AUBURN, Ala. — In the first few editions of An Opposing View, we’ve had to go to an expert on Auburn’s upcoming opponent from another outlet. This week, we get to stay in-house and bring on SEC Country’s resident LSU beat reporter.
Alex Hickey joined SEC Country this year to cover the Bayou Bengals after spending several years in Louisiana covering another Division I college beat at McNeese State.
Auburn fans looking for a different perspective on Saturday’s game between Auburn and LSU can follow Hickey on Twitter @bigahickey. His 5 Key Things for LSU from earlier this week is a good snapshot of the style and personality he’s brought to the beat in Baton Rouge and the SEC Country team.
Hickey took some time out to answer our top five questions in this week’s Opposing View and offered a final score prediction that might raise a few eyebrows.
Justin Ferguson: What exactly has Purdue transfer Danny Etling brought to the LSU offense that Brandon Harris didn’t last season at quarterback?
Alex Hickey: “I’m not sure about last season as I wasn’t covering the team yet, but I can tell you what Etling brought that Brandon Harris did not in this year’s first five quarters: poise. Harris’ first two passes this year were rocketed over his receivers’ heads, a telling sign of what was to come.
“Etling has yet to demonstrate a case of the nerves, perhaps a result of the new-found freedom one feels when not playing behind the Purdue offensive line. He is patient enough to read through progressions and find the open man. Harris seemed quicker on the trigger despite his tremendous escapability.”
JF: Just like Auburn, LSU had to replace a couple of starters on its offensive line heading into this season. How would you grade how that line has held up through the first three weeks of the season?
AH: “It’s been hard to grade this unit because they haven’t been complete since Week 1, which was not a very impressive showing against a stout Wisconsin front seven. Josh Boutte was suspended for Week 2 because of his late hit against the Badgers, and then last week LSU used SEVEN different line combinations because four starters left the game at some point due to injury.
“But that mish-mosh allowed no sacks to the Bulldogs, so I think we’re looking at a work in progress that could develop into a very good unit.”
JF: What has been the biggest change for LSU’s defense under Dave Aranda? How well has he installed his unorthodox defensive scheme in the early season?
AH: “The most obvious switch has been from the 4-3 to the 3-4, though Arden Key has put his hand in the dirt most of the time when he is coming after the quarterback.
“So far the results are speaking for themselves. The Tigers had trouble creating turnovers last season, but have forced five thus far. They’re also second in the SEC in third-down defense, which is typically a major indicator of overall success.”
JF: Auburn fans should be familiar with many of LSU’s returning starters such as Leonard Fournette, Travin Dural, Arden Key, Tre’Davious White, etc. But who are some newer LSU playmakers that they need to watch Saturday?
AH: “Receiver D.J. Chark had a bit of a breakthrough against Mississippi State, catching three balls for 52 yards and his first career touchdown. He and Etling played on the scout team together last year, so I expect this to be a more regular connection with Etling taking over at QB.
“And he’s hardly new, but also keep an eye out for senior tight end DeSean Smith. If Etling has time, he’s going to be getting the ball to the tight ends more than LSU has in recent memory.”
JF: The hot seat will be a big conversation topic Saturday, especially with Gus Malzahn. What kind of season does Les Miles need for the rest of 2016 to ensure that he’s in Baton Rouge next year?
AH: “There’s certainly a good deal of rumbling, and Les blew a chance to quell some of it as LSU sloppily allowed Mississippi State off the mat last week.
“Personally I feel like a 9-3 regular season should be enough to warrant a return since at this point it means going 6-2 in the SEC. And it’s Les, so I could see that being their record with a win over Bama and random losses to, say, Florida and Texas A&M to make matters all the more confusing.
But take this with a grain of salt. I’m not in charge.”
Hickey’s Final Score Prediction: LSU 15, Auburn 10