BATON ROUGE, La. — Welcome to the most important thing you’ll read all week.
We only say that because it’s true, and also because modesty prevents us from saying it’s the most important thing you will read all month.
But when LSU has (mostly) followed the blueprint laid out in SEC Country’s “Five Things” feature the past two weeks, victory has followed. Last week the Tigers were 5-for-5 by getting off to a quick start, using the pass to open up the run game, properly reading the read-option, feeding the ball to Malachi Dupre to cure his case of the drops and neutralizing Mississippi State standout defensive end A.J. Jefferson.
LSU goes into this week with a decided talent edge against Auburn, but wacky things are known to occur when the two Tigers get together, particularly at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The following five are crucial if LSU wants to leave the Plains with a win.
5. Clean up special teams miscues
LSU’s special teams unit is shaping into one that can be among the nation’s best, but to get there the Tigers have to cut down on some glaring issues that have popped up in the kicking game.
Two extra points already have been blocked, and Mississippi State narrowly missed blocking a Colby Delahoussaye field goal attempt last week that instead resulted in a running into the kicker penalty. Whatever they may be, there seem to be issues in the middle of the line for LSU on kick attempts. In a game where field goals may provide the majority of points for both teams, they’ll want to make that problem go away.
4. Let Leonard eat
Last year Leonard Fournette made the Plainsmen look like very plain men, running for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Last week he ran with an explosiveness that was missing in the opener at Wisconsin, trucking defenders on the way to 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Mississippi State.
Even though Auburn will be gearing its whole game plan around it, Les Miles might as well go back to the well until it is proven dry.
3. Force third-and-long
LSU’s defense dominated third down against MSU, with the Bulldogs only picked up one first down in 14 attempts. That production can’t realistically be duplicated on a weekly basis, but forcing Auburn’s shaky passing game into obvious passing situations is an obvious path to victory. The Plainsmen have settled on Sean White as their starter, but it doesn’t matter which of their three quarterbacks is starting behind a line that’s allowed nine sacks in three games.
If LSU can contain backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway on first and second downs, Tigers outside linebacker Arden Key will have a national coming-out party on par with Fournette’s last season on third-and-longs.
FROM THE OTHER SIDE: 5 key things for Auburn
2. Play a 60-minute game
So far LSU is 0-for-the season on playing a complete ballgame.
After finally scoring in the first quarter for the first time all year against MSU, the Bayou Bengals hit the snooze button in the fourth, only to wake up when their lead was chopped from 23-6 to 23-20 in the course of 40 seconds.
The fourth quarter is the new first quarter for LSU, which still hasn’t scored in the final frame this year. Closing out the game is going to be as important as the beginning at Auburn, where the hometown Tigers figure to have a little more oomph if they enjoy playing for the embattled Gus Malzahn.
1. Do not turn the ball over
Auburn’s offense is, to be polite, iffy. (Which is to say these two teams share more than a nickname.)
In a likely defensive battle, the turnover margin will be a deciding factor. LSU’s opponents have technically only scored 3 points off of turnovers this year, but that’s a deceiving figure because MSU scored a touchdown after Fournette’s fumble that was ruled a turnover on downs, then added another two plays later after recovering the onside kick. In reality, one turnover directly led to 14 points even if the stat sheet says there were none.
And of course there was the season opener, which ended on Brandon Harris’ backbreaking interception with LSU on the edge of field-goal range.
LSU has turned opposing turnovers into 21 points this year. They’ll have a chance to add to that total Saturday, but cannot give anything back in return.