(picture via www4.pictures.zimbio.com)
It was recently that LSU star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (a.k.a. "Honey Badger") tweeted these lyrics from a Lil Wayne song: "Looked into the face of death and took its mask off."
When Auburn visits Death Valley Saturday to face #1 LSU, the orange and blue Tigers' task will be just short of that feat, but thanks to Mathieu himself, Auburn's task just got a tiny bit easier. Mathieu, fellow CB Tharold Simon and RB Spencer Ware were all suspended by LSU Wednesday, allegedly for failing drug tests.
Does that put Auburn in better position to beat LSU? Sure. Does it make the task easy in any way? Not at all, as LSU is still loaded at every position. However, in a game whose original line made Auburn three-touchdown underdogs, the loss of these three starters for LSU is a huge factor.
Historically, Auburn-LSU is filled with very close games. 25 of 45 games between these teams have been decided by eight points or fewer. Many games in this rivalry have been given their own names. Notable Auburn-LSU games include:
1988 (The Earthquake Game): #4 Auburn went to Baton Rouge to play 2-2 LSU, but in the fourth quarter, Auburn led just 6-0. Finally, LSU scored on a fourth-and-goal pass late in the game, sending the crowd into such a frenzy that it registered as an earthquake on the seismograph on LSU's campus. LSU won, 7-6.
1994 (The Interception Game): #11 Auburn played host to LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium having won 14 games in a row. However, LSU jumped out to a 23-9 lead in the fourth quarter. However, LSU imploded, throwing five interceptions in the final quarter (three of them returned for touchdowns). Despite gaining 165 yards of total offense, Auburn pulled off a magical 30-26 win.
1996 (The Night the Barn Burned Down): At Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn scored a late touchdown, but a potential game-tying two-point conversion was picked off and returned for a score, giving LSU a 19-15 win. However, the big reason why this game is famous is because during the game, the old Auburn Sports Arena (referred to as "The Barn") burned to the ground following a tailgating accident. This coined the term for close games, "Barnburner."
2004 (The Hurricane Game): Just four days after Hurricane Ivan, #4 LSU visited Jordan-Hare for a game against Auburn. LSU led 9-3 in the fourth quarter, but Jason Campbell completed a pass to Courtney Taylor late in the game to convert a 4th-and-long. A few plays later Campbell found Taylor again in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 9. Auburn missed the extra point, but LSU was called for a penalty. Auburn took advantage, and the PAT would lift Auburn to a 10-9 win. Auburn would go 13-0.
2005: Auburn visited LSU in a battle of the past two SEC champions. Auburn RB Kenny Irons had a huge game, rushing for 218 yards, but Auburn's legendary kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals (one in OT) as LSU beat Auburn, 20-17.
2006: In Auburn, Auburn's offense struggled, but a strong defensive effort (including some really sure tackling) and a third-quarter touchdown run by Brandon Cox lifted #3 Auburn to a 7-3 win over #6 LSU.
2007 (The Last-Second Game): #17 Auburn visited #4 LSU, who had lost at Kentucky the week before. Auburn controlled the first half, leading 17-7 at the break and looking good on both sides of the ball. However, LSU would make it a 17-13 game going into the fourth. After the Bayou Bengals went ahead 23-17, Brandon Cox engineered an impressive TD drive to give Auburn a 24-23 lead. However, LSU had one more shot, as Matt Flynn connected with Demetrius Byrd on a 22-yard touchdown pass with one second left to break Auburn's heart, 30-24.
2010: #6 LSU visited Cam Newton and #4 Auburn for a showdown of unbeaten Tigers. Auburn's run game couldn't be stopped, as Cam Newton ran for 217 yards and the Tigers as a whole rushed for 440 yards. A long touchdown run by Onterio McCalebb late in the game lifted Auburn to a 24-17 win. Auburn would go on to win the BCS National Championship (and keep the trophy after an NCAA investigation. Sorry, I couldn't resist).
Auburn-LSU is a rivalry full of classic games. Will Saturday be another classic?
Both of these teams have changed drastically from 2010 on offense. LSU, whose offense wasn't very impressive for the most part last season, averages 38 points and 369 yards per game. Auburn, who lit up the scoreboard and the statsheet in 2010 with Heisman winner Cam Newton, averages just 360 yards and 26 points per game.
Both of these teams are strong defensively. LSU gives up just 11 points per game and has held every opponent except for Oregon and West Virginia to 11 points or fewer. LSU's defense, even without Mathieu, has playmakers like Morris Claiborne. Auburn's defense began the season giving up 110 points in the first three games, but since then has held opponents to 18 points per game and 306 yards per game. The defense's climax was last week against Florida, when Auburn held the Gators to 6 points, 194 total yards, 14 first downs and 3 turnovers.
Both teams will play musical chairs with quarterbacks. LSU starts the efficient and sometimes explosive Jarrett Lee while sometimes replacing him with the mobile Jordan Jefferson. It's a 2011 version of the Matt Flynn-Ryan Perrilloux system LSU used during their 2007 BCS title run. Auburn will give Clint Moseley his first start, as Barrett Trotter was struggling mightily. Moseley is a bigger QB (6'4, 213 lbs.) and appeared more fit for the offense than Trotter when he started the second half against Florida. Auburn's wildcat formation is freshman QB Kiehl Frazier, who Auburn fans are counting on to be the next great Tiger QB.
Auburn's Keys to the Game
Get the passing game going - Emory Blake and Trovon Reed both have a "50/50" chance to play according to Gene Chizik. Regardless, Clint Moseley needs to have confidence against this LSU defense. Don't get cute, run the ball, but don't get one-dimensional. Auburn needs to establish a passing game early against a defense that loses its two starting corners to suspensions.
Defense, do what you do! - Whatever Chizik, Ted Roof and company did the week of the South Carolina game worked greatly. The defense has gone from being the "worst in Auburn history" to actually being a pretty good defense. LSU has a good offense, make no mistake. Auburn must continue to blitz and be physical. Corey Lemonier (the SEC's sack leader) needs another big game.
Continue good special teams play - Cody Parkey needs to get his accuracy back (he missed two field goals against Florida) but special teams overall has been a strength for Auburn this year. They must continue that in Baton Rouge. LSU has an explosive returnman in Morris Claiborne. Leading just 27-21 against West Virginia, Claiborne returned a kickoff 99 yards to give LSU a 34-21 lead and give LSU the momentum back. If he doesn't return that kick, that game could have ended very differently. Auburn must have a good game on special teams Saturday.
LSU's Keys to the Game
Ditch those ugly uniforms - OK, this isn't a serious key to the game. But all white just doesn't fit you, LSU. There's still time to reject wearing those. While I'm getting these silly keys out of the way, Les Miles must be sure to reserve some grass to eat and he can't forget to put that four-leaf clover under his hat. Oh, and make sure Gary Danielson doesn't say any good facts about you, LSU, because right after he says it you will do the opposite. It's the CBS curse.
Don't get predictable - If Jordan Jefferson is in the game, a running play is likely. Auburn is stiff against the run, so more often than not, that will not work. LSU needs to be "LSU!" in playcalling. Throw the ball to open up the run.
Don't catch yourself looking ahead to Alabama - After beating Florida two weeks ago, LSU fans were chanting, "We want Bama!" LSU's team can't have this approach.... and they likely won't. LSU must (and will) keep in mind that they're playing the defending national champions. If they play focused for 60 minutes, THEN you can focus on Alabama.
Prediction: LSU 23, Auburn 20
I have a good feeling in my gut about this game... but I'm picking with my head. LSU is too talented for Auburn. Death Valley has been a nightmare for Auburn since their last win there in 1999. I think Moseley and the Tigers will give LSU a good fight, but in genuine LSU fashion, the Bayou Bengals will pull it off and remain #1 in the country heading to Tuscaloosa in two weeks. Nonetheless, I believe Auburn will turn in a good performance and leave it all on the field.