by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
This will be an intense game with a wild atmosphere, the first real night game inside Tigers Stadium since the Burreaux game of late November 2019 vs Texas A&M, 50-7....
The first time LSU transfer QB TJ Finley returns to his home state and battles his former team....
The first time many of these LSU Tigers take the field amidst the unbelievable cauldron that is Death Valley at night.
Many LSU luminaries will be on hand, and we're not only talking about a long list of 2022 recruits & commits from