AUBURN, Ala. — Perhaps there’s a good reason why Auburn’s players don’t remember much about the last time the school beat LSU on the road.
It came in 1999, when every player on the current roster was still in elementary school. Then again, the reason they said their memory is hazy holds merit, too: It's because they have forcibly expunged any recollection of the win.
“We haven’t talked about that just because that is kind of in the past and we’re trying to focus on this week and the future,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “I know that the coaches are going to have a great game plan for us and it’s up to us to execute.”
The last six Auburn teams to play in Tiger Stadium didn’t execute well enough to come away with a win. Since that 41-7 victory, Auburn has lost by margins large (31-10 in 2009 and 45-10 in 2011) and small (20-17 in overtime in 2005, 30-24 in 2007). While the numbers may have changed, the results have remained the same: Six games, six losses.
And with LSU entering Saturday’s matchup as the No. 6 team in the nation, Auburn is well-aware it will once again have its hands full.
“Playing a pretty typical LSU team,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “They're very good up front on both sides of the football. They have a lot of speed at all positions. Obviously they've been very good on Saturday nights at home, so we definitely have our work cut out for us.”
While he won’t actually suit up, Malzahn has a difficult matchup of his own trying to out-scheme LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.
The two have faced each other four times in coordinator roles, and the series is tied 2-2.
“He's one of the best in the business,” Malzahn said of Chavis. “His defenses are always prepared. You may get him once, but he's going to adjust and not give it to you again. He gets after you. He's got that aggressive nature. He does a good job with his players."
Even with the talent lost from last year’s defense — eight starters departed either by graduation or deciding to leave early for the NFL — LSU has bounced back as strong as ever, allowing only 267 yards per contest in its first three games.
Trying to find any semblance of a weak link in the unit has been its own ordeal for Malzahn.
“I tell you what, they're few and far between,” he said. “They've got good players at every position. They tackle well, they're very aggressive. (These) guys can run. They're probably one of the faster defenses in the country, and that's something you have to deal with.”
As if that wasn’t enough, LSU’s offense possesses just as many potential headaches for Auburn.
Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger is playing better than ever, tossing nine touchdowns (without an interception) in his first three games. All nine of those scoring receptions are courtesy of the dynamic receiving duo of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. LSU has no problem handing the ball off, either, with a quartet of running backs (Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard) equally adept handling the duties in the backfield.
LSU’s improvement offensively — most notably that of Mettenberger — can be directly attributed to new coordinator Cam Cameron, according to Ellis Johnson.
The changes have been subtle, Auburn's defensive coordinator noted, but enough to tell Cameron has his fingerprints all over it.
“It’s in a little bit different way of — I haven’t seen him run the toss power yet, that downhill power they run,” Johnson said. “They’re handing it off, there’s a couple of little things they’ve done. I do see a lot of improvement in the throwing accuracy and timing of the quarterback, and I’m sure he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Auburn knows the deck is stacked against it, and few are giving the visitors a chance, as LSU is nearly a three-touchdown favorite entering Saturday night's contest. But if Auburn plays up to its potential, fullback Jay Prosch believed the team has a good shot to push its record to 4-0 and snap its losing streak in Tiger Stadium.
He took it a step farther, though: Not only could Auburn win, but it can do so convincingly.
“Anything is possible,” he said, before touching on Auburn’s narrow, 12-10 loss to LSU last season. “I think last year, the way our team was, if we were that close, then this year, we're so much better than last year. I think there's no reason we can't go in there and dominate.”