Dig Baton Rouge

LSU hungry to win against rival foe Auburn

Both LSU and Auburn have early losses in the 2016 football season.
Because of that, both teams also have coaches on the hot seat and each program has already played two quarterbacks in 2016 – more than two in Auburn’s case.

But for all of the negativity that’s surrounded the two rival programs so far in the early season, each has a common goal on Saturday night – defeat a conference rival and use the win to jump-start the season.
The stakes are high for Saturday’s game between LSU and Auburn – a couple programs that are starved for success after a tough early-season run.

Kick-off for the game is set for 5 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.

LSU coach Les Miles said Louisiana’s version of the Tigers will be ready for a 60-minute battle at Jordan Hare Stadium – a place that’s plagued LSU in years past.

“I think our team will look forward to that challenge of going to Jordan-Hare Stadium,” Miles said. “I think they will look forward to playing at their best.”

For LSU, Saturday’s game will mark new-quarterback Danny Etling’s first chance to lead the Tigers on the road.

In his first SEC start last week against Mississippi State, the transfer quarterback was efficient and mistake-free, completing 19-of-30 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown.

Miles said he liked the way Etling distributed the ball, utilizing multiple receivers. The coach also liked that Etling showed the ability to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.

But on Saturday, Etling will be facing an Auburn defense led by a familiar foe. Journeyman coordinator Kevin Steele leads Auburn’s defense after spending the 2015 season in the same position at LSU.

Miles said facing Steele’s defense will be no easy chore, calling the assistant coach one of the best in the business.

Auburn’s defense has held steady so far in 2016, despite facing Clemson and Texas A&M – programs known for their ability to score points in bunches.

“I expect that Auburn will be lined up right,” Miles said. “I expect that they will be instructed correctly. … (But) I think Danny is going to be a mature guy. He’s going to understand what he’s supposed to do.”

Perhaps more important than Auburn’s ability to stop Etling will be its ability to stop All-Everything halfback Leonard Fournette – a guy who mutilated the Plainsmen in 2015.

Fournette rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn last season, including several signature runs.

The junior halfback returned from an injury last week and was crisp, pushing the Bulldogs defense for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.

“His ankle feels good, I’m told,” Miles said of Fournette’s health. “So we are full speed ahead.”

On the opposite side of the ball, the LSU defense enters the game fresh after keeping the Bulldogs completely out of whack for most of last Saturday’s game.

This Saturday, they’ll be facing an Auburn group that’s been anemic offensively in the games that have mattered the most.

Auburn scored just 29 combined points in their two early-season losses – a puzzling number when one factors in that Gus Malzahn is an offensive-minded coach.

A lot of the Tigers’ problem has been the inability to convert third downs in the passing game, converting just 20-of-49 third downs this season.

Malzahn said much-maligned quarterback Sean White will start Saturday against LSU.

“We feel like he gives us the best chance of winning,” Malzahn said.

But no matter how down Auburn may seem to be, Saturday’s game will likely not be easy.

LSU has struggled mightily at Jordan-Hare Stadium in years past – a place that’s long been a sore thumb for the Tigers’ team.

In 2014, Auburn walloped LSU 41-7. In 2012, LSU won 12-10 and in 2010, Auburn prevailed by a 24-17 margin.
What does 2016 have in store? No one yet knows. But both coaches concede it’ll likely be a close one – a game that may come down to the wire.

“It’s going to take a quality effort for us to (win) on the road,” Miles said. “I can’t wait!”
“It’s a big game. It always us when we compete,” Malzahn added. “Our guys have to be up for the challenge.”

SCOUTING REPORT

LSU offense v. Auburn defense
Advantage: Auburn
The LSU offense is looking much better now, but this will be an awfully tough environment for Danny Etling to thrive in on Saturday night. We give Auburn a slight edge because of Kevin Steele’s presence and knowledge of what LSU does.

LSU defense v. Auburn offense
Advantage: LSU
The LSU defense played its collective tails off on Saturday night against Mississippi State, and there’s no reason to doubt that’ll be the case again on Saturday night. The Tigers keep getting better and better under coordinator Dave Aranda.

Special teams
Advantage: LSU
After a wretched Week 1, LSU’s special teams have been very, very good. Last week, the Tigers’ coverage teams were terrific.

DIG’s PICK
LSU 24, Auburn 21

Photo: LSU vs. Jacksonville State by Sean Gasser.

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