Thursday, October 22, 2009

Auburn Game Preview

We talked about the importance of Saturday's game against Auburn yesterday.  This game is huge on a number of levels and simply put, LSU has to win this game.  I think they will. 

When LSU Has The Ball:

LSU has the SEC's worst offense, averaging less than 300 total yards per game.  That's awful.  Auburn owns the SEC's 11th ranked defense, allowing a gaudy 367 yards per game.  LSU welcomes a poor defense in efforts to build some things on offense.  On the other hand, Auburn welcomes LSU's offense as they try to put something together on defense.  Something has to give.  I think this match up will tilt in the favor of LSU. 

LSU has made a devoted effort in their last two games to run the ball with Charles Scott.  And despite the ineffectiveness of the offense as a whole against Georgia and Florida, "Chuck The Truck" has run the ball well.  He gained 148 yards on 32 carries for a 4.63 yards per carry average.  That's not super, but it's effective and you must also consider that 13 of those carries went against the nation's second ranked defense.  Auburn's run defense is 11th in the SEC, and LSU will likely do everything possible to get Scott going.  I believe they'll be successful. 

Auburn has a lot of linebackers sidelined with injury, and they're really hurting at that position right now.  Their defensive line is OK, but nothing special and their star defensive end Antonio Coleman is dinged with an injury though he's playing through it.   I firmly believe that LSU's focus will be to take advantage of this and to run the football.  Remember that Charles Scott ran over, through, and around Auburn's defense last year.  It's imperative that LSU keeps the chains moving in order to keep Auburn's offense on the sideline.  Two weeks ago, the Gators ran 64 plays compared to just 47 for LSU.  It's tough to win games when the other team gets 17 more plays than you do. 

In the passing game, LSU should have opportunities to make some plays.  Auburn is going to have to ask their safeties to help stop LSU's running game.  That means that the play action passes, Jordan Jefferson's strength, should be open for some big gainers.  Auburn returns some familiar names at cornerback in Walter McFadden and Neiko Thorpe, but those guys can't handle Brandon Lafell and Terrance Toliver in man coverage.  If the safeties are engaged in the running game, then LSU's receivers will be open.  Jefferson just needs time to find them.   Will he have time?   Auburn has 12 sacks in seven games, so they're able to apply some pressure. It will be interesting to see if LSU keeps Richard Dickson in to help block or whether they'll release him for some quick hitters.  I suspect they'll try a little of both. 

Another thing to consider is that LSU has had two weeks to prepare for this very important game.  Did they use that time to install a few extra wrinkles to the offense?   Will we perhaps see some roll outs from Jordan Jefferson to offset LSU's seeming inability to protect the quarterback?  Will we see more of Russell Shepard on the field?  Will we perhaps see a fake kick or a trick play?  I suspect we might see some of these things, and I sincerely hope we'll see Shepard take some more snaps.  Kentucky dismantled Auburn's defense late in their game last week by running several "Wildcat" plays and Shepard should be able to do the same.   

Lastly, LSU has struggled to punch the ball into the endzone once they get into the red zone. They've failed many times in "goal to go" situations against Mississippi State, Georgia, and once against Florida. Auburn is very poor at playing defense in the red zone. They have allowed 17 touchdowns in 27 attempts, so perhaps LSU can manage touchdowns instead of field goals.

When Auburn Has The Ball

Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has brought an effective spread attack to the Plains.  They rank second in the SEC in total offense and scoring offense.  They average 465 yards and 35 points per game.  Auburn almost always has several players in motion before the play, and they run a ton of misdirection after the snap.  They utilize the entire width of the football field in their running game.  They're very good at carrying out their fakes, and it's tough for a defense to even know who has the ball.  You'll see this clearly in the video below.  They've got a pair of very good running backs in Ben Tate and freshman Onterio McCalebb.  Tate is averaging 122 yards per game on the ground while McCalebb averages 66 yards per game.  Both guys average over 5.5 per carry.  Tate is an all around back while McCalebb has better speed.  Once the secondary is engaged with tracking down Tate and McCalebb, then Auburn goes to the air.  Quarterback Chris Todd won't light anyone up, but he's been efficient and hasn't turned the ball over.  They'll sometimes bring in quarterback Kodi Burns to run some "Wildcat" stuff too.  How will all of this work against LSU's defense?

LSU's defense has been playing well, and they're continuing to improve.  However, they're playing a conservative, "bend but don't break" strategy.  The Tigers haven't allowed many big plays, but they do allow some long drives and they're last in the league in allowing third down conversions.  However by keeping plays in front of them, LSU has been able to force several turnovers.   LSU also tightens up in the red zone, ranking second in the SEC in red zone defense. 

I fully expect Auburn to move the ball against LSU at times.  LSU will once again keep plays in front of them, prevent big plays, and make Auburn put together long drives in order to score.  Many of Auburn's running plays take a long to develop, and they do a lot of pitches and reverses behind the line.  The opportunities will be there for LSU's defense to make some big tackles for loss which could end some drives. 

LSU held Florida, a similar spread running team, to 4 yards per carry.  I like LSU's defensive line to again clog things up between the tackles which should free up the linebackers to make plays.  This game is perfectly suited for Harry Coleman to log double digit tackles, and LSU needs him to have a good game.  Since Auburn runs so much stuff on the edges, it will be critical for LSU's cornerbacks to help in run support.  Patrick Peterson, Jai Eugene, and Chris Hawkins have all excelled in that area so far this year. 

Auburn likes to throw a lot of screens and quick passes and rely on their receivers and backs to get yards after the catch.  LSU's cornerbacks will again be called upon to shake blockers and make tackles.  Receiver Darvin Adams has been very good for Auburn this year, but he's not an AJ Green type of player that you need to game plan against.  They'll also look to former running back Mario Fanin and Terrell Zachery in the passing game.  All three receivers are having nice seasons and quarterback Chris Todd is spreading it around nicely. Todd is not mobile so if LSU is able to generate some pressure, they should affect some throws.  The Tigers have just five sacks in six games so I'm not expecting a dominant pass rush, especially since Auburn likes to get rid of the ball so quickly.  Here is some video of what Auburn likes to do on offense:

All in all, I think LSU is just a better football team.  Combined with some favorable match ups and what should be a nice home field advantage, LSU has no excuses for not winning this game.  This is a critical game for both teams, but I suspect LSU will be playing with a greater sense of urgency.  This series has seen a lot of very close games recently, and I don't expect that to change on Saturday.  I like the good guys in a tight game. 

LSU 24
Auburn 20


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