SEC West powers meet as Auburn hosts LSU

Auburn, AL ( - A matchup of top-15 SEC Western Division foes is set for Saturday evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as the fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers will take on the 15th-ranked LSU Tigers.

LSU was cruising along early in the season with three straight wins to open up, including a 28-24 triumph over nationally-ranked Wisconsin, but its introduction into SEC play did not go well as it was upset by Mississippi State at home on Sept. 20, 34-29. It bounced back with a 63-7 triumph over New Mexico State last week, but it can ill afford to suffer another divisional loss if it has championship aspirations.

"Anytime that you line up against a top-five opponent you're looking forward to play your best," LSU coach Les Miles said. "This will be a great competition. I don't think there is a person in our building that's not excited about the opportunity to go down and play very well at Auburn."

Auburn has lived up to expectations in the early going this season with wins in each of its first four contests, which includes a 45-21 victory over Arkansas in its only SEC game so far and a 20-14 win at nationally-ranked Kansas State. It is 3-0 at home and has won 12 in a row at home dating back to 2012.

"I feel good about where we are," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I'm confident we'll improve."

LSU has the upper hand in the all-time series over Auburn, 27-20-1, which includes handing Auburn its only regular season loss a year ago, 35-21.

LSU had its best offensive performance of the year in its 63-point showing versus NMSU last week with 563 yards. On the season, the team puts up 41.4 ppg and 462.8 ypg.

Brandon Harris took over under center late in the Mississippi State game and appears to have supplanted Anthony Jennings (.506 completions, 734 yards, five TDs, three INTs) as the starter. With five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) and zero turnovers in last week's win, Harris now has nine scores and just one pick, while completing greater than 73 percent of his passes.

"(Harris) did a very nice job," Miles said. "Threw the ball well, made good decisions. It stands to reason that he would get the first snaps of next game. But we're going to need both quarterbacks. Anthony Jennings is a fine young man and busting his behind to prove himself and certainly is going to continue to compete."

LSU's potent rushing attack is mostly divided between Leonard Fournette (56 carries, 322 yards, four TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (57 carries, 298 yards, four TDs). Fournette has the hot hand after his 122-yard, two-touchdown performance last week.

Travin Dural (21 receptions, 534 yards, five TDs) is one of the best deep threats in the country, as his 25.4 yards-per-catch average is tops in the nation among players with at least 20 receptions.

Although LSU's defense had its hands full with Mississippi State a few weeks back, the unit has still played very well on the season in yielding just 13.0 ppg and 292.2 ypg.

Kwon Alexander has a team-best 30 tackles, although the well-balanced defense has nine players with at least 18 stops. Danielle Hunter causes havoc along the defensive line with 25 tackles, 4.5 TFL, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Auburn's offense has been spectacular as well, putting up 42.2 ppg and 480.0 ypg, and Malzahn is feeling more comfortable than ever about his team's balance.

"This year, unlike last year, I feel a lot more confident in our passing game, too," said Malzahn. "We don't just have to rely on one thing."

After breaking onto the scene last year, Nick Marshall has continued as one of the nation's best dual-threat options at quarterback. He's completing 56.2 percent of his passes for 548 yards, six touchdowns and an interception, but he's most dynamic as a rusher (273 yards, two TDs). Jeremy Johnson (19-of-25, 330 yards, three TDs) has excelled as a passer in limited opportunities.

Cameron Artis-Payne has taken over as the featured tailback and has shined with 468 yards and five touchdowns on 86 carries. Corey Grant (34 carries, 216 yards, TD) is also in the mix.

D'haquille Williams is far and away the most trusted target in the passing game with 23 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns. No one else has double-digit catches.

Defensively, Auburn is much improved from last season (24.7 ppg) in allowing a mere 16.2 ppg and 313.2 ypg.

The unit could be without its top tackler Cassanova McKinzy (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, sack) as well as Kris Frost (2.0 sacks), both of whom are questionable with undisclosed injuries. In the event of their absence, Jonathon Mincy (27 tackles, 2.0 TFL, sack) and Montravius Adams (5.0 TFL, sack, INT) will need to help pick up the slack.