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Friday, October 22, 2010

Who has the edge: LSU or Auburn?

Do you feel that big-game fever? It's out there. No time to waste, let's get to the matchup.

(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.)

No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn
  • Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Records: LSU 7-0, 4-0 SEC; Auburn 7-0, 4-0 SEC
LSU passing game vs. Auburn secondary
Something's got to give here. LSU has the 113th-ranked passing game in the country. Auburn has the 108th-ranked pass defense. With their personnel, both groups seem like they should be better. And both have been embarrassed on occasion this season (LSU with 80 yards against West Virginia, Auburn giving up 428 to Arkansas last week). Jordan Jefferson will start for LSU, and while he's not the greatest passer, he did have his finest game through the air against Auburn last season, going 21-for-31 for a career-high 242 yards and two touchdowns. He's got talented receivers in Terrence Toliver and Russell Shepard, if only he can get them the ball. Auburn is already down safety Aairon Savage (ankle) and could be without cornerback T'Sharvan Bell hamstring. That tips the balance. Edge: LSU.
LSU running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
LSU tailback Stevan Ridley is a load to take down at 6-feet, 226 pounds. He's the second-leading rusher in the SEC with 98 yards a game (the leading tailback, if you want to get specific). He ran for 159 yards against Vanderbilt, 116 against West Virginia and 124 against Tennessee, so he's the team's meal ticket. He's going up against some formidable linebackers, though, a bunch that's happy to get back to a smashmouth style after playing against the pass more the last few weeks. MLB Josh Bynes leads the team with 42 tackles (and three picks). WLB Craig Stevens is coming around. He made 12 tackles last week. If Eltoro Freeman (various bumps and bruises) can play, he could be a boost. Freeman excels in a physical game. Last year against LSU, he had a career-high 12 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one sack. Edge: Auburn.
LSU offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
LSU's group up front has plenty of experience, led by Joseph Barksdale, who moved from right tackle to left and has made 33 career starts. If there's a concern, it's T-Bob Hebert, a one-time center who has had to fill in at right guard the last two games because of an injury. He's never played there before this year. Overall, LSU is middle of the pack in sacks allowed with 11. Lost in the shuffle of Arkansas' aerial assault last week was that the Auburn rushing defense didn't do so hot either. The Razorbacks ran for 138 yards, well above Auburn's average. Still, the group, led by midseason All-American Nick Fairley, have done well this season. The Tigers are third in the SEC and 15th nationally in stopping the run (101.7 yards per game) and tied for fourth in the league with 17 sacks. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn passing game vs. LSU secondary
Because Cam Newton has been so effective running the ball, Auburn hasn't had to go to the air too often this season. But when it has, it's been effective. Newton is second nationally in pass efficiency, despite Auburn's yards per game being in the middle of the SEC pack. Darvin Adams is a consistent threat all over the field at receiver, but Emory Blake is starting to get plenty of looks. The sophomore has touchdown catches in four of the last six weeks. LSU has one of the best secondaries around, though. Patrick Peterson is an All-American at corner who can shut down one side of the field. Morris Claiborne leads the team with four picks at the other corner. Brandon Taylor (36 tackles, 4 TFL) is solid at safety. In addition to having the best rushing defense in the league, LSU has the top pass defense, allowing 158.6 yards per game. Edge: LSU.
Auburn running backs vs. LSU linebackers
Auburn's running backs are still trying to break through. Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer all scored touchdowns this week (although Fannin's was questionable), a move in the right direction. But at this point, you have to count Newton as a running back. He carries it more than anybody and gains more yards than anybody, so he's included. He hasn't faced a rushing defense quite like LSU's, which is sixth nationally, giving up 83.6 yards per game. Kelvin Sheppard mans the middle and looks like a lock for first-team All-SEC consideration. He has 66 tackles this year and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Outside linebacker Ryan Baker has 42 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss. But they haven't gone up against a physical marvel like Newton, who's bigger than both of them. Until someone slows down Newton, I find it hard to pick against Auburn in this category. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. LSU defensive line
Talk about strength on strength. Auburn has four senior starters who have ratcheted up their game the last few weeks since the head coach challenged them. Center Ryan Pugh and left tackle Lee Ziemba both earned some midseason All-American love from a few media outlets, so it's clear this is a strong group. But LSU, led by the team's latest defensive tackle standout, Drake Nevis (38 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5 sacks), has stuffed everybody up front. LSU is second in the SEC with 21 sacks. Auburn is fourth, having allowed nine sacks. It's hard to find an edge to go either way on this one. Edge: Push.
LSU return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Remember how good Peterson is at cornerback? He's better as a returner. He's averaging 21.1 yards per return this year and has taken two to the house. It would behoove Auburn not to give him any space back there. Oh, he also returns kicks and has a 28.2-yard average, second best in the league. Auburn is coming off its best coverage effort to date, putting a number of big licks on Arkansas return men. Freshman Steven Clark has been getting hangtime on his punts but not much distance. Auburn might be content with getting 35 to 40 yards and no return, just to avoid Peterson changing the game in one play. Edge: LSU.
Auburn return units vs. LSU coverage teams
Onterio McCalebb's 99-yard kick return last week was long overdue. Demond Washington has given Auburn good field position but never broke the long one. With both those returners back there, Auburn has a chance on every return. Quindarius Carr still hasn't done much to jumpstart Auburn's return game, although he hasn't had any problems catching the ball in recent weeks. LSU punter Derek Helton (41.6 avg) is eighth in the SEC. LSU is 35th nationally at both kick and punt return defense. Edge: Auburn.
Wes Byrum should break the school's career scoring record this week. He's four points shy of John Vaughn. He's also made seven straight since missing two against Louisiana-Monroe. LSU's John Jasper has been solid this year, too. He's 13-for-16 with two of his misses coming from 44 and 54 yards. Edge: Push.
From an assistant perspective, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis got the better of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn last year. But Malzahn has a few more weapons this year. As for the head coaches, what can you say about Les Miles? He lives dangerously and always seems to come out on top. But eventually, you have to think that luck will run out, just like the clock did against Ole Miss in a loss last year. How many lives has Les used up this year just against Tennessee (bad snap but 13 men on the field) and Florida (nice fake punt call that got a lucky bounce and a favorable replay ruling)? Gene Chizik usually gets his team motivated for home games. If not in the first half, at least in the fourth quarter. Edge: Auburn.
This should be a great one. All Auburn-LSU games seem to come down to the wire. And what's so striking is the team's strengths and weaknesses match up. It's Auburn's high-octane offense against LSU's doesn't-yield-anything defense. On the flip side, it's LSU's anemic offense against Auburn's porous defense -- a resistible force, movable object type of deal. Where does the overall edge go to? At this point, I'm not picking against Newton. He's a game-changer of the highest degree and does things that you can't really account for in these edges. In the end, he pushes Auburn over the top. Prediction: Auburn 33, LSU 27.


