AUBURN, Ala. — From 2004-2012, only two games between Auburn and LSU were decided by more than a touchdown. This week we will see if either team can score more than two touchdowns as LSU’s 11th-ranked SEC scoring offense goes up against Auburn’s 10th-place scoring attack.
But maybe this will be a game uncharacteristic of the early-season starts for both teams, just as the last three in the series have been. LSU beat Auburn 35-21 in 2013 — a blowout by series standards at the time — before a pair of actual blowouts followed with Auburn winning 41-7 the last time out at Jordan-Hare Stadium and LSU responding with a 45-21 beatdown last year.
Here’s a look at the matchup on paper heading into this year’s edition.
LSU: Danny Etling has made the starting job his, but this will be his first road test since facing Notre Dame in Indianapolis as a sophomore at Purdue in 2014, and first true road game since a trip to Indiana’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 30, 2013.
Auburn: Sean White, not to be confused with Olympic snowboarder Shaun White, will need to do some pretty gnarly tricks to make this work. He’s earned the start over Auburn’s other two QBs by being the most average passer in the group, which should say it all.
LSU: Remember when Leonard Fournette ran for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns against Auburn? Unless you were born in the last 365-plus days, you should.
Auburn: The tandem of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway will give the Plainsmen the best backs in most games they play this year. Alas, this is not one of them.
LSU: The discovery of D.J. Chark last week could change the game for the Tigers, who are spreading the ball around more with Etling behind center. Also, Malachi Dupre’s drop problem from the first two games seems to be cured.
Auburn: A spread offense should have a multitude of good receiving options. Big man Tony Stevens (6-foot-4) is tops for these Tigers with 13 catches for 177 yards. Also be on the lookout for sneaky playmaker Kyle Davis, who has turned his 3 receptions into 96 yards.
Edge: Auburn, because it can throw so many out there.
LSU: If you can use seven different line combinations as LSU did last week and still not allow a sack, you might have a pretty good group starting to gel. At least if it’s possible to gel when everyone around you changes every other possession.
Auburn: A strong middle line has paved the way for 261.7 rushing yards per game. Shaky tackles have allowed a league-high 9 sacks.
LSU: Lewis Neal has been quite disruptive with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Davon Godchaux is tied for second on the team with 17 tackles. And everyone is engaging blockers long enough to allow Arden Key to cause chaos in the backfield.
Auburn: This group is getting to the quarterback — Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson have 5 hurries each and Dontavius Russell 3 — but not quite sealing the deal. The Tigers have 5 sacks as a team, matching Key’s individual total.
LSU: Key’s exploits are casting a shadow on Kendell Beckwith, who is having a heck of a season in the middle with a team-high 24 tackles, including 3.5 for loss.
Auburn: The Plainsmen start three sophomores who replaced three graduating seniors, and so far they’ve done a nice job. This will be a frightful unit for opposing offenses in 2018 (or even next year) if everything holds to form. But they aren’t quite at LSU’s level yet.
LSU: Nobody’s even bothering to throw in the direction of Tre’Davious White anymore, which is why Kevin Toliver will look to pick it up after giving up a couple big catches in Mississippi State’s near-comeback last week.
Auburn: The Tigers have picked off only 1 pass, but they did a nice job keeping Heisman hopeful DeShaun Watson in check for the majority of a 19-13 Week 1 loss to Clemson.
Edge: LSU, for its takeaway skills
LSU: The Tigers have had some struggles with extra points, having two blocked. Punter Josh Growden was phenomenal last week after a miserable debut against Wisconsin, and LSU’s kickoff coverage has been absurdly good with a league-best net average of 47.4 yards per kickoff.
Auburn: Daniel Carlson is a perfect 6 of 6 on field goals, which is a big asset for a team that’s been offensively challenged in the red zone (tied for 96th nationally). However, Auburn is 13th in the conference in kickoff returns, so if LSU does score, field position could become an issue.
LSU: Les Miles has reached a national championship game in the last five years, but people want him fired if he loses.
Auburn: Gus Malzahn has reached a national championship game in the last five years, but people want him fired if he loses.
LSU wins virtually every head-to-head matchup in this game and should win by 17 points or more. Then again, that should have happened at home against MSU last week, too.
I have been told to expect the strange with LSU-Auburn, and it would be a letdown if my first game in the rivalry didn’t somehow deliver.
Hickey’s Pick: LSU 15, Auburn 10