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Game Preview and Open Thread - Auburn vs LSU

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Happy Halloween.

Oh boy, I hope by the time you’re reading this, you’re figuring out the proper ratio of candy to take from your kids as a parent tax (never too early to educate our young ones on the way tax brackets work) before sugaring yourself up with some dark liquor in preparation for what you’ll see today.

First of all, it’s going to be one of those crisp fall afternoons you write about. It’s Halloween. There’s a full moon tonight, and when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have that extra hour of sweet glorious sleep as we head into November. Here’s hoping that you get to dream of an Auburn win instead of having Halloween nightmares of yet another gut-wrenching loss to LSU.

However, this is a happy place. We think happy thoughts here, and especially during 2020, the year that doesn’t matter. LSU’s already faced their share of misery. They had one of the most lightning strike teams last season, and in their first game as defending champs, they got chumped by Mike Leach. The guy couldn’t handle Portland State in his openers at his previous stop, and he clowned LSU.

Auburn has had a rough time this season also. I think we played Georgia, but honestly that game is clouded now in a haze of bourbon hatred so I don’t technically remember what happened. There was a game against South Carolina too, but... well, yeah. Those happened. In between, everyone wants to talk about “Y’ALL. BARN CHEATIN’ AND THEY SHOULD BE A 1-4 TEAM. OR 0-5. KENTUCKY HAD MORE YARDS THAN THEM SO THEY’S BETTER THAN AUBURN AND BARNERHAM IS GIVING AUBURN THE WINS.”

Instead of thinking about the ways that Auburn’s cheating the system and skating by, pissing off SEC West fans of teams that we haven’t even played yet, we should be looking at what the Tigers are doing well.

After the last couple of years of Boobee Whitlow (who was a serviceable running back, but not the type of guy we’re accustomed to here), let me tell you, it’s been a delight to watch Tank Bigsby run the ball. He’s the real deal, and if you don’t think so, just look at my RealDeal face.

I’m Josh Lyman in this situation, and you’re Sam Seaborn. I saw the real thing. Tank is the best pure running back that I think we’ve had since Cadillac. He runs hard, breaks tackles, racks up yardage, and can do everything. We’ve leaned into the idea of getting your best player the ball and it’s worked with him.

Meanwhile, the fight between Bo Nix and Seth Williams in Columbia turned into daps and hugs, mean mugs and shoulder shrugs as the connection went for 8 completions, 150 yards, and the game-winning 58 yard score. Auburn’s pass protection helped a little, and improved some, but there are still holes. In terms of the run game, it continued to soar, and Auburn is now one of the best rushing teams in the SEC.

Unfortunately, Auburn’s offensive line, which had started to turn into one unit instead of five individual ones, lost one of the most experienced and reliable members when Brandon Council went down with a season-ending injury in Oxford. Keiondre Jones, who’s a thicc boy, steps in at right guard, but this is not the team you want to have to play when you’re working in a new guy.

For LSU, they’re probably going to be playing 6’6, 242-pound TJ Finley, who was great last week in his debut as a starter. He’s still got a ton of weapons, and he got the benefit of playing at home against a South Carolina team that may have been experiencing a bit of a hangover after their win against us. Hopefully he comes back to earth and a road atmosphere turns ugly. In both of LSU losses, it’s been the pass defense faltering, and allowing, oh... 1,029 YARDS IN TWO GAMES. If ever there was a game when both phases of Auburn’s offense wanted to work, it would be this game. Bo Nix at home should be a good bit better than Bo Nix on the road, but LSU has 14 sacks in those four games on defense, and average about eight tackles for loss per game overall. Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris have to figure out a way to hit this defense at the right time. It’ll be tricky.

Plus, we’re dealing with the weight of extreme voodoo here, and not just on LSU’s side. This rivalry’s ratio of bizarre outcomes is higher than just about any matchup in the country. Here we have an Auburn team trying to avenge three straight close and crushing losses in the series, and trying to do it in a year like this, on Halloween, with a full moon.

It’s safe to say that if you have an expectation of how this is going to turn out, you probably need to throw a bunch of gasoline on that expectation and light it on fire. There’s no way this turns out to be a run-of-the-mill football game. Never is.

SERIES HISTORY: LSU leads the all-time series 31-22-1, and they’ve won three straight in the rivalry. Auburn’s last win came in 2016 in Les Miles’ final game as head coach at LSU.

LAST MEETING: Last season’s game in Baton Rouge turned out to be the closest game that LSU played all season, as they won 23-20. Auburn led until the final five minutes of the third quarter when Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored the go-ahead touchdown.

LAST WEEK: Auburn took care of business against Ole Miss with a 35-28 win, where Tank Bigsby accounted for 129 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Seth Williams scored the game-winning touchdown as a part of his 150 receiving yards.

LSU had their most impressive performance of the season with a 52-24 win against South Carolina. TJ Finley got the start for the injured Myles Brennan, and threw for 265 yards and. a pair of touchdowns on 17-21 passing. Tyrion Davis-Prince ran for 135 yards and a score, while Terrace Marshall caught another two touchdowns, bringing his season total up to nine.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. Continue to find the offensive balance. This could fall under sub-category “continue to run the ball well” because it’s the Jed Bartlett Silver Bullet to making nearly everything else right on this football team. It opens up the passing game. It allows our defense to rest. It wears down the opposition. Plus, it means we get to watch Tank Bigsby tote the rock. Even so, when Auburn has been at its best this year, it’s when the offense has been keeping balanced and keeping defenses off balance. Last week was a great example. The Tigers were amazingly balanced last week with 224 rushing yards and 238 passing yards, and even though it’s Ole Miss, Bo Nix was much cleaner. LSU’s defense isn’t great either, but their pass rush is the strength, so the run game will need to contiue to bear the brunt of Auburn’s load today.
  2. Make the freshman quarterback a freshman quarterback. No, this TJ Finley cat ain’t Tim Tebow, or Tua, or Johnny Football, or any of the other fantastic freshman quarterbacks that have come through the SEC lately. He’s still 6’6, 242, and showed out last weekend against South Carolina. What turns out to be much different is playing in one of the more friendly home atmospheres and then turning around going into Jordan-Hare Stadium. Without the full capacity crowd, Auburn’s advantage here won’t be as pronounced, but it’s still an unfamiliar stadium for a young kid. When you consider what Kevin Steele’s been able to do against some of the best offenses in college football, and particularly last season against LSU, I have faith that he’ll pull something out to help rattle a freshman. Throw him some stunts, some extra blitzes, some exotic coverage, and let him figure it out.
  3. Make the clutch play. Wow, looking at Auburn’s last three losses to LSU you can easily pinpoint the moments that changed the game and gave LSU a little momentum. In 2017 it was the fourth down touchdown and the diving touchdown catch from Russell Gage right before the half. Then the D.J. Chark punt return score in the second half flipped the game around. One year later, it was again a long play that just barely worked. Joe Burrow hit Derrick Dillon on a 71-yard strike that just barely went over the outstretched hands of an Auburn defender. Then, on the game-winning drive, Burrow calmly stepped up and completed a fourth down slant pass to extend the drive that led to the walk-off field goal. And last year, it turned out to be the LSU defense making big plays like the Derek Stingley interception right before halftime that prevented Auburn from retaking the lead. This year, Auburn has to be the side jumping on the loose ball, grabbing that interception, and winning the big play ratio. LSU’s big plays have killed Auburn over the last three years, so now it’s Auburn’s turn.

STRESS-O-METER:

Anytime LSU comes to town —