It’s time for SEC play as the Tiger twosome tangles on the Plains. This game got way out of hand last year in Death Valley, but the fact remains that the margin of victory in this game has been a touchdown or less in six of the last eight meetings. The home team has also won 12 of 13 with Jarrett Lee-to-Brandon Lafell in 2008 being the exception. Will something change this week? The stats would say yes, but Auburn is a team with nothing to lose. LSU is favored by 20 points. We’ll dive into that Auburn offense to see what first year Offensive Coordinator Scott Loeffler has going on.
LSU Defensive Line vs. Auburn Offensive Line
No question about it, LSU’s defensive line has been dominant this year. Teams are averaging 1.7 yards per carry against this unit. LSU wears teams out with talent as well as depth up front. It’s been a super successful recipe for Brick Haley. Anthony “Freak” Johnson has been the best player on the defensive front thus far. He’s tied with Bennie Logan with 11 tackles, but he has one more tackle for a loss. Even outside the box score Johnson has been a force, gaining entry into opposing backfields with great regularity and blowing up plays. Josh Downs is healthy and could start this week, but expect a heavy dosage of The Freak on Saturday. Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery have been neutralized a bit with the short passing attack, but they’ve been present. Those two have 3.5 tackles for loss and five hurries. Lavar Edwards has just been excellent in his time out there. He registered a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and made a tremendously athletic play last week to pick a pass off at the line of scrimmage an take it back 21 yards for a score. Jermauria Rasco has played plenty of football this year, and he’ll keep getting better and better.
Auburn has struggled at times up front. Youth has a great deal to do with that. It starts with the tackles. All three that are expected to play Saturday are freshmen, and you should know the names of two of them. Greg Robinson, a Thibodaux native, will get the nod at left tackle. He played a good amount of guard in high school, but Auburn has groomed him as the tackle of the future. The right tackle will likely be Avery Young who has great arm length at 6-feet-6-inches, but he’s a bit light at 295 lbs. Young has been a tad unreliable thus far, so Gene Chizik hinted at the possibility of true freshman Patrick Miller playing some snaps Saturday night. Miller, of course, was a long time LSU commit before heading to the Plains as an early enrollee. The best lineman on the roster is sophomore center Reese Dismukes. He started every game there last year fresh out of high school. Dismukes is a really good center who will only get better. Senior John Sullen is the left guard. He’s started 15 games there, and he’ll obviously help Robinson out with communication from Dismukes. Sophomore Chad Slade will man the right guard.
Experience. LSU. Talent. LSU. Depth. LSU. Pretty simple, huh? This Auburn unit hasn’t gotten a push all season long. Kiehl Frazier has only gone down five times, but his mobility helps them there. I can't think of a worse flaw to have against LSU than young offensive tackles. Simply put, Robinson, Adams and Miller cannot block LSU’s defensive end rotation for four quarters. I like the interior of Auburn’s line, especially Dismukes, but they haven’t faced Logan, Johnson, Downs and Ferguson. That a different ballgame. I expect LSU to totally bottle up any between-the-tackles run game Auburn tries to employ, and there should be some pressure on Frazier should he try to take 5 and 7 steps drops with any regularity. This a big time mismatch.
LSU Linebackers vs. Auburn Running Backs
We’re three games deep here, and Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow are one-two in tackles. John Chavis has to love that. Minter has gotten off to the start we all knew he could, and don’t expect him to slow down. He’s going to be a Kelvin Sheppard-type influence on this team. I can only think of a couple of missed tackles from Barrow who struggled with that at times in his first two seasons. He’s grown up. Luke Muncie’s stats aren’t gawdy, but there are 10 other guys out there making tackles, too. As long as he’s in position and making the plays when the ball shows up, you can’t ask for anything more. The younger guys don’t figure to see much meaningful action on the road in this type of environment. I will note that Lamar Louis made his debut last week, and he made three tackles.
