Last look: Auburn/LSU

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 21, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will return to his home state of Arkansas this Saturday, as the Tigers travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Razorbacks.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Who: Auburn (3-0, 1-0) at No. 6 LSU (3-0)

When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET

Where: Tiger Stadium (92,542) | Baton Rouge, La.

TV: ESPN

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: LSU leads 26-20-1

Quick game notes: With Auburn's win last week, head coach Gus Malzahn became only the ninth coach in school history to begin his career 3-0. Terry Bowden had the best start to a coaching career on the Plains, winning his first 20 games. He was followed by Mike Donahue (5-0), Gene Chizik (5-0) and Billy Watkins (4-0). The remaining trio of Auburn head men to win their first three games were Ralph "Shug" Jordan, Tommy Tuberville, Dave Morey and W.S. Kienholz. ... In just his third start as Auburn's quarterback, Nick Marshall had a career-best showing last week versus Mississippi State, throwing for 339 yards. He became the first Tiger signal-caller to break the 300-yard barrier since Cam Newton threw for 335 against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game. Marshall's total also was the most ever by an Auburn quarterback making his SEC debut. ... LSU is 39-2 in Saturday night home games since Les Miles took over in 2005. The only two losses the Tigers have suffered in that span came to teams ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. In 2009, Florida beat LSU 13-3, while Alabama came away with a last-minute, come-from-behind victory last season by a score of 21-17. ... Fourteen true freshmen have already taken the field for LSU this season. That ranks as the third-highest total in the country, trailing only Texas A&M (17) and UCLA (15). It's far from a rarity in Miles' tenure, as 87 true freshmen have seen playing time in their first season in Baton Rouge. ... Auburn is 42-32-6 all-time in SEC road openers, and have won 16 of its last 17 league road openers dating back to 1996. ... LSU has yet to trail this season, leading all 180 minutes of game time. ... Auburn is 97-141-6 all-time when facing ranked opponents. Auburn is 74-112-5 all-time when facing SEC opponents that are ranked and 5-15 against LSU squads that entered their game with a ranking. ... LSU enters its matchup against Auburn ranked in the top 10 for the 12th straight year, a stat that dates back to the 2002 season.

KEY MATCHUPS

LSU offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line

LSU has fantastic skill players wherever you look, from quarterback Zach Mettenberger to receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham to the quartet of options (Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee) in the backfield. None of the success it has had this season — which has the Bayou Bengals averaging 46 points and 488 yards of total offense per game entering Saturday — without the big men up front. LSU's offensive line, always defined by its mauling run blockers, have done far more than that in 2013. LSU is part of a select group (along with Tennessee and Arkansas) at the top of the conference with fewest sacks allowed, giving up only two thus far. That hits right at one of Auburn's problems this season; through three games, it has collected just four sacks. The return of Dee Ford — Auburn's top pass-rusher — last week should help matters Saturday. But if the defensive line can't get into the backfield to disrupt Mettenberger or stop the running backs behind the line of scrimmage, it could be a long day for the visitors.

EDGE: LSU. All the numbers side with the home team, which gives them the advantage until Auburn does something to change it.

Nick Marshall vs. LSU secondary

Marshall's performance last Saturday had its share of ups and downs, but he ended on the highest of notes, leading Auburn on an 88-yard, go-ahead drive to lift the Tiger to a 24-20 victory over Mississippi State. If Auburn is to keep its unbeaten season alive and finally end its six-game losing streak in Tiger Stadium, Marshall will need to play like he did on the final possession last week, where he completed 6 of his 8 attempts for 66 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown toss to C.J. Uzomah. LSU won't make it easy on him, as it is allowing only 157 yards per game through the air, which ranks 15th in the country and second-best in the SEC. The good news for Marshall is that LSU has only tallied one interception this season, and that came in the season opener versus TCU. LSU has a pair of seasoned veterans in strong safety Craig Loston (15 career starts) and cornerback Jalen Mills (13 career starts). Junior Ronald Martin has stepped into the starting lineup at free safety after appearing in 16 games over the past two seasons. Jalen Collins, a Freshman All-SEC selection by the coaches last season, will round out the back end for LSU. The home team has also begun to develop great depth behind the starters, so cornerbacks Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson and Dwayne Thomas as well as safeties Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson will see their share of playing time as well, especially when the team uses its nickel and "mustang" (a 3-2-6 formation) packages.

EDGE: Even. This will be the best secondary, talent-wise, Marshall has seen up to this point. Marshall will be the best quarterback (and most explosive passer) LSU's defensive backs have squared off against thus far. Hard to get much more even than that.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn vs. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis

Malzahn and Chavis will match wits for the fifth time. The first four meetings have seen the two alternate wins and losses. Malzahn took Round 1, when he and the Arkansas Razorbacks (where he was offensive coordinator) beat Chavis' Tennessee Volunteers (where served as defensive coordinator for 14 seasons from 1995-2008) 31-14 in Fayetteville, Ark. Chavis returned the favor the next time they squared off, with both taking the same role as coordinators — they were just with new teams, as Chavis had moved to LSU and Malzahn had been hired as Auburn's offensive coordinator. In that 2009 game, Auburn managed just 10 points, falling 31-10. It was the same total in the pair's last matchup in 2011, when Malzahn's offense scored 10 points in a 45-10 loss in Baton Rouge, La. In between those two 10-point efforts was an Auburn victory, which saw a Cam Newton-led team 24-17 in 2010. The winner of this matchup Saturday likely is with the team that will end on top of the scoreboard.

EDGE: Even. I'm calling it even based on the tied head-to-head record alone. It only seems fair.

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