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GAME PREVIEW: #22 Auburn @ LSU

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Game 5: Streaks are made to be broken.

Let’s go ahead and get ALL of the bad mojo out.

Yes, Auburn has gone winless in Baton Rouge since 1999.

Yes, that’s ten straight losses to LSU at their home stadium.

Yes, it all started with Auburn smoking cigars on the Death Valley dirt after a 41-7 shellacking in Tommy Tuberville’s first year (that’s why we’re not shying away from this fact and making the cigar photo our header).

Auburn has some soul searching to do, but take some consolation as I ask this question —

ARE THERE ANY NEW WAYS FOR US TO LOSE IN TIGER STADIUM, OR HAVE WE RUN THE GAMUT?

We’ve lost in blowouts, close games, heartbreakers, regulation, overtime, by missing field goals, by giving up touchdown passes, and with no help from the referees. However, let’s not pretend that before the beginning of this streak (2001) this stadium was a favorite place of Auburn’s to play. The orange and blue Tigers have won only FOUR games in history in Tiger Stadium. The 1990s were fairly good, with the aforementioned 41-7 blowout in 1999, but Auburn also withstood LSU and Cecil “The Diesel” Collins in 1997 for a 31-28 victory, then again in 1993 during the perfect season with a 34-10 win. Before that, it was 1939, and that’s it.

To pile on, Auburn lost in Death Valley while causing an earthquake (1988), and they lost on a Phantom Whistle (double mojo with Father Nix taking part in the loss there in 1995). It’s just not a great spot for Auburn, and before this current losing streak, the longest one was the 44-year span from 1939 to 1993 (even though that only constituted five actual meetings in Baton Rouge).

Maybe I’m jinxing everything, and you can blame this here website if that ends up being the case, but what else is there for Auburn to suffer in Baton Rouge? What else can we expect to have happen? Is there any other misfortune that could possibly befall the good Tigers? Have we not paid off the refs and engaged in enough #BarnCheatin to finally end this streak?

LSU seemed to be teetering at the beginning of the year. They lost at UCLA, giving up a boatload of yardage in the process, and then looked really shaky against McNeese State and CMU before beating Mississippi State last weekend. Things are looking up, though. The defense has started to play a bit better, and Max Johnson certainly likes his connection to Kayshon Boutte (pronounced Boo-tay, like you’re Applebee’s fancy) enough to make good on 8 touchdown throws this season.

MEANWHILE, LEMME TELL YA ABOUT AUBURN.

A week ago around this time we were getting down by 12 to Georgia State and letting a dude with two first names run all over us. Now, I can choose to believe that we flat out didn’t prep for the Panthers at all, like at all, but the game still resulted in Bo Nix getting benched and TJ Finley having to save the day on a 4th and 9 touchdown pass. Not great.

Now, the storylines come bubbling up. We’ve got ourselves a live quarterback controversy. Nix vs Finley. With Bo, you get the more seasoned player, but one who’s regressed since the brutally efficient outing to start 2021 against Akron. With Finley, maybe you get one that the team showed a rally behind last week a little more, but one who’ll be returning to his old stomping grounds in what’s sure to be an emotional night.

Auburn has bigger problems than the quarterback situation, however. After the win over GSU, Bryan Harsin fired wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams, citing non-performance from that position group. It’s been pretty evident that they haven’t been good, and after rewatching some film there were plenty of times they were out of position or just didn’t even have enough men on the field. Not to mention, they couldn’t get open against me.

So, will a week of new instruction help fix some issues? Maybe. Will we get a little more oomph from an offensive line that’s going to fave a decidedly heavy front tonight? I hope so. Will the defense start on time instead of waiting for halftime to get motivated? Please, Lord.

SERIES HISTORY: LSU leads the all-time series 31-22-1, winning the last ten meetings in Baton Rouge, and going 19-4-1 all-time against Auburn at home. They’re not great odds, but there’s never been a better time to break a streak than now I guess.

LAST MEETING: Despite the historic road woes for Auburn in Death Valley, the meeting between the two last year at Jordan-Hare resulted in the largest victory in series history for either team — a 48-11 pounding by Auburn — that made Halloween way more fun in 2020.

LAST WEEK: We’ve covered the Auburn victory a bit, a 34-24 win over Georgia State that was way closer than the final score would indicate, but the Tigers did improve to 3-1 and we’ll see exactly who they bring in to start at quarterback today in Tiger Stadium.

LSU beat Mississippi State, utilizing big plays to build a lead, and then hanging on for the 28-25 win in Starkville.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

Challenge the LSU defense downfield across the middle. There was a really fantastic and disheartening graph posted on Twitter by @SECStatCat about Bo Nix’s passing chart for the season.

Look how barren the middle of the field is. There aren’t even any attempts, let alone completions over the middle of the field. This is why everyone is going to try to stack the box until it’s proven that Auburn can actually make them pay for doing so. There’s no way that Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo will abandon the run, but I would bet that we see some play-action to at least try the middle of the field. We’ll probably be seeing some lighter coverage there, and with Derek Stingley out for LSU, there’s no better time to take advantage than right now, no matter WHO the quarterback is throwing the ball.

Prevent the big plays on defense. LSU gained 343 total yards last week at Mississippi State. That’s not great, but when you consider that 174 of those yards came on LSU’s four touchdown plays, you see a pretty wide path to regret if you’re Mike Leach. Max Johnson threw touchdowns of 64, 58, 41, and 11 yards (2 to Kayshon Boutte), but had trouble trying to drive the ball. Their non-scoring drives?

7 drives

33 plays

115 yards

3.48 yards per play

LSU is having real big trouble moving the pile up front, but their passing game has been able to recoup those losses for the most part. If Auburn can keep a 20 yard pass from becoming a 60 yard pass, LSU isn’t scoring much. I trust the Tiger run defense (despite what we saw before halftime last week), especially with Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe in the lineup full-time tonight. We need to get some pressure on Max Johnson, however that happens (blitz Smoke Monday every play, please), and we need to make sure that Boutte doesn’t find a way behind the Auburn secondary (double him with Roger McCreary and whoever else all game long).

No slow starts. Wouldn’t it just be fantastic for Auburn to take initiative in this game and score first? That was a bit of a curse under Gus, and we’d blown leads in Baton Rouge before, but this year the offense needs a little something to help get their minds out of the gutter. Score first, do something pretty, and withstand that crowd early. It’s the first time that the Death Valley crowd will get to really be loud all season (McNeese and CMU don’t cut it), and they will have had all day to get into it before kickoff.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

Who gets the start at quarterback for Auburn and how do they fare? This is an easy one, will it be Nix? Finley? Combination of both? It’s the most in your face question and talking point that we’ll hear about aside from the losing streak tonight.

If Auburn’s won, did they do it with some intermediate passing and a steady dose of the running game, or did they get some reverse voodoo magic to help break this hefty streak? Look, I don’t care if we look awful, I just want the win. It would go a long way to help Bryan Harsin if he broke this losing streak in his first season, so we just need him to do it, however it happens.

Tomorrow morning are we looking at the Georgia game with a tiny bit of hope, or are we hoping to cover the spread? This game will go a long way into launching Auburn into SEC play, and it’s a heck of a benchmark game to start the conference season. If Auburn wins, everything is still on the table despite a tough slate, but if they lose and we don’t have any answers, then we might be scratching for wins in October.

Huge game tonight, let’s do it everyone, War Eagle!