LSU VS AUBURN: HALLOWEEN 2020 EDITION
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
The mood was intense around the Tigers' home locker room in the glorified aftermath of last Saturday' s 52-24 mauling of South Carolina, yet another former LSU assistant (Will Muschamp) geauxing down in a heap of flaming atrocity under the sword of Coach Ed Orgeron's limitless crew.
While recognizing their record of 2-2, equalizing the season back to .500, the offense celebrated in a stoic, all business mind set, knowing their powers could be boundless; However, for the defensive side of the ball, there wasn't much "whooping it up" to be found.
Though every coach in the building found their way to B.J Ojulari for a congratulatory speech or Eli Ricks to salute his INT return for a TD (some words about not getting a flag as well), there was disappointment in the air amongst LSU's defense.
Allowing South Carolina 400+ yards of offense during a mixed outing, LSU's front four harassed the backfield (Ojulari's 3 sacks, Anthony with another, Apu Ika with 2 uncredited TFLs) while Stingley and Ricks announced their authority upon proceedings, shackling their opponents to a combined 0/6, 2 PD and 1 INT TD, but in between the front four and the corners shutting down the boundaries, there was a massive pocket of space for offenses to attack.
In preparations for Auburn, Bo Pelini will be forced to shuffle his deck at the linebacker and safety positions. He can't hold serve here...this is a struggling Auburn offense which must be attacked with speed and calculation, not aimless bravado...which is why we suggest this:
Pelini has to move Stevens to MIC, Devonta Lee or Micha Baskerville to SAM and keep Cox at WLL; in addition, we need to see guys like Phillip Webb, Josh White and Antoine Sampah take the field outside of special teams duty.
Damone Clark was a player we repped all over the online world, touting his 49 tackles last year and his brilliance as Devin White's apprentice...but we've seen a slow adjustment to the gap control intricacies of the 4-3 setup.
Although Bo loves Damone, considering #18 his most experienced linebacker alongside Jabril Cox, perhaps Clark isn't a 4-3 linebacker...maybe he's better utilized closer to the goal line?
At safety, there's fewer options but one which must be deployed:
If the more experienced Hampton and Harris (who will both most likely play many early snaps) start in a struggling manner, flying at the air and missing wide open tackles or blowing coverages left and right, then freshman Jordan Toles must be deployed at free safety.
If Auburn ditch the passing game and attempt to run it down LSU's thin defensive interior, maybe this is the Halloween for strong safety senior Cam Lewis to have a big showing for the Tigers.
Lewis could be that run stuffing strong safety who can take Stevens' spot (as he moves to LB). If he can tackle in space, he needs to play...
What about the new opt out and transfer along the D-Line??
This is why we've waited until Friday to post our game preview pieces...there has been an unprecedented amount of personnel changes throughout 2020, injuries, suspensions, you name it....and now highly lauded DT Apu Ika has handed in his transfer papers while Travez Moore (who earlier tested positive for Covid 19) opts out altogether.
LSU's 2020 Defensive line roster is looking like Night Of The Living Dead: such is their crazy transformation from experienced National Champion stalwarts to freshmen phenoms or general unknowns.
Since this summer, Orgeron, Johnson and LaCoutoure's defensive line has been caught up in the perfect storm of Covid 19, weight gains, depth issues and absences, one after another.
Before the season, LSU had the most stacked defensive line in the country...but since we've lost All-American-level DT Tyler Shelvin, T.K McLendon, Justin Thomas, Neil Farrell even opted out and returned, Glen Logan was suspended the first two games...it's genuinely been madness...but now LSU's line loses a masterful interior body in Ika, regardless of his unfamiliarity with the 4-3, and an extra strong side edge rusher who produced sacks in limited time this season.
These are colossal hits in the depth department, which is what it takes to survive multiple Top 10 teams...
Apu Ika is a big loss and had an underrated season so far, recovering a fumble which was wrongfully called back vs Miss State, posting 2 TFLs last game (uncredited) and a sack....how this didn't work out is strange, but in the end, one of LSU's most talented inside DTs has left.
So, both Shelvin and Ika have left....wow...who, before the season, would've believed LSU's starting front four vs Auburn could possibly be All Gaye, Jaquelin Roy, former NT turned center Joseph Evans and B.J Ojulari??
LSU ODYSSEY believed Ojulari should start all preseason and I also picked him to lead LSU in sacks...which he is currently doing, but Joseph Evans over Tyler Shelvin? Ika gone completely?
No one anticipated this historic amount of turnover, but if there's one strength to this defense which has proven itself time and time again, it's Bill Johnson's rampant defensive line.
Who can step up for LSU and take over that DT spot?
Joseph Evans looked great last game, grabbing a sack and forcing the guard and center back with vicious brutality, but the most pressure lies on LSU's veterans Neil Farrell or Glen Logan as well as freshmen Jaquelin Roy and (yet to debut) Jacobian Guillory to step up.
Game to game, we don't know what we'll see from this LSU defense, however they're definitely trending in the right direction:
In spite of the deserved criticism, Pelini's defense leads the SEC in sacks, fumble recoveries, pressures, turnover creation & margin, they've picked off 5 passes (returning 2 for touchdowns, 2nd in the SEC) and still, after all the opt outs or transfers, Pelini's unit currently possess enough talent to beat Auburn handily.
With that we'll delve a tiny bit into this 1-5 Auburn team, oh I mean....whatever their record is...this team has been extremely lucky, being handed a victory by the referees twice this season, most egregiously last week vs Ole Miss.