Onterio McCalebb has been at Auburn since 1997. He’s still there. He and Tre Mason shoulder the rushing load for this team. Both guys are speed first backs who have marginal success between the tackles. Mason averages 73.7 yards per game, McCalebb 71.3. These guys are home run threats every time they touch it, especially sideline to sideline. Remember McCalebb in 2010 when he ripped off a 70-yards to basically doom LSU. He’s a burner. He left the game last week with a minor injury. Expect him out there in this one. Mike Blakely is a 5-feet-9-inch, 206 lb. freshman who features a little more physically than the other two do. He gets a few carries here and there.
Look, McCalebb can find holes as well as any back in this league. It’s the linebackers’ job to fill those quickly. As soon as he gets to the second level, he can make it hurt and change the entire outlook of a game. Auburn will send him in motion for a jet sweep, and they’ll try reverses with him as well. Anything to get a crease. I like LSU’s linebackers through three games, but this will be the stiffest test thus far. Look for Mason to get more carries than McCalebb because of the minor injury and Mason’s bulkier build. Mason isn’t the one to watch though. The defensive line should corral him. It’s when you’re not looking that a big play can happen. Still, Auburn is ninth in the league in rushing.
LSU Secondary vs. Auburn Quarterback and Wide Receivers
More solid production from the young Tigers defensive backs last week. Jalen Collins caused a pair of Ronald Martin interceptions, and Jalen Mills picked off another. They appear to be growing up, but that’s all in front of the home crowd. This week LSU will welcome Craig Loston back at safety, but this time it’s with some confidence that Martin can fill in admirably if need be. Tharold Simon wasn’t great last week. He blew a coverage on a touchdown and missed a routine tackle earlier in the drive. He’ll rebound. Eric Reid continues to be the rock back there, and he hasn’t made a misstep since the two North Texas touchdown. I said early this fall that the LSU secondary would be better in November than it was in August. It looks like things are coming together.
Kiehl Frazier has been bad. He was recruited to play in Gus Malzahn’s offense, and now he’s running some pro-style. Two weeks ago in Starkville was a nightmare. He turned it over five times. He has shown some flashes, though, like the big play he hit in the Clemson game to Emory Blake. Frazier has a nice arm, quick feet and a nice build, but he’s got a long way to go. Blake is the big play threat on this unit. He averages 20 yards per catch and can score from anywhere. Quan Bray is a 5-feet-11 -inch sophomore who catches the most balls. He leads the team with nine catches, but he averages just eight yards per catch. Of course, Phillip Lutzenkirchen is one to watch. The senior tight end seems to make every big catch for the Tigers. He’s a big veteran who can block and make a play in the flat. Trovon Reed has never really put it together in Auburn. He’s got some serious potential, but he’s only got one catch in three games.
Auburn is the worst passing offense in the league, statistically, averaging 160.7 yards per game. That’s because Frazier can’t get comfortable. He’s unsure of his reads and makes poor decisions under pressure. Blake is the biggest semblance of a big play threat, but he’s not track star. He does it with fundamental route running and some good size. Simon can handle him, and it looks like Collins and Mills have decided to step it up, too. Expect combinations of zone and man to confuse Frazier. Mississippi State did it to perfection and forced three picks. The way LSU's defensive backs catch the ball, that may continue. LSU is more athletic here, and Frazier has to prove he can play at this level before I say anything too nice. Auburn is going to win it or lose it here. Count me in for a loss.
I don’t expect Auburn to run the ball between the tackles at all. No one has against the LSU yet, and Auburn’s offensive line doesn’t figure to change that. That means Frazier may have to do some heavy lifting. That’s what Chavis wants. He’ll release the hounds at that point, and Frazier will run for his life. Expect at least one interception. I think Auburn will go to the quick passing game that all three teams have tried against LSU. That just makes it so hard to move down the field. You have to be nearly perfect for 10-12 plays. No holds. No sacks. No turnovers. The odds Auburn can do that consistently enough to score 21-28 points is simply not very good. This Plainsmen offense has some serious work to do.
Prediction: LSU 38, Auburn 13