Auburn football: 5 biggest concerns I have about LSU
When Auburn and LSU get together, the unexpected should be expected. Whether it is a crowd causing an earthquake, one defense causing 4 interceptions in one half to come back from a big deficit or a large building catching fire and creating a scene straight out of a horror movie just outside the stadium. Weird stuff happens.
Yes, this series is never short of intrigue and that is the case again this season as No. 9 Auburn travels to Baton Rouge to take on No. 2 LSU in the college game of the week. Gus Malzahn has had no luck in Tiger Stadium, going 0-3 in Death Valley. (In fairness, few Auburn coaches have. Auburn hasn’t won in Death Valley since 1999.)
Complicating Malzahn’s challenge: This LSU team is rolling.
The LSU defense is outstanding as usual, but it is the rejuvenation of the Tigers’ offense that has made Ed Orgeron’s team more dangerous than usual.
It is going to be a major battle for Auburn and here are 5 of the biggest concerns I have for the Tigers on Saturday.
1. Offense sputtering in tough environment
We already saw the Tigers, especially quarterback Bo Nix, struggle in an intimidating atmosphere in The Swamp in a 24-13 loss to Florida. Nix’s 3 interceptions were the back-breaker and, following the game, Malzahn spoke on how he needed to help Nix more. As I wrote on Monday, this would be the time for the coach to throw caution to the wind and have a wide-open playbook. A few wrinkles in the play-calling will be necessary against a defense that is allowing just 20 points per game. Look for Malzahn to get creative against Dave Aranda’s defense, especially in the absence of running back Boobie Whitlow, with more misdirection, trickery and shots down the field than Auburn usually does. Which brings me to …
2. Defense tiring
If Auburn’s offense sputters, the defense will find itself on the field a bunch. This happened against Florida and was one of the reasons the Gators pulled away with Lamical Perine’s long touchdown run in the 4th quarter. No matter how dominant this defense can be, and it has shown that it can be just that, being on the field and playing a lot of plays will wear down even the fittest of players. Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and the front 4 should be able to set the tone early up front, but if the offense does not help out with a little ball control and equal time of possession, the defense will wear down.
3. Tiger Stadium mojo
Death Valley: Where dreams go to die. That’s the reputation. Auburn knows it all too well. Since Auburn’s last victory in Tiger Stadium in 1999, the Tigers have seen multiple field goals missed in an overtime loss, a last-second touchdown pass for the LSU win and the home Tigers come back from a 20-0 1st-half deficit in a stunning loss for Malzahn’s team. ‘
While Orgeron said that the winning streak at home against Auburn “won’t amount to a hill of beans” this Saturday, it is likely those thoughts will be lingering in the minds of Malzahn’s team, especially those who were part of the 2017 collapse. The Tigers will need to put those thoughts behind and focus on the present, not the past.
4. Joe Burrow and explosive passing game
For the first time since … well … it has been a long time, LSU has a star at quarterback and the offense is absolutely humming. LSU is averaging 50.1 points per game, No. 2 nationally behind only Oklahoma (50.4).
Burrow already has set the LSU single-season record for TD passes with 29 and is on pace to shatter Drew Lock’s SEC record of 44.
While Burrow was clutch last season in the win against Auburn, he has taken a leap this season and quickly becoming a Heisman favorite. Sure, shutting down the LSU running game will be key, but the Tigers will also have to deal with receivers Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., who have combined for 24 TD catches.
Last year, pass interference penalties were the ultimate downfall for Auburn in the last-second loss in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The secondary better be ready for 60 minutes of coverage.
5. Special teams giving up big play
In 2017, D.J. Chark returned a punt to pull LSU within 23-21 in the 4th quarter in the eventual 27-23 Auburn loss. While Auburn’s punt coverage has improved since the beginning of the season, the unit still struggles, giving up 22.38 yards per return, ranking 127th out of 130 in the FBS. LSU has already returned 2 punts for touchdowns, so the ability to take it to the house is there with Derek Stingley, Trey Palmer and others waiting for the big moment.
As if LSU’s offense needs any extra help.
Field position will be big. The punt coverage must be excellent for Auburn to win that battle.