The second-ranked LSU Tigers open up SEC play this weekend, when they hit the road for the first time this season, taking on the Auburn Tigers are Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Les Miles' Tigers have made light work of the competition thus far in 2012, posting three straight routs over North Texas (41-14), Washington (41-3) and most recently, Idaho (63-14). With a USC loss last weekend, LSU has now positioned itself right behind top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama in the national polls.
It seems like a lot longer than two years ago that Auburn ruled the roost, winning the national title thanks to Heisman winner Cam Newton. Gene Chizik's Tigers have struggled out of the gate this season, but after losing its first two games, Auburn finally found the win column last weekend, outlasting a tough ULM squad, 31-28 in overtime.
Despite the slow start, Miles thinks Auburn is still a dangerous opponent.
"They have great speed. They are running the football with want and desire. They will put two tight ends in the game. They are a little bit different than the spread teams that Auburn has had in the past. They have a very fast yet power running attack. They do a nice job passing as well. The view that we have of them is very capable."
LSU holds a 25-20-1 advantage in this rivalry. The two teams have met every year since 1992, splitting the 20 meetings over that time frame. The home team has won 11 of the last 12 matchups, including a 45-10 LSU win in Baton Rouge in 2011.
The LSU offense was once again in top form against Idaho last weekend, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 17-of-22 passes, for 222 yards and two TDs. While Mettenberger was efficient throwing the ball, the LSU ground game continued its dominance, rolling up 250 yards and five TDs. Tailback Kenny Hilliard led the way with 116 yards and two TDs, while true freshman Jeremy Hill added two scores of his own.
A lethal offensive attack, LSU is putting up a gaudy 48.3 ppg this year, moving the chains at will on the ground (269.3 ypg), opening up the passing lanes for Mettenberger.
LSU has tons of depth in the backfield, headlined by Hilliard (303 yards, six TDs, 8.2 ypc) and Alfred Blue (275 yards, two TDs, 6.8 ypc), although Blue is currently sidelined with a knee injury suffered against the Vandals. Sophomores Jarvis Landry (14 catches, 137 yards, one TD) and Odell Beckham Jr. (nine catches, 143 yards) and the top targets on the outside.
The LSU defense has long been the team's strength and this season is no different. Against Idaho, the team scored two TDs on that side of the football and held the Vandals to a mere 213 yards of total offense.
The numbers on the season have been equally impressive, with LSU allowing just 205.0 yards of total offense, ranking fourth in the nation against the run (47.0 ypg) and 13th against the pass (158.0 ypg).
Middle linebacker Kevin Minter leads the team after three games with 21 total tackles. Fellow LB Lamin Barrow is next in line with 18 tackles, followed by freshman CB Jalen Mills, who has 17 stops and two interceptions. The team's top talents up front are junior ends Barkevious Mingo (eight tackles) and Sam Montgomery (seven tackles, one sack), who provide big-play potential off the edges.
Auburn blocked a ULM field-goal attempt in overtime, while converting its own to post its first win of the season. The Tigers held a 28-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Warhawks were able to tie things up and force the extra session. Still, Auburn had some strong moments offensively, posting a season-high 418 yards, including 255 rushing. Running back Onterio McCalebb finished with 128 yards, while Tre Mason added 90 yards in the win.
The ground game is the strength of the Auburn attack this season at a healthy 175.3 yards per game. Mason (221 yards, one TD, 5.0 ypc) and McCalebb (214 yards, 6.9 ypc, one TD) fuel the offense.
Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has struggled early on, completing just over 50 percent of his passes, for 449 yards, with two TDs and a five INTs.
The Auburn defense, which has wilted in games this season, will be taken to task by LSU's potent offense. The numbers on the season aren't very good for the Tigers, who are yielding 442.0 yards per game, getting gashed especially by the run (217.0 ypg). A lack of game-changing plays has been problematic, with the team recording just two turnovers in the first three games.
Senior linebacker Daren Bates leads the team with 38 total tackles, with 2.0 TFLs, one sack and one INT. Sophomore safety Jermaine Whitehead is next in line with 31 tackles, with one sack and one fumble recovery. Junior end Corey Lemonier (16 tackles) has played well up front, with three sacks.
Chizik and the Tigers are looking forward to measuring themselves against LSU.
"I think it's an exciting week for our team. It's great to be able to play a game of this nature back here at Jordan-Hare. I think our team is very excited to play against a great football team. We understand the challenges ahead for us all the way around in a game like this."