LSU Three Keys: Auburn

Three-keys-LSU

The win over the Miami Hurricanes adjusted expectations for LSU football this season, but it is easy to think that based on its performance, Miami might not be a very good team this year.

Auburn, the opponent for LSU this upcoming Saturday, is a good team.

The Plainsmen defeated Pac-12 favorite Washington in the season opener. No, they didn’t look particularly good in the second half, but they controlled the first half and showed that their defense is formidable. Auburn will definitely give LSU a much tougher test than Miami, offering Ed Orgeron’s team a much fuller measurement of where it stands at this early point in the season.

Beyond offering a measurement, Auburn is also a prize for LSU. If the Bayou Bengals can win in Jordan Hare Stadium, they would have the inside track to second place in the SEC West and gain a very good chance of making a New Year’s Six bowl bid. The upside of winning here is considerable. The downside of losing an SEC opener is impossible to ignore. Welcome to the cauldron of pressure known as the SEC West. Two Tigers will enter Saturday’s game, but only one will survive.

1 – FRONT AND CENTER

Offensive line play is by far the biggest concern for LSU heading into this game. Auburn’s defensive front did not allow Washington to run the ball with any real consistency. It will be very hard for LSU to control the line of scrimmage, but if the offensive line can at least play the Auburn front four to a stalemate, that would be a great development to emerge from Saturday’s game. You can talk all you want about the skill players and their need to perform on a big stage in an enemy lair, but if Joe Burrow is not comfortable in the pocket and if down-and-distance situations aren’t manageable, this game is unlikely to go LSU’s way. The defense and the special teams appear ready to win, but the offensive line is the foremost question mark against Auburn.

2 – THIRD IS THE WORD

Third-down passing will be very important against Auburn. Yes, LSU will want to make sure it doesn’t face too many third-and-eights or longer against AU, but there will certainly be a number of times when LSU faces third and four or five. Being able to execute simple plays and quickly-timed throws to negate the Auburn pass rush will become essential components of a winning formula for LSU. The passing game doesn’t have to be spectacular in terms of landing downfield shots, though a few will be needed at times. If LSU can convert third-and-fives during this game, keeping the defense rested while building Burrow’s confidence, the visitors from Baton Rouge could walk into Auburn and leave the locals fuming with frustration.

3 – THE RIGHT STUFF

Taking away the Auburn ground game and coming up with run-stuffing plays will give LSU’s defense its most immediate path to victory. Auburn’s running game rarely clicked against Washington, a central reason that UW’s defense was able to keep AU in check. If LSU can do the same thing against Auburn, Gus Malzahn might panic and go into a shell, much as he did last year after AU gained a 20-point lead in Baton Rouge.

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