3:30 PM EST, CBS – Line: LSU -12.5, Over/Under:
The Southeast Conference takes centerstage once again, as the No. 9 Auburn Tigers travel to the Bayou to battle the No. 2 LSU Tigers in a crucial matchup packing plenty of Playoff implications, from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When half of you Division is occupying a place in the AP Poll, something has got to give, and unfortunately, the first team to give was Auburn (6-1, 3-1 in SEC), who suffered their first defeat of the season on the road at Florida, 13-24, three weeks ago. For the first time this season, the Tigers couldn’t overcome the mistakes made on the offensive side of the football, particularly that of Freshman Quarterback, Bo Nix (56.2%, 1,301 YDS, 7.7 Y/A, 11 TD, 5 INT), who has certainly endured his share of highs and lows thus far. By all means, this affair with the Gators would fall into the “dud” category, with the second generation Signal-Caller completing just 11-of-27 Passes for 145 Yards, a Touchdown and Three Interceptions, while suffering a pair of Sacks. All in all, it was probably for the best that the team had a week off to digest the defeat, as their perfect 5-0 start came to an end. A few weeks later, and it’s crystal clear that Gus Malzahn’s charges enjoyed just enough self-reflection to get back on track, evidenced by their 51-10 thrashing of Arkansas last Saturday. War Eagle started fast and furious on the road in Fayetteville, seventeen unanswered points in the First Quarter, followed later by another twenty to close out the Fourth Quarter. For his part, Nix was much better in his seventh Start, completing a stellar 12-of-17 Passes for 176 Yards and Three Touchdowns, while rushing for another score to boot. Leading 17-3 late in the Third Quarter, the Frosh nailed his leading Receiver, Seth Williams (25 REC, 458 YDS, 18.3 Y/R, 7 TD), down the sideline for a 48-Yard Touchdown to extend the lead to Twenty-One Points, and then when his teammates on Defense intercepted an errant pass from the Razorbacks’ Ben Hicks, immediately connected with Anthony Schwartz (11 REC, 183 YDS, 16.6 Y/R, 1 TD), for a 15-Yard score, putting the affair out of reach. Indeed, Williams and Schwartz did plenty of damage to the home side’s beleaguered Secondary, combining for 163 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Ten Receptions, while a platoon of players totaled 298 Rushing Yards for the Tigers, with eight different players getting a carry. It was a promising performance from a Backfield that will be playing without it’s leading rusher, JaTarvious Whitlow (110 CAR, 544 YDS, 4.9 Y/A, 7 TD), who will likely miss the next four to six weeks following knee surgery to correct a torn MCL. Defensively, Auburn absolutely dominated Sunday’s affair, relegating Arkansas to a scant 234 Total Yards on just Fourteen First Downs, including Fifty-Two Rushing Yards on Twenty-Eight Carries, while forcing Four Turnovers for the second consecutive contest. Furthermore, the aforementioned Hicks was under duress throughout the day, completing just 19-of-39 Passes, losing a Fumble caused by Defensive End, Marlon Davidson (29 TKL, 7.5 TFL, 4.5 SK, 1FF, 1 FR) on the third play of the game, which set the tone early, as the visiting side would rumble into the End Zone shortly thereafter. Davidson was a proverbial wrecking ball amassing Five Tackles, Three for Loss, and Two Sacks, recovering that pivotal early Fumble. This is where the Tigers can really create problems for the opposition, for few teams possess the freakish blend of size, strength, and athleticism that Malzahn enjoys in the trenches. Derrick Brown (22 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR, 3 PD), Nick Coe (10 TKL, 2.0 TFL), Tyrone Truesdell (17 TKL, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 SK, 1 FR), and the aforementioned Davidson all check in at at least 6-2, 275 lbs, and have raised plenty of hell accounting for a total of 18.5 Tackles for Loss, 10.5 Sacks, Three Forced Fumbles, and Four Recoveries. They’ll need to bring that intensity with them to Baton Rouge, for this is a place where they haven’t tasted victory in this century, losing nine straight contests, with LSU owning a decisive advantage in the series of late, winning six of the last eight meetings overall.
