|LSU's defense will be a tough early test for Auburn.
By Acid Reign
On September 20th, at 7:00 PM, a major war will take place in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn and LSU will fight it out, and the winner will have the inside track towards the Western Division title. The game has been picked up by ESPN HD, and will be on national television. The late kickoff should allow plenty of time for fans to get revved up, and the house should be rocking!
LSU returns to the Plains as the defending national champion, but it will be a team minus 10 senior starters from a year ago, seven of which were selected in the recent NFL draft. Previously, LSU will have played Appalachian State, Troy, and North Texas. Barring a year-ago-Michigan-level upset, LSU should be undefeated, and ranked in the top 5. Auburn likely also will be undefeated. This tilt will be LSU's first road game of the year, and their SEC opener.
As with Auburn's first three opponents, LSU had to replace a coordinator, this season. Bo Pellini departed to Nebraska, so a new defensive boss had to be found. Head coach Les Miles promoted from within, naming Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto as co-coordinators. Mallory came over with Miles from Oklahoma State, coaching the defensive backs. Mallory's secondaries have led the SEC in pass efficiency defense all three years he has been at LSU. Last season, led by safety Craig Steltz, LSU picked off 21 passes. Peveto is also in his third season with LSU, coaching linebackers, and serving as special teams coordinator. Peveto previously served as defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State. Last season, Peveto coached an All-American linebacker, Ali Highsmith, an All-SEC linebacker, Darry Beckwith, and two All-SEC kickers, punter Patrick Fisher, and kicker Colt David.
No question looms larger for LSU than the quarterback position. With the dismissal of the talented, mercurial Ryan Perrilloux, the candidates to replace him are redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, and Harvard transfer, junior Andrew Hatch. Hatch appears to be slightly ahead in the race. LSU replaces 3 offensive line starters, but they are LOADED at the skill positions, including veteran pass-catchers Brandon LaFell, and Demetrious Byrd. LSU has a stable of dangerous running backs by committee, including Richard Murphy, Keiland Williams, Trindan Holiday, and Charles Scott.
The defense must replace six starters. The line should be very strong, even without Glenn Dorsey. Darry Beckwith returns at middle linebacker, to anchor a fast, athletic group. LSU has four solid safeties to step into the void left by Craig Steltz, but thus far, the new corners have been disappointing. If there is a weak spot on the LSU defense, it is at corner. Colt David, the All-SEC kicker returns, but LSU must find a punter, and a reliable punt returner. Kickoffs against LSU are always an adventure, with the ever-dangerous Trindon Holliday returning kicks.
Auburn defensive line vs. LSU offensive line: Auburn fields a talented, dangerous front. LSU will be bringing 3 linemen getting their first road start, but they'll be led by talented veteran senior center, Brett Helms, who'll be in his third year as a starter. 5th year senior left guard Herman Johnson returns, as well, and he is a LOAD, at 351 pounds. We'll have a lot of trouble matching up with him. Look for LSU to try lots of weakside runs, with Johnson paving the way. Auburn counters with speedy defensive ends, against young LSU tackles. Advantage: Even.
Auburn linebackers vs. LSU runners: Last year, LSU bashed out 169 yards against the Tigers. Auburn will be deeper and stronger, this year, and LSU loses Jacob Hester to graduation. The second-leading rusher was Matt Flynn, who is also gone. LSU backs frequently gashed through arm tackles in the game, and who can forget Keiland Williams setting sail on a 46-yard screen-pass touchdown late in the 1st quarter. LSU likely will run a lot, this year. Auburn's ability to fly to the ball, and get runners on the ground, will be key to getting young LSU Qbs in some bad situations. Advantage: Even, in a strength against strength matchup.
Auburn corners vs. LSU receivers: LSU returns a couple of dangerous veterans in Demetrious Byrd and Brandon LaFell. The question will be whether a young QB can get the ball to them reliably. Jerraud Powers should be fine against one of them, but I worry about the other side. Gary Crowton may deviate from his usual screen-happy attack, in favor of testing new Auburn corners Aaron Savage and Walt McFadden over the top. Luckily, Auburn's closing speed at safety is as good as it has been in years, and new defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes tends to favor more cover-two packages, than the previous two coordinators did. Auburn cannot afford to give up big plays on the perimeter. Advantage: LSU
Auburn safeties vs. LSU secondary receivers and quarterback: Both teams will be young, in this matchup. Zach Etheridge and Michael McNeil have the talent, and both got their feet wet last season. Etheridge was an All-SEC freshman team selection. LSU fullbacks are primarily blockers, but LSU's tight ends are a threat. Richard Dickson get the starting nod at tight end. He was all-SEC as a freshman, in 2006, and was on some freshman All-American teams. At quarterback LSU will have no game experience returning. Junior transfer, from Harvard, Andrew Hatch is listed as the starter, but Les Miles plans to use a two-quarterback system, this fall. The other quarterback is redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee. Hatch is more of a pocket-passer, while Lee has good speed on the edge. Advantage: even.
