By Casey Gisclair
The Tigers survived a vicious late rally from Mississippi State to score an exhaustingly painstaking 21-19 win in Davis Wade Stadium Saturday night.
But in the SEC, any win is a cause for celebration – even one as frustrating as Saturday night’s was for many Tiger fans. Whether it was the penalties, the conservative play calling or the defense’s disappearance in the final 30 minutes, fans found plenty to gripe about during Saturday’s game.
However, the fans wearing purple and gold may not be the angriest fan base inside Tiger Stadium on Saturday because supporters of the No. 18 Auburn Tigers aren’t exactly thrilled with the start to their season either, especially after an embarrassing overtime win over FCS foe Jacksonville State.
LSU Offense vs. Auburn Defense
So much for that highly anticipated change in the LSU offense, eh? The Tigers featured a new starting quarterback in sophomore Brandon Harris making his second career start, but LSU’s offense still relied more heavily on the running game.
The Tigers ran the ball 47 times on Saturday, compared to only 14 passes – a ratio that is more archaic than any other team in college football (with the exception of Georgia Tech’s triple option attack). Leonard Fournette was monstrous on Saturday night, and his Heisman candidacy is as strong as ever, but he will have to be legendary every week until LSU trusts Harris enough to throw the ball on downs that aren’t named third and long.
The Tigers have outstanding playmaking threats in the receiving corps, including Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and several others. Look for LSU to try and get those pieces more heavily involved in the second game of the season after the highly one-dimensional opener.
The good news is that Auburn’s defense is possibly leaking more oil than LSU’s offense. In the second half of the Plainsmen’s season opener against Louisville, the Cardinals were able to control the football and dominate the game. Against Jacksonville State, those struggles continued and the Gamecocks racked up 438 total yards.
Look out for Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy on Saturday. He will be the best player that LSU’s offense has faced all season. McKinzy recorded 13 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble against the Gamecocks. Expect defensive back Jonathan Ford to rush into the box to try and stop Fournette on run plays.
Whoever wins that helmet-on-helmet matchup more often may tip the scales in Will Muschamp’s return to LSU as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.
LSU Defense vs. Auburn Offense
The LSU defense was absolutely dominant for the first 45 minutes against Mississippi State. The front-four was powerful and a nightmare for Dak Prescott early – especially Tiger freshman defensive end Arden Key.
Key doesn’t look like he’s any bigger than 190 pounds out there, but he just finds a way to the football. The LSU linebackers are nearly as fast as defensive backs, but also as powerful as linemen. LSU’s linebackers wreaked havoc on any and every attempt the Bulldogs made to run the football, but in the second half
Mississippi State exposed the Tigers secondary, which is still missing senior safety Jalen Mills. With a week to work out the season-opening kinks, those coverage assignments should be sharper in Week Two.
On the other sideline, Auburn is looking for answers, and they need to find them in a hurry. Long known as the offensive whiz, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo, fast-paced scheme is sputtering big-time through two games.
Quarterback Jeremy Johnson isn’t the prototypical dual threat option under center. He has a big arm, but isn’t much of a runner. The problem is that his big arm is too often throwing passes to the other team. Johnson has thrown five interceptions this season – the most of anyone in the SEC.
With his first true road start coming, expect Auburn to lean heavily on halfback Peyton Barber – especially early. That might be a good look for LSU, considering that they held Mississippi State to fewer than 50 yards rushing.
LSU’s special teams coverage units look to be loaded with speed. The Tigers get up and down the field with ease and put a hurting on those who dare to return the football against them. That’s the good news.
The bad is that we still haven’t seen kicker Colby Delahoussaye in action, and punter Jamie Keehn is coming off a bad game. It’s not a good sign that Les Miles opted to have Trent Domingue kick extra points – especially after how poorly Delahoussaye ended 2014.
As for Keehn? His leg is too inconsistent. One punt is long, and the next is short. The Auburn special teams are top-notch and are one of the best in the SEC. Kicker Daniel Carlson buried a 49-yarder on Saturday, and punter Kevin Phillips had all three of his kicks downed inside the 20. Return man Johnathan Ford isn’t the best in the league, but he’s definitely good enough to do the job.
This is a good matchup for LSU, and Louisiana’s Tigers have a great chance to go 2-0, earning a signature win in the process. Auburn’s offense is a mess, and Jeremy Johnson is very turnover happy. Wisdom would say that the Plainsmen would run the ball and play conservative to offset that, but the LSU front-seven is fierce, and that’s not likely to work.
Expect Will Muschamp to have his defense ready and able to make this a low-scoring game, but in the end LSU will ride a dominant defense to a win. Brandon Harris gets his revenge over Auburn by controlling time of possession and handing it to No. 7 just enough times to get a second SEC win.
LSU 24, Auburn 17