Game day primer: What you need to know entering Auburn-LSU matchup
No. 18 Auburn (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at No. 13 LSU (1-0, 1-0), Saturday 3:30 p.m. EST (CBS)
Weather: The weather at Tiger Stadium will be clear and sunny around kickoff time. The temperature will be 93 degrees with a real feel of 97, according to The Weather Channel.
Line: LSU is a 6½-point favorite according to VegasInsider.com
Auburn is coming off a near upset to FCS opponent Jacksonville State, while LSU held on to beat Mississippi State 21-19 in its first game of the season. Auburn is attempting to defeat LSU in a road game for the first time since 1999. Auburn is 0-7 at Tiger Stadium in that time span.
Here is what to watch for when the two teams meet on Saturday afternoon:
Numbers to know:
Auburn has 24 offensive drives through two games. Of those 24, seven (29 percent) have ended in turnovers. That rate is the highest of all teams in the Power Five conferences.
LSU junior defensive back Dwayne Thomas said earlier in the week that the LSU secondary was expecting Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson to “hand” them the ball. Johnson’s five interceptions are the most by an SEC quarterback in two games since 2009.
Auburn was able to survive Johnson’s turnovers in the first two games, but another turnover-happy effort from Johnson could lead to a blowout loss this time around.
Opponents have been successful moving the chains on third down 16 times in 33 attempts against Auburn’s defense this season. That 48 percent rate is the worst in the SEC.
To win, Auburn will need to force LSU into long third downs. This will put LSU quarterback Brandon Harris in obvious throwing situations. The sophomore went 9-of-14 passing for 71 yards in his second career start.
Auburn’s best chance is to make Harris win the game from the pocket, which is easier said than done with Leonard Fournette in the backfield. But when LSU faces unfavorable third downs, Auburn must capitalize.
LSU head coach Les Miles is 47-5 when he has a running back rush for 100 yards or more in a game.
An even more impressive stat?
Miles is 58-0 when he has a back rush for more than 100 yards and holds the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing. That is exactly what happened last week when Fournette controlled the game against Mississippi State.
The Heisman candidate rushed for a career-high 159 yards and accounted for all three of LSU’s touchdowns in the 21-19 victory. The LSU defense limited Mississippi State to just 43 rushing yards on 26 attempts.
Storylines to watch:
Can Auburn defend the zone read?
Auburn has been dreadful defending the zone read in the first two weeks of the season.
LSU has seen this on tape and had success running zone reads in Week 2 against Mississippi State, which is a scheme that hasn’t been heavily used by Miles’ offenses in the past.
Auburn had trouble defending the play against Louisville and Jacksonville State, and neither of those teams had a running back of Fournette’s caliber.
If Auburn does not improve, it could be a long day for Will Muschamp and his defense.
How healthy are the defenses?
Auburn has been hit with multiple injuries to its starting defense. Defensive end Carl Lawson (hip), safety Tray Matthews (shoulder) and linebacker Justin Garrett (quad) will all be game-time decisions. Matthews and Garrett seem more likely to play than Lawson, who was still seen using crutches to get around this week.
If Lawson can’t play for the second consecutive week, it will hurt Auburn’s pass rush. Garrett played well in the game against Louisville before tweaking his quad early in the Jacksonville State game.
The potential return of Matthews will bring experience back to a secondary that lost senior defensive back Josh Holsey to a torn ACL last Saturday.
LSU will again be without starting safety Jalen Mills, who broke his leg shortly before the season. Mills is expected to return at some point this season, but the secondary held up well last week.
The secondary was helped by a good pass rush, but Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott threw his only touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Miles vs Malzahn
You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than trying to predict what Miles will do during the course of the game.
Will Auburn coach Gus Malzahn try to match Miles’ unpredictability and take a chance early?
Malzahn could be open to taking a risk in what will be a hectic environment. If Auburn grabs an early lead, it could quiet the crowd and give itself an early edge.
Miles could also attempt an unconventional play to put Auburn in chase mode early.
Big plays have been a hallmark of Malzahn’s offenses in the past, but Auburn has just three plays over 20 yards this season. With Johnson’s turnover issues, Malzahn could be reluctant to call high-risk plays.
The game could come down to which coach makes the right call late in the game.
Auburn should come out focused after last Saturday’s near-letdown against an FCS opponent. That will keep the game close, but LSU’s offensive line will win the battle with Auburn’s front seven.
Fournette will break the magic 100-yard mark and Jeremy Johnson’s turnover habits will finally catch up with Auburn.
LSU 31 Auburn 17