Punting: Auburn will be solid with any of three different punters, and good coverage. LSU counters with sophomore returner Chad Jones. Jones dropped several punts last season, and made some bad fielding decisions. He averaged 6.6 yards per return, with a long return of 16 yards. LSU is hoping that Jones matures greatly, this season. LSU loses All-SEC punter Patrick Fisher. Neither of the possible replacement candidates punted well in LSU's spring game. LSU opponents averaged 9.5 yards per return, whereas Auburn gave up only 6.5. Advantage: Auburn
Kickoffs: Auburn will be looking to improve on a poor season, in this area. The health of Wes Byrum will be key. LSU did not fare terribly well in the kickoff department last season, either. LSU tried five different kickers, and none could average more than 60 yards. Auburn averaged 57yards. LSU gave up 20.2 yards per return to Auburn's 21.2. Trindan Holiday gives LSU a dangerous return man, Auburn counters with Tristan Davis. Advantage: Even.
Placekicking: Wes Byrum was consistent for Auburn, hitting 17 of 23 attempts, and made all of his pressure kicks. Colt David was the All-SEC kicker selection, hitting 26 of 33 attempts. David had no misses inside 30 yards, and hit all of his extra points. Advantage: Even.
Auburn offensive line vs. LSU defensive line: Auburn returns every starter from the LSU contest a year ago, when the line showed that it could match up with LSU. They created running creases, and provided protection for Brandon Cox. As inconsistent as Auburn's offense was in 2007, it put up 24 points on the national champions, and it started on the line. LSU returns an abundance of talent, though, and should put up a heck of a fight. Senior end Tyson Jackson is a monster pass-rusher that is awfully tough to block. He has Stanley-McGlover-level speed, but weights almost 300 pounds. Slight advantage: LSU.
Auburn backs vs. LSU linebackers: For Auburn last year, the Lester-Tate-led rushing attack only managed 97 yards on the ground. LSU loses All-American linebacker Ali Highsmith, while Auburn's rushers are a year stronger. Still, it is hard to imagine a spread-offense having huge success running at LSU. Auburn's backs won't be measured by gobs of rushing yardage, but by how well they pick up blitzes, and how they run with screen passes. LSU returns All-SEC middle linebacker Darry Beckwith, while no Auburn back last year even got a sniff of post-season honors. Advantage: LSU.
Auburn receivers vs. LSU corners: After two years of questionable play out of this unit, Auburn's outside guys should be back to typical speed and talent. In addition to stalwarts Rod Smith and Montez Billings, a pair of big-play guys stepped up this spring, in James Swinton and Chris Slaughter. LSU had problems covering their starting receivers, in their spring game, with two new starting corners. Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene have speed, but both are under six feet, and are not considered physical. A key will be how well Auburn can block these guys on the slip-screen. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. LSU safeties: Curtis Taylor returns at strong safety for LSU, and he's a bruising, ball-hawking specimen in the mold of Ronnie Lott. LSU breaks in a new free safety to replace departed All-American Chris Steltz. Harry Coleman starts there, and he's still adjusting a bit. He was a special-teams stalwart in the past, and is a good tackler. Auburn's secondary receivers, Robert Dunn and Tommy Trott should be able to get some mismatches in this area. Auburn will play a pair of young quarterbacks in their first big game, Kodi Burns and Chris Todd. It's worth noting that in both of LSU's overtime losses last season, they gave up a lot of points, facing spread-out offenses that got the ball out to slot receivers, tight ends, and backs. Advantage: Even.
Tallying up the matchups, it appears that LSU has a slight advantage, on paper. Fortunately, this game will be played on an actual football field with 87,000 raucous fans. LSU will be at a decided disadvantage with young players on the road. In addition, Auburn's offensive scheme is one that should be able to take advantage of some of LSU's few defensive weaknesses, IF Auburn's quarterbacks get time to throw and/or run. LSU faced a version of the spread last season, against Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas (Darren McFadden played a LOT of Wildcat/shotgun quarterback in that game). In those four games, LSU gave up 161 points. And this year, they're minus 3 All Americans from that defense. In addition, one can expect mistakes from new quarterbacks, on the road, against a fast front seven like Auburn has.
Prediction: LSU makes too many mistakes to win their first road game, and Auburn romps to a shocking 34-13 victory!