Auburn takes on LSU in pivotal SEC West clash

SEC West foes sporting identical 3-0 records will square off on Saturday night, as the sixth-ranked LSU Tigers play host to the Auburn Tigers.

Under new head coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn has already matched its 2012 win total by tallying three straight victories to start the season. After defeating Washington State (31-24) and Arkansas State (38-9), it opened up SEC play last week with a showdown against Mississippi State, pulling out a 24-20 triumph thanks to a game-winning touchdown with just 10 seconds to play.

"A lot of these games against Mississippi State have come down to the end, and I said 'guys we need to find a way to win' and I'm very proud of the way they did that," Malzahn said. "The crowd helped us win that game, especially in the fourth quarter, and it was really fun to be a part of it."

After starting the season ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, LSU has crept up the rankings early in the season thanks to three strong wins. Its most impressive performance came in a 37-27 win over then nationally-ranked TCU on a neutral field in the opener, and it followed that up with blowouts of UAB (56-17) and Kent State (45-13).

"We did what we were supposed to do," LSU head coach Les Miles said after the win over Kent State, although he wasn't entirely pleased with his team's performance. "The things we have to correct certainly are the missed tackles we had in that contest. We had 11 penalties for 86 yards, and we can't fumble a punt. We have to eliminate some mistakes but all in all a nice outing."

These division rivals have had some tight battles over the years, with LSU holding a 26-20-1 lead in the all-time series. At Auburn in September of 2012, No. 2 LSU overcame a halftime deficit and squeaked by with a 12-10 victory.

The Auburn offense has been clicking here in the early going, putting up 31.0 ppg while striking a great balance between the run (238.7 ypg) and the pass (201.7 ypg).

In just his third game as the starting quarterback, Nick Marshall threw for 339 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Mississippi State, including the game-winning 11-yard scoring strike to C.J. Uzomah. Marshall has completed 61.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Corey Grant (230 yards, two TDs), Tre Mason (206 yards, two TDs) and Cameron Artis-Payne (166 yards, TD) have all been effective in Auburn's running back rotation. Grant has made the most of his limited opportunities, as he averages 9.6 yards per carry.

Sammie Coates is the big-play threat at receiver, and while he has just seven receptions, they have resulted in 167 yards (23.9 ypc) and a touchdown.

Auburn employs a bend-don't-break style of defense. Even though it surrenders greater than 433 yards per game, it still boasts a scoring average of only 17.7 ppg.

Robenson Therezie has been the unit's top playmaker with a team-high 17 tackles to go along with a pair of interceptions. Gabe Wright has just four tackles, but three of those have been for a loss.

LSU's offense has enjoyed a resurgence in 2013, averaging 46.0 ppg on 488.0 ypg, and the biggest reason for the unit's success has been due to the improvement of quarterback Zack Mettenberger.

After a modest 2012 (12 TD, seven INTs), Mettenberger has been nearly flawless through three games, completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 797 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed just 13 passes in last week's win, but the results were nonetheless dazzling (264 yards, three TDs).

Jarvis Landry (17 receptions, 246 yards, five TDs) and Odell Beckham (15 receptions, 330 yards, four TDs) comprise one of the SEC's best receiving tandems. Mettenberger rarely looks elsewhere, with no other player registering more than three catches.

Terrence Magee (210 yards, three TDs), Jeremy Hill (167 yards, three TDs) and Alfred Blue (153 yards) all see plenty of action in the backfield. Hill missed the first game of the season while serving a suspension, and despite averaging a whopping 9.8 yards per carry, his head coach is expecting even better things from him.

"He is not quite there it appeared to me," Miles said of Hill. "I am not saying he is not giving us great effort...but he is coming. His shape is better. You cannot buy snaps. Snaps are a great teacher. He just hasn't had many."

Defensively, LSU ranks 10th in the nation in yielding just 267.7 ppg while allowing 19.0 ppg.

Ego Ferguson was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week following an outstanding performance versus Kent State (eight tackles, 1.5 TFL, sack). Ferguson leads the squad with 16 stops and 2.5 TFL. Jalen Mills (INT, two passes defended) anchors a strong secondary, although safety Craig Loston is listed as questionable for this contest with a leg injury.