Could that spell a bad omen for LSU, who've been haunted by officiating controversies, clock mismanagement and other bizarre voodoo during this fixture throughout its illustrious past...
Although no amount of favorable officiating can mask the barrel-full of deficiencies within this Auburn group:
First of all, they're allowing 126 total points and scoring 122 (the number one sign of a true losing side), surrendered 180.4 rushing yards per game...then, across nearly every category from yards per play to first downs, rushing / passing yards, Auburn are nearly dead even or under the amount their giving up....another true sign of a middling or shitty team.
A key stat which points to their current malaise? Steele's defense relinquish 3rd down conversions 57% of the time...
Beyond the surface level stuff, we GEAUX deeper into Gus Malzahn's theater of SEC West pretenderdom:
Against Kentucky, Bo Nix's 34 yards led the Auburn "Tigers" rushing game during their only deserved victory and repeated this awful feat again vs Georgia: 31 yards was all it took for Tank Bigsby to lead the team...
Kevin Steele's defense lost a ton of talent during last year's NFL Draft, especially on the D-Line, and due to this soft center, Auburn's defense continues to be porous, allowing 400+ yards in every game except two, Kentucky (384) and South Carolina (297)...surrendering 22+ first downs against every opponent they've faced thus far.
So, not only can LSU move the ball against this defense, they could seriously rack up the yards, points and first downs.
Wide Receiver Seth Williams provides a deep threat and given the fact he enjoyed a battle vs Derek Stingley last year, this should be a festival for all DBs and WRs.
"He's ready," Derek Stingley Sr told Off The Bench, hinting at Jr's annoyance with his punt return fumble and still wanting to take back what was rightfully his....last year's SEC Freshman of the Year award...
Both Derek and Seth made a few plays (Williams made one circus catch near the sidelines on #24) but Derek won the day, picking off "SEC Freshman of the Year" Bo Nix in the red zone during a 50/50 battle vs Williams.
Will Nix go at Stingley again?
The much-maligned silver spoon sophomore from Auburn has thrown 6 touchdowns for 1,107 yards and 4 interceptions at a 58% clip (sacked 12 times), displaying a propensity for fumbling the ball, but he's also found another 100 yard receiver recently.
A few weeks back De'vion Warren caught over 100 yards and led the team in receiving while Seth was limited to 3 catches; Warren has 218 yards and 3 TDs so far this season (half of Nix's total passing TD output).
Eli Ricks vs Warren will be a Halloween night battle to keep your eyes on, especially considering Eli's 3 interceptions, pick six TD and 6 PD on the season...if Bo Nix targets Eli 5x, Ricks will rip a pick off Nix for six, running it in just for kicks.
Focusing now on Orgeron's 2-2 Tigers, how might LSU attack Auburn?
Concerning LSU's offense, this is a game for Quarterback T.J Finley to take over.
Following and evolving last week's first quarter blueprint, Ensminger should arm Finley with an array of quick passes to get into a rhythm, specifically targeting Marshall and Gilbert, but also switching up the pace by tossing quick screens to Kayshon Boutte or hitting Koy Moore over the middle into the playbook.
Then, we evolve the game plan by involving the running backs in the short passing game, ramping up the tempo and eating possession at alternating times, anything to keep Kevin Steele's unit off balance.
LSU's passing attack will have plenty of real estate to eat up at Jordan Hare, the key will be: Can Finley continue to lead his receivers into space and exploit the soft, Charles Barkley-bellied center of Auburn's slapstick defense???
We think he shall and T.J will need Ty Davis-Price (135 yards 1 TD last week) and John Emery (88 yards 1 TD) to sustain their brilliant rushing outings from the South Carolina game. Expect a massive acceleration from TDP vs Auburn as he looks to become the bona fide #1 running back at LSU.
Maintaining that high level on the ground, LT Cam Wire and LG Ed Ingram have bolstered James Cregg's offensive line, regsrdless of Dare Rosenthal's absence: in fact, LSU's offensive line has made a massive addition by subtraction.
This offense is so potent, featuring a myriad of high octane options all over the field combined with Ensminger's expert play-calling, Finley will have every opportunity to succeed vs Auburn....and we believe the freshman can't help but be great.
I just can't see LSU losing this game...despite the craziness of many LSU v Auburn endings which still haunt Tiger fans, there have also been joyous moments, like the Cole Tracy walkoff kick from 2 years ago, the Earthquake game, Lee to LaFell...there's so many moments of LSU exceptionalism vs Auburn and this Halloween will be another.
A freshman geauxs trick-or-treating in Gus Malzahn's neighborhood and he'll be leaving with a big bag of candy.
LSU WINS 42-27
FINLEY: 305 yards, 3 TDs, 41 rushing 9/13 on 3rd
TDP: 138 yards, 1 TD
EMERY: 102 yards, 1 TD
TERRACE: 2 TDs, 113 yards
GILBERT: 78 yards
BOUTTE: 71 yards 1 TD
RICKS: 1 INT, 3 PD
STINGLEY: 1 INT
OJULARI: 2 SACKS, 1 FF
EVANS: 1 SACK, 1 FR
GAYE: 2 PD, 1 SACK
BASKERVILLE: 11 TACKLES
STEVENS: 3.5 TFL, 1 SACK
ANTHONY: 1 SACK
BLACK LIVES MATTER
BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: A.D, Jamer, Tony, Peggy, AG, Maryrose, Alex Is A King