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LSU Defense Looks to Improve Against Auburn

LSU will return home to face the Auburn Tigers in a critical game of a long-standing rivalry. Auburn is coming off two consecutive losses, albeit to more talented teams. LSU has a chance to play its way to Atlanta but can’t afford any more losses in the process. The War Eagles have struggled offensively, so LSU’s defense looks to improve against Auburn.

The unpredictable nature of the LSU/Auburn rivalry is even apparent off the field, as few would have foreseen the disruption of the two programs colliding on an annual basis. Due to the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in 2024, the yearly streak of games between LSU and Auburn will end after this season. If the rivalry produces another earthquake reading, on-campus fire, or last-second touchdown on Saturday, fans better savor it.

State of the Teams and Future of the Rivalry

Auburn’s Offensive Issues

As for now, former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is now in his first year at Auburn and looking to rebuild. Oddly enough, the same coach who earned his stripes as an offensive mind is currently fielding the 89th-ranked offense in the country. No, Freeze hasn’t forgotten how to coach. A tree is judged by the fruit it bears, and Auburn is barren. Freeze needs playmakers.

Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne has played at a high level as the quarterback, just not at Auburn. Thorne had 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2021, so he can be productive as a passer. He has not been a productive passer to this point in the season. Fortunately for Auburn, he’s been an effective runner. Thorne has rushed for more yards in six games at Auburn than he ever gained in full seasons at Michigan State. But a one-dimensional offense won’t cut it in a game where the War Eagles will need to light the scoreboard up. Auburn must improve its 119th-ranked passing offense and pass successfully against the worst defense in the SEC. Thorne will need help from his offensive line and receivers to keep up with the potent LSU offense.

It’s established that Auburn needs more balance, but it’s also easy to see why the Tigers have committed to the run game while they struggle to get the pieces in place to pass effectively. Jarquez Hunter is the leading rusher for the visiting Tigers and averages four yards per carry. That might not seem like much, but it’s impressive considering that opponents are not threatened by a passing game. Hunter is an explosive back who stole the show at times as an underclassman from Auburn’s former star running back, Tank Bigsby. Backup quarterback Robby Ashford is another dangerous runner who won’t throw often, but defenses still must prepare for the threat due to his experience. Ashford hurt LSU at times last year passing the ball.

LSU’s Defensive Direction

Vaunted? No. Average? Not quite. Improved? Definitely. The improved LSU defense should look to get its shine on against the pedestrian Auburn offense in the same way that opposing teams have victimized the LSU defense. With all the fireworks involved in the Missouri game, it’s easy to forget that LSU’s defense allowed only two scores on eight possessions in the second half.

As always, it starts up front. The Bayou Bengal defensive line looked like a better, more aggressive unit last week. One would expect the coaching staff to continue to use more players in the defensive line rotation to keep guys rested and fresh. Depth in the trenches is imperative when building a defense. Fresh legs will also help with the critical aspect of maintaining discipline, especially when facing a mobile quarterback and creative play-caller.

It’s just as important for the LSU linebackers to play a disciplined game as the down linemen. At times, Auburn uses Thorne in a fashion in which defenses are essentially defending the triple option. The LSU linebackers can’t afford to overcommit or predetermine in reading situations. Auburn has players that can gain chunk yardage as a result of defensive mistakes. Georgia can attest.

LSU has gone back to the combination of Sage Ryan and Zy Alexander as the starting cornerbacks. The staff has decided to take the safe route of simply asking defensive backs to tackle. Making plays on the ball in the air is great, but old-fashioned sound tackling is an improvement.

One can never be too confident in picking a winner when these two teams meet. Some programs will always bring a challenge to LSU regardless of talent level. Auburn is one of those programs. LSU is a year ahead of Auburn in the coaching carousel and should be further along. In the bad-on-bad matchup of the Auburn offense vs. the LSU defense, the hometown Tigers will likely prevail if the defense continues to build off its prior improvements.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports


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