War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for another Auburn football preview. This week, we'll look at the LSU Tigers. On October 23rd, a week after a big showdown against Arkansas, Auburn will host LSU. This will be the third in a string of four SEC matchups for Auburn. LSU opens on the road, playing North Carolina in the season opener in Atlanta, then Vanderbilt in Nashville. A three game homestand follows, against Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Then LSU travels to Gainesville, followed by McNeese State at home. It's a tough start for LSU, with no cupcakes (well, except maybe Vandy) for the first six weeks.
LSU will be a fairly young team in 2010, and they'll return only 4 defensive starters. Some folks have suggested that head coach Les Miles is on the hot seat, and needs to compete for the Western Division title to save his job. LSU has division-winning talent on hand, but much of it is untested. It will be quite a challenge to navigate a very rough schedule to a title with 13 or 14 first-time starters.
As always, the web and past performance are my main sources for these previews. I had quite a chuckle when I was doing LSU research, and this popped up. CBS is still reporting that LSU will go with purple turf in Death Valley, months after that story was revealed to be an April Fool's joke. How much other info on that site is out of date? The SEC is joined at the hip with CBS for HOW many more years?
Defensively one can expect the second year of a John Chavis defense to go smoother than the first. It's a multiple scheme, with quite a bit of emphasis on pattern reading and assignments. The players will benefit from another full year of tutelage in the concepts. That said, LSU has seven new starters on defense, and two of the returning starters have moved to new positions. It would have been good to play LSU earlier in the year, before the kinks get worked out. LSU should have one of the better units in the SEC by game eight of the season. Junior lockdown corner Patrick Peterson and head-hunting senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard are the leaders of the defense.
While head coach Les Miles' seat may be warm, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's situation is more dire. LSU finished at or near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive categories, and Crowton receives most of the blame from the LSU faithful. It's really kind of amazing to me, because I remember Crowton's La. Tech offenses with Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards setting all sorts of offensive records in the late 1990s. I find it hard to believe that the man has forgotten how to coach! I think the plan last season was to rely on a power running game with Charles Scott, and to bring new starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson along slowly. LSU never seemed to develop continuity along the line, Scott wasn't a terribly elusive back, and SEC defenses geared up to stop Scott. With no running game, LSU struggled to find an offensive identity. If the LSU spring game is any indication, there's still a long way to go. LSU ran the ball well, but starting fullback Dominique Allen was "indefinitely suspended" this summer. The 270 pound lead blocker will be missed. Junior quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee had pretty miserable days. Jefferson hit only about a third of his passes, and Lee threw yet another pick six. Bright spots were a solid rushing performance by redshirt freshman Parade All-American running back Michael Ford, and wildcat heroics by Russell Shepard. There seems to be a move in the LSU offensive brain-trust towards more wildcat and option looks. LSU poached wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales away from Florida, so we'll expect to see more end arounds/jet sweeps/options to the receiver this season on the Bayou.
LSU usually fields one of the best special teams units in the SEC, and 2010 appears to be no exception. LSU returns a pair of senior legs in kicker Josh Jasper and punter Derek Helton. LSU has absolutely stifling coverage units, but must replace dangerous return men Trindan Holliday and Chad Jones. Junior Patrick Peterson is listed at the top of both depth charts for return men, but it's hard to see him doing both consistently, AND playing every snap at corner.
Unit Matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. LSU offensive line: Auburn actually fared decently in last season' s tilt up front. Auburn's front tallied 3 sacks on Jordan Jefferson, and held the feared LSU running back corps to 34 rushing yards. Where Auburn was torn up was quarterback scrambles by Jefferson and wildcat QB Russell Sheppard. Auburn should have similar strength up front this year, with Nick Fairley replacing Jake Ricks, and Antoine Carter replacing Antonio Coleman. LSU moves veteran senior right tackle Joseph Barksdale from the right side to the left, and fills the right tackle spot with Sophomore Alex Hurst, a former reserve guard. Guards will be juniors Josh Dworaczyk and Will Blackwell. Dworaczyk started all 13 games last year, while Blackwell was a reserve journeyman who's played center and guard. Center is a battle between two experienced guys, junior T-Bob Hebert and sophomore Patrick Lonegan. LSU's guys are talented, but after two years of offensive floundering, we'll reserve judgment on unit cohesiveness till we see the product on the field. Slight Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. LSU backs: Auburn will rely on the senior experience of Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, with help from sophomore Jonathan Evans. Last year, Auburn linebackers had a fine game against the LSU running backs, but lost contain on the quarterbacks repeatedly. With LSU utilizing more wildcat and pistol looks this spring, expect pursuit to remain a problem for Auburn against LSU. I'd expect to see a lot of playing time by converted safety Darren Bates. LSU lost mainstays Charles Scott and Keiland Williams to graduation, but the cupboard is hardly bare. The trio of senior Richard Murphy, junior Stefan Ridley and redshirt freshman Michael Ford should be fine. There's experience there, power and speed. Where LSU may be hurting is in the lead blocker category. As mentioned above, top fullback Dominique Allen is suspended. The next guy listed on the media guide depth chart is incoming freshman Travis Dickson, followed by sophomore Kellen Theriot. Advantage: Even.
