AUBURN, Ala. – The Auburn Tigers were humbled and hurting in the locker room after getting thoroughly whipped by LSU for two quarters last season.
Instead of folding, Auburn fought back enough to make the final score respectable and wound up riding that momentum all the way to the national title game.
"That was one of the defining moments of our entire year last year at halftime," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) hosts No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1) Saturday night in the rematch. Both teams are holding out hopes of contending for the SEC title and making it to the playoffs.
LSU running back Terrence Magee doesn't think his team's loftiest ambitions can survive a loss in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where freshman quarterback Brandon Harris will make his first start.
"This game is big. We want to play in the SEC championship game and the playoffs," Magee said. "Without a 'W' this week, that dream will not come true. We can look at this season like Auburn's last year. They suffered a loss to us and it was like somebody turned on a switch. Hopefully, we can turn on the switch too."
LSU has already dropped its league opener to No. 12 Mississippi State, possibly leaving coach Les Miles' team needing perfection in a wildly competitive SEC West the rest of the season.
Auburn's SEC opener was against Arkansas, the only West team with multiple losses.
LSU has won the last three meetings. That leaves Auburn seniors like Quan Bray trying to avoid an 0-fer in their careers, especially after last year's 35-21 defeat when LSU led 21-0 at halftime.
"Last year was heartbreaking for us," the receiver said. "We've got a chip on our shoulder right now to lead this team."
Here are some things to watch in the LSU-Auburn game:
HARRIS'S FIRST START: The dual-threat Harris will start in place of a struggling Anthony Jennings. LSU has scored touchdowns on nine of the last 10 possessions where he was leading the offense. Malzahn, who also recruited Harris, said Auburn is preparing to face both quarterbacks "They've played both of them every game anyway, so you've got to be prepared," he said. "The young one (Harris) is extremely talented and he's played well. The older quarterback (Jennings) has the experience to run their entire offense."
RUNNERS GALORE: With mobile quarterbacks and multiple tailbacks, both teams have several running threats. LSU's Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard each have run for 322 yards and four touchdowns while Magee and freshman Darrel Williams also have gained some 150 yards. Harris has three rushing touchdowns. Auburn's backfield isn't as deep but Cameron Artis-Payne is the league's No. 4 runner, Corey Grant is a speedster and quarterback Nick Marshall already has two 100-yard games this season.
FRESHMAN SPOTLIGHT: Some youngsters could play key roles in the game. Fournette, Harris, Williams and wide receiver Malachi Dupre are key LSU freshmen facing a hostile college stadium for the first time. Auburn freshman linebacker Tre' Williams also could play a bigger role if starter Kris Frost is limited or out with a shoulder injury sustained against Louisiana Tech.
TURNOVERS: Both defenses have been adept at forcing turnovers and converting them into points. LSU has cashed in six interceptions and six fumble recoveries for 63 points, third-most nationally. Auburn has picked off seven passes and has a 37-0 advantage over opponents in points off turnovers.
INJURY QUESTIONS: Auburn had three starters knocked out of the game in the first half against Louisiana Tech. Malzahn said linebackers Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and right tackle Patrick Miller are "day to day" but have practiced some. Malzahn hasn't elaborated on the nature of their injuries. LSU is without injured safety Dwayne Thomas.
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