something isn’t clicking. It was never going to be a one year turnaround for Freeze with this roster, but he certainly hasn’t impressed Auburn fans who were hoping for instant offense.
To the second point, what does he need to do for a successful tenure? Most importantly, keep his name out of the news for anything unrelated to football. Past that, he could be forgiven if he’s only able to return Auburn to a top 10-12 talent level, without a ton of on-field success. With the upcoming playoff expansion, Auburn should be in contention in November for it on a yearly basis. Before Harsin set the program back several years, Auburn had a pretty consistently been able to win the SEC West once every 4-5 years, which is generally going to get you in the new Playoff picture.
3. LSU’s pass defense is ranked 121st in the country. Auburn’s pass offense is also ranked 121st in the country. Who wins: the stoppable force that is Auburn’s offense or the movable object that is LSU’s defense?
Peyton Thorne showed signs of life last week against a stout UGA defense. After looking like a lost puppy against Texas A&M, the offensive staff found at least a few things that would work to give Thorne a chance behind an offensive line that is still subpar. I think this matchup actually has less to do with the Auburn receivers and LSU DBs, and more to do with LSU’s pass rush. If they’re able to get home early, Auburn won’t have a chance at moving the ball, as Thorne tends to accept the sack rather than throw up 50/50 balls. However, Thorne does have better mobility than even most Auburn fans expected coming into the season, so if the pass-rush is unable to bring him down, he may be able to pull off a repeat of what Bo Nix did in Tiger Stadium last time Auburn came to town.
4. Is this Auburn team officially Payton Thorne’s or does Robby Ashford see enough snaps to call this a two-QB system?
While Robby Ashford does have his supporters, it’s clear this isn’t a two-QB system. He will likely take some snaps Saturday, and may even throw the ball a few times, but he just doesn’t have the skillset to lead an SEC offense. Despite Thorne’s struggles, he’s far and away the better option, and with his newfound rushing ability, it’s becoming less and less clear why he would need to be pulled for the backup.
5. Auburn’s coming off a bye week but have dropped two in a row. LSU’s back home in Baton Rouge after splitting a pair of road games. How do you see this one playing out? And what’s Auburn’s path to winning look like?
Auburn doesn’t really have a path to winning a track meet, so if Jayden Daniels (who I personally think really highly of) is able to keep the Auburn secondary off-balance, that would be enough to win. That said, the Auburn secondary has looked great this year against everyone except Brock Bowers, and luckily he’s 1-of-1. Auburn will have to establish a run game, which it found against UGA to the tune of 219 yards and 5.1 ypc. I legitimately have no read on this game, with neither team really having much momentum to speak of right now. So I’ll offer this - either Auburn wins a 19-17 style game where they hold on to the ball and play keep away from LSU, or LSU runs away late 31-10 as the Auburn offense completely putters out in the second half.