Meanwhile, is there a team in the country with more momentum than LSU (7-0, 3-0 in SEC)? Simply put, there is no team in the country that built a more impressive portfolio than the Tigers, who have ascended all the way to No. 2 in the AP Poll, and given their standing in the Southeast Conference, will be all but assured of a place in the College Football Playoff if they can remain unblemished. However, there are still plenty of proverbial land mines scattered throughout their path, with lingering matchups against the likes of Auburn tonight, with a looming showdown with No. 1 Alabama in two weeks time, to speak nothing of a potential date with either Georgia or Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Will they get the job done? Well there are plenty of encouraging signs pointing to this incarnation of the Bayou Bengals being far different than their predecessors. If you been lucky enough to catch Ed Orgeron’s charges this season, you’ll immediately notice the play of their Offense, which has evolved light years beyond what we’ve come to expect from this program. During the Offseason, Orgeron reached out to the New Orleans Saints, and hired one of their Assistants, James Brady, to implement their Pro-Style Attack as Co-offensive Coordinator. Needless to say, the results have been devastating. In his first year on the job, Coach O saw the Offense struggle en route to 27.2 Points per Game (76th Overall) on 411.1 Total Yards, improving to a far more respectable 32.4 Points per Game (38th Overall) on 402.1 Total Yards. Enter Brady into the equation and it’s been bonafide fireworks, with Louisiana State erupting for a staggering 50.1 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on 540.0 Total Yards, including 385.7 Yards via the Pass, which is where this group has really shown exponential improvement. Now in his second year with the program following his transfer from Ohio State, it’s hard to fathom a player at his position improving by greater leaps and bounds than Joe Burrow (79.4%, 2,484 YDS, 11.4 Y/A, 29 TD, 3 INT). After a tepid first season in Baton Rouge, the Senior has pushed his way to the forefront of the Heisman debate, throwing for 2,484 Yards and a school-record Twenty-Nine Touchdown Passes through the first seven games, while tossing at least four scores on five different occasions. In shootout wins over Texas (45-38) and Florida (42-28), Burrow completed over 79.0% of his Attempts with Seven Touchdowns in comparison to one Interception, making play after play downfield. When we last saw him, he steered his team to a business-like 36-13 victory on the road against Mississippi State, in which the visitors overcame a slow start to explode for twenty-eight unanswered points during a ten minute stretch between the Second and Third Quarters, punctuated by a 60-Yard Touchdown strike from Burrow to Racey McMath (10 REC, 138 YDS, 13.8 Y/R, 2 TD), followed later by a 37-Yard Touchdown Reception courtesy of Derrick Dillon (9 REC, 152 YDS, 16.2 Y/R, 2 TD). Justin Jefferson (48 REC, 759 YDS, 15.8 Y/R, 9 TD) and Ja’Marr Chase (35 REC, 626 YDS, 16.9 Y/R, 9 TD) also hauled in Touchdowns. When it was all said and done, LSU amassed 413 Total Yards on Twenty-One First Downs, with Burrow completing 25-of-32 Passes for 327 Yards and Four Touchdowns, despite the lack of ground game (86 Yards on 25 Carries), and decent pressure (3 Sacks). Defensively, the Tigers took advantage of the Bulldogs’ Freshman Quarterback, Garrett Shrader, who they turned over three times, including a Strip Sack and a pair of Interceptions, the latter of which came at key moment before Halftime. Defensive Backs, Kristian Fulton (20 TKL, 1 INT, 8 PD) and JaCoby Stevens (38 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 2.0 SK, 2 INT, 4 PD), came up with the Interceptions, while Senior Linebacker, Michael Divinity Jr. (17 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 1 FF) accounted for the other Takeaway. This is something that they’ll need to continue doing, for with half of the season in the books, it’s become readily apparent that this isn’t one of the nastier Defenses to come through Baton Rouge. Orgeron’s troops have a done a good job of getting their hands on the football, forcing Eleven Takeaways, but have been taken advantage of in a number of outings, including 530 Total Yards allowed in the win over Texas, 457 in the triumph over Florida, and even 374 in a blowout victory over Vanderbilt.