Auburn corners vs. LSU receivers: Auburn had matchup problems last season against LSU receivers, and opted for a keep-it-in-front zone against short LSU passes. Junior Neiko Thorpe should be more seasoned this year, and has both the speed and size to defend the big LSU guys. Senior Demond Washington is smaller, and will have to make up for that with his speed. Nickel play by T'Sharvan Bell will be critical. Bell must keep Russell Sheppard from making big plays from the slot. LSU lost some veteran guys here, but return senior Terrence Tolliver and sophomore Reuben Randle. Junior DeAngelo Peterson is listed as the number one Y receiver, but I'd expect to see more of Randle. Advantage: LSU.
Auburn safeties vs. LSU secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn got a huge boost to the secondary when senior safety Zach Etheridge announced that he would be able to play in 2010. Reportedly, he's in the best shape of his life after grueling rehab work, and there's no substitute for three years of starting experience in the SEC. Auburn also has capable players in senior Aaron Savage, junior Mike McNeil, as well as depth beyond that. The Auburn safeties tallied 11 tackles in last year's LSU game, but many of them were WAY downfield. LSU's secondary receiver to watch is sophomore Russell Shepard, easily the most explosive player on the team. LSU will move this guy around a lot, getting it to him on screens, end arounds, or wildcat snaps. Most teams don't have a defensive answer for this. At tight end, LSU will use mostly junior DeAngelo Peterson (a converted wide receiver) on passing downs, and sophomore Chase Clement on run downs. Clement is a former defensive linemen. In addition, LSU has blocking specialists Tyler Edwards and Mitch Joseph on the depth chart. At quarterback, it's junior Jordan Jefferson's job to lose, and a lackluster spring has made a race of the quarterback position. Junior Jarrett Lee is the challenger, trying to shake off a history of throwing interceptions for touchdowns. Jefferson is especially dangerous as a scrambler. Slight Advantage: LSU.
Punting: The Auburn heir apparent at punter is senior Ryan Shoemaker, who was a freshman All-SEC in 2007. Shoemaker sports a career 41.5 yard average, and by all accounts is kicking the ball well this summer. LSU returns senior punter Derek Helton, who averaged 40.0 yards per punt, as well as senior pooch specialist Josh Jasper, who killed ten punts inside the 20 on fifteen attempts. Both teams are looking for return men. Auburn's still up in the air, while LSU seems to have settled on the sticky fingered Patrick Peterson. LSU's coverage limited folks to 4.4 yards per punt return, while Auburn's coverage gave up a whopping 12.9. Advantage: LSU.
Kickoffs: Auburn senior Wes Byrum will likely manage the kickoff duties in 2010, having posted a career 62.4 yard average on 83 kickoffs. Josh Jasper handles LSU kickoffs, and he averaged 61.6 yards per kick. LSU led the SEC in net kickoff yardage, with 44.5 yards. By comparison Auburn managed 40.5. Auburn has options for returners, although a starter hasn't been named. Mario Fannin (21.2 yards per return) and Onterrio McCalebb (24.7) had success last season, and Demond Washington (31.1 yards) was a late addition who took one to the house against Georgia. Juniors Patrick Peterson and Ron Brooks will handle kickoff returns for LSU. Brooks averaged 19.4 yards per return in 2009. LSU gave up 17.5 yards per return, Auburn gave up 23.5. Advantage: LSU.
Place kicking: Auburn returns senior Wes Byrum, who's coming off a near-perfect year, hitting 14 of 15 field goals and all of his extra points. LSU has senior Josh Jasper, who hit 17 of 20 on field goals, and all of his extra points. Slight Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. LSU defensive line: Auburn has some fearsome linemen up front, and a lot of starts over the past four years. Seniors Lee Ziemba, Byron Issom, Mike Pugh and Mike Berry will be joined by JUCO transfer Brandon Moseley to form a tough front line. It was a miserable game for Auburn against LSU last season, as the Tigers failed to open holes, and killed drives with untimely penalties. It's a different matchup this season, as LSU has to replace three starters on the defensive line. Senior Lazarius Levingston moved from end to tackle this spring, as LSU hopes to add pass-rushing quickness inside. Senior Drake Nevis and sophomore Josh Downs have experience, and LSU will rotate as many as six tackles in the course of a game. LSU replaces both starters at defensive end, but has at least five guys capable of playing at an SEC level. Penciled in as starters are JUCO transfer junior Kendrick Adams and sophomore Lavar Edwards. Slight advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. LSU linebackers: Auburn was essentially down to one running back for the LSU game in 2009, and Ben Tate was held to 67 yards. Mario Fannin moonlighted at tailback, and quietly picked up 56 yards on six carries. Fannin is now the starter, and he'll be spelled by Onterrio McCalebb and freshman sensation Michael Dyer. Senior LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard is a great one, but there are questions beyond that. Junior Ryan Baker will start on the weak side, and he's been pretty much a special-teams only player before now. Junior Stefoin Francois starts on the strong side, and he's a converted safety who's yet to see an SEC snap at linebacker. Behind the starters are three redshirt freshman. Despite the presence of Sheppard, LSU will face a difficult to figure offense with a lot of inexperience. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. LSU corners: The deepest position on Auburn's 2010 squad appears to be at receiver, led by star junior Darvin Adams. Adams and Terrell Zachary were shut down by LSU last season, managing only one catch for one yard by Zachary as Chris Todd had his worst outing of the year. Junior Patrick Peterson is considered one of the best corners in the game, but there are questions on the other side. Sophomore Morris Claiborne gets the nod on the other side. Claiborne played extensively as a reserve last year, and was a high school sprint champion. He also racked up spring game defensive MVP honors. He's on the light side though, at six feet and 171 pounds. LSU is young beyond that. LSU may shut Darvin Adams down again, but it's going to be tough if Auburn has other receivers emerge. All indications are that Zachary, Quindarious Carr, DeAngelo Benton and others are ready to do just that. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. LSU safeties: Auburn should have a number of talented secondary receivers, including sophomore tight end Phillip Lutzenchirchen. The Tigers often line up outside receivers in the slot, and throw a lot of passes to backs out of the backfield. There are at least a half-dozen such candidates who can break a screen pass the distance. In addition, quarterback Cameron Newton has a strong arm, and is a threat as a runner. LSU returns junior strong safety Brandon Taylor, who's a solid tackler. Moving into the free safety slot is former cornerback Jai Eugene. The senior Eugene is experienced, smart, and has good hands. Look for blue chip redshirt freshman Craig Loston to make some noise as the third safety in on passing downs. Newton will have to avoid mistakes against this bunch. Advantage: Even.
This is a dangerous game for Auburn, coming on the heels of a tough game with Arkansas. The LSU game is usually a hard-hitting one, and Auburn can't afford a let-down. Auburn should be undefeated or close to it. LSU should lose to Florida, and with a young team, might also slip up against North Carolina and/or West Virginia. I'd expect a primetime matchup on national TV.
Despite an improved Auburn defense, the LSU offense has enough talent that there will be the usual handful of break-away plays. If LSU is able to get the running game going, it will be awfully tough to stop. The Auburn front seven must keep the LSU quarterbacks in the pocket, or it will be a long game.
Auburn will not win the special teams battle, but it's incumbent on the Tigers not to lose the game on muffs. In five years of Les Miles, LSU has 12 special-teams touchdowns and 11 blocked kicks. Auburn must stop both threats.
Last year, LSU wreaked havoc up front on the D-line, while the speedy linebackers sat back 7-10 yards and read the play, utilizing only the occasional blitz on passing downs. With Auburn's receivers locked down by a superb secondary and fast LSU linebackers avoiding getting caught up in the wash, Auburn managed only 112 total yards. Of those 112, 59 came on a late trash-time drive by Neil Caudle and the Auburn reserves. John Chavis' defenses do not stunt themselves out of position, and it will be incumbent on Auburn to get a push up front. This will be Cameron Newton's first outing against against a really good defense, and he may have problems.
Prediction: It's a closer game this year, but Auburn continues to have offensive problems against the Bengal Tigers. Late game heroics win it for LSU, 27-24.