WDEwg said...

Good stuff. Thanks for putting together (and for picking the good Tigers).

Quick question-- so is J. Mincy buried under the doghouse, and definitely a redshirt-- or does he get to play this week?

Andy Bitter said...

Don't think there's been any change to Mincy's status. I'd be shocked if he went from suspended to playing in Auburn's biggest game in the matter of a week.

Anonymous said...

You don't account for Cam's running in the section on Auburn's passing, nor in the section of Auburn's running backs vs LSU's linebackers. I understand why you don't, but you have to put his running ability in there don't you?

Andy Bitter said...

"Auburn running backs vs. LSU linebackers ... (A)t this point, you have to count Newton as a running back. He carries it more than anybody and gains more yards than anybody, so he's included. ...

"(LSU hasn't) gone up against a physical marvel like Newton, who's bigger than both of them. Until someone slows down Newton, I find it hard to pick against Auburn in this category. Edge: Auburn."

MikeP said...

I don't think it will be that close. LSU's gaudy defensive stats have been built against Vandy, Tennessee, MSU and the slumping Gators, who still managed to score 29 points on LSU.

Remember when South Carolina was going to win because their rush defense was #1 in the SEC and Ellis Johnson was a defensive Guru? Auburn gashed them for 485 yards and 35 points. Auburn's offense has kept improving since then.

AU 45, LSU 27. Lots of highlight film supplied by tomorrow's game.

domaucan1 said...

Living in big br, everyone knows how big this game is to me. All I can say is:GO BIG BLUE!!!

Ryan said...

This weekly writeup has become a must-read for me before every Auburn game. You really do your homework and it shows.

Nice job accounting for Cam's running ability in the running back section, also. It's too bad you have to dig all the way into that first sentence to see it though...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what Ryan said. You and Jerry should do a tag-team site. You know, I'd pay $5/month for good reporting and analysis, you objective, him more subjective. You could reverse roles for other teams (Wisky). I think subscription models can work well for journo style writers.