Auburn hits the road for the first time this year on Saturday, traveling to Baton Rouge for a night game against LSU. To get a better idea of what's going on with Les Miles' Tigers, we caught up with Billy Gomila of SB Nation's LSU blog, And the Valley Shook. Our answers to his questions can be found here.
College and Magnolia: LSU seems to be a little better on offense this year. What is Cam Cameron doing that's having more success? Is this just a product of Zach Mettenberger getting better as a quarterback?
Billy Gomila: Little of column A, little of column B. Mettenberger's improvement is a huge part of it -- really it's been beyond my expectations so far. A lot of his issues last season were pretty typical of an inexperienced guy, but this year he really just looks calm and in command, whether it's finding his third option or making a check at the line when the defense presents a better match-up down the field.
But a lot of that has to be credited to Cameron, whose reputation as a quarterbacks coach is established. But as a playcaller, so far he's really just provided a lot of stability and something of a steady hand on the wheel. We really saw that against TCU when LSU's running game was sputtering early. The offense shifted gears to the pass, then started using some draws and traps to gas the defense once it was playing on its heels.
CaM: On the other side of the ball, while good, the LSU defense looks like it may be a step behind the product that the Tigers usually field. What's your take on the unit so far?
BG: Things have been inconsistent so far. Not bad per se, but inconsistent. This defense will look great for two or three drives and then inexplicably start giving up yardage in chunks. It's been a combination of inexperience, some mental mistakes (tackling, pursuit angles) and the fact that the offense has been so good at getting big leads is like a factor as well. Against UAB the defense started out great -- held the Blazers to all of 4 yards through the first quarter or so. LSU built a 28-0 lead, and then suddenly UAB moves the ball for more than 150 yards in that quarter.
The linebackers have really struggled, and don't have a set lineup yet and that's a huge surprise. All of us at ATVS expected that unit to be the strength of the defense. But if there's been a pleasant surprise, it's been that the defensive line is playing above expectations. In my opinion, that sets the stage for more improvement from the back seven as the year goes on.
CaM: Who are LSU's biggest playmakers on offense and defense?
Everything on offense starts with Mettenberger and his top two receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. They're playing pitch-and-catch with some incredible chemistry right now. Probably the best I've seen since Jamarcus Russell and Dwayne Bowe were here. But Jeremy Hill is getting revved up as well after his suspension, and if there could be a breakout player in this game, he'd be my first choice. Backup Terrence Magee has also looked great as a change-of-pace backup.
On defense it all starts on the defensive line with tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. Active guys that are just giving teams hell in the backfield. Defensive end Jordan Allen is off to a fantastic start as well coming from the edge. The secondary has been inconsistent at times, but cornerback Jalen Mills can be a great one when he's on his game.
CaM: What's the Tigers' biggest strength in this game? How will LSU have the most success?
BG: Up front, LSU should be able to get some push on the line of scrimmage on both sides, and based on what I've seen from Auburn's corners, I'm not sure they'll be able to handle Beckham and Landry too well. I expect LSU to come out and try to create some big plays in the passing game early to build a lead and then start leaning more and more on the run to keep Auburn's offense off the field and try to protect the defense a little.
CaM: What about LSU's biggest weakness against Auburn? What concerns you the most?
BG: Personally, I'm still not sure that a Les Miles team is all that comfortable in a shootout. Gus Malzahn is much more comfortable in that setting, and I'm a little worried that Auburn's offense might be able to have some success on LSU's defense. The linebackers and DB's concern me the most, particularly given Auburn's use of read plays and misdirection. LSU's offense should be able to have plenty of success and strike somewhat quickly, but like I said, I'd much rather make Auburn play our game than play theirs.
CaM: How do you think the game plays out, and what's your scoreboard prediction?
BG: I'm not one for picking scores, but I just don't see Auburn's defense stopping LSU very much. And while I'm a big fan of Malzahn's style, and I think Nick Marshall is going to be a load for anybody in this league to stop later in this year and next season, I still think LSU's defense does just enough to let the home team get ahead comfortably and then use Hill and the running game to close this one out.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Wednesdays with (Oscar) Whiskey
- College football viewing guide, Week 4: Beatdown edition
- The Plainsman's Kitchen: Maple-roasted bacon
- Auburn Tigers in the NFL: Week 2
- Undercover Barner: Capital letters and exclamation points