A relatively quiet week around LSU – free of controversy, anyway – was a welcome change after a gritty 17-16 road win at Florida last week.
As needed and important as that victory was for the Tigers, it doesn’t carry over this week in arguably LSU’s toughest test of the season so far.
No. 10 Auburn (5-1, 3-0 SEC) comes to Baton Rouge seeking its first win at Tiger Stadium since 1999. Along with Alabama and Georgia, the orange-and-blue Tigers are playing as well as anybody in the SEC right now, with three lopsided league wins in a row.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on:
Feed off the past
Not the immediate past, mind you, though LSU (4-2, 1-1) should be more confident on both sides of the ball after surviving for the victory in Gainesville last week.
No, the past that LSU needs to take cues from is a crew of former players and their quirky coach who will be in the stadium to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2007 national championship team.
Around 70 ex-Tigers are expected, as well as Les Miles, who was fired just over a year ago and replaced by Ed Orgeron.
Granted, none of the current players have a connection to the 2007 team, but they do to Miles. There should be lots of energy to feed off.
Whatever disconnect existed on offense prior to last week got better in some ways, with the jet sweep re-emerging as a key component. Russell Gage and Derek Dillon contributed big runs to ignite things.
Presumably the LSU running back tandem of Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams should be healthier with another week gone by, so the bread-and-butter running game should be available when and if needed. But the wrinkles – the misdirections – also have to be staples against an AU defense that ranks third in the league in total defense and touchdowns allowed behind Alabama and Georgia.
Let the boy throw the ball
Hand-in-hand with the need to remain unpredictable on the ground, LSU simply has to become more balanced and give senior Danny Etling a chance to achieve more through the air.
Orgeron and Matt Canada – one or the other or maybe both – have scaled back the passing game at times. That isn’t helping. Last week Etling threw only 16 times for 125 yards vs. a Florida defense that struggles to defend the pass. Maybe that was by design (why?), but Auburn is capable of neutralizing the run more than the Gators, which could thrust Etling into a more prominent role.
Patience on defense
Auburn wants to play fast and pile up plays. AU averages 71.2 offensive snaps a game, which is second in the league, and is averaging 452.7 yards a contest.
LSU has to be ready to get in a track meet at times and understand that Auburn will move the chains, but when the opportunities are there to get off the field, the purple-and-gold Tigers have to dig down deep and make that happen.
That is especially true if or when Auburn gets into the red zone, where it has scored 18 touchdowns in 26 trips. Forcing AU to rely on kicker Daniel Carlson would be a huge step in the right direction.
Win the sack battle
Both defenses have proven adept at harassing quarterbacks – LSU is second in the SEC with 20 and Auburn third with 15.
A difference emerges on the other side of that coin: Auburn has allowed an SEC-worst 19, so the advantage seems to shift toward LSU.
Making life as uncomfortable as possible for Jarrett Stidham is massively important because he is completing passes at a 71.2 percent clip (99-of-139), which is a big reason why Auburn tops the league in third-down conversions at 48.9 percent (46-for-94).
Dropping Stidham for a loss is the best way to disrupt the AU offense because it could create third-and-longs.
- Rejuvenated Tigers have to step up even more vs Auburn
- 5 things we learned from Tigers’ upset of Florida