LSU Visits Auburn

Week Twelve Midweek Musings: Observations and schedule changes from between weeks twelve and thirteen of the 2020 college football season.

Auburn and LSU initially faced each other in 1901, They have met in every season starting in 1992. LSU leads the series 31-20-1. For games played in Auburn, the home team holds an advantage 12-8. LSU has won seven of the nine most recent meetings although the two defeats occurred inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

LSU halted its decline on Saturday by dominating South Carolina, 52-24. True freshman TJ Finley looked quite comfortable starting his first collegiate game. The defense contributed a pick-six late in the second quarter. After the Gamecocks took the opening possession of the second half to the endzone, the special teams responded. Trey Palmer returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, the first Fighting Tiger to do so in Tiger Stadium since 1981.

Auburn escaped with another win involving a controversial late-game decision by the officials. The apparent recovery of a live ball in Auburn’s endzone during a fourth quarter kickoff was ruled as a touchback. That call meant that Ole Miss’ lead remained by one point. Bo Nix‘s 42-yard pass to Seth Williams with less than two minutes remaining resulted in the game-winning touchdown.

LSU Visits Auburn

Can LSU’s Front Seven Slow Down Tank Bigsby?

Tank Bigsby has steadily increased his contributions during his freshman year. He started the season with carries in the single-digits for less than 40 yards on the ground in two games. In the past three contests, he has rushed at least 16 times for over 100 yards. He scored his first touchdown two weeks ago at South Carolina then added two more at Ole Miss. In total, he has accounted for 49.9 percent of Auburn’s rushing yards.

Bigsby has not merely taken handoffs or pitches in the backfield. He has caught 11 passes for 84 yards. However, he did not catch any in three of Auburn’s five games so far. Additionally, he has returned at least one kickoff per contest with a total of 13 for an average of 23.1 yards per attempt.

After being torched by Mississippi State’s air-raid, LSU’s defense has surrendered a significant amount of yards on the ground. The previous three opponents exceeded 150 rushing yards. More glaringly, Missouri and South Carolina averaged five and five-tenths and five and eight-tenths respectively per rushing attempt. Both scored two touchdowns by running the ball.

Quarterback Conundrum for LSU

For all of the problems that LSU has faced during this season, no one should direct the blame at the quarterbacks. The offense scored 27 points in the season opener then reached 41 in the next two games. Their scoring total dipped to 38 last week.

Myles Brennan started the first three games of the season after never having done so at the college level. In those contests, he threw for 345, 337, and 430 yards respectively. He completed between 58 and 63 percent of his passes for three or four touchdowns in each outing. After tossing two interceptions in the season opener, he has had just one since then. His lack of mobility showed in his 17 rushing attempts resulting in losses equaling 36 yards.

Finley played efficiently in his first start last Saturday against South Carolina. He only threw 21 passes but completed 17 of those. He compiled 265 yards and two touchdowns through the air. An apparent miscommunication with a receiver in the second quarter caused his only interception. He also ran the ball eight times for 24 yards and a touchdown.

Head Coach Ed Orgeron faces a dilemma in choosing a quarterback this week. Can he risk starting Brennan knowing that the junior might not be healed sufficiently? Might Brennan endure some hits that set back his full recovery? Should Coach O hope that Finley can replicate a similarly effective performance at Auburn? If he starts Finley, who should replace the freshman in case he is hurt or experiences difficulties? Would the coach send in an injured quarterback or Max Johnson who has not yet thrown a pass in a collegiate game? He must decide which quarterback gives LSU the greatest chance of victory in Auburn.

Conclusion

Despite two dominating victories, LSU sits at .500. That record ranks below what the defending national champions and others expected at this point. The offense has shown that it has retained much of the potency from last season. However, the defense must show more improvement in order to avoid finishing the season with the current winning percentage or worse.

Despite Auburn’s current winning record, Head Coach Gus Malzahn has been receiving a growing level of criticism. Of course, his detractors have placed an asterisk on the schedule next to the “W”s for the victories over Arkansas and Ole Miss. Nevertheless, his Tigers have not yet lost to anyone in the SEC West. Therefore, a trip to the SEC Championship Game still lies within reach.

LSU visiting Auburn looks like a matchup that will not be settled until the final minute of regulation or after multiple overtime periods.

Prediction: LSU 34, Auburn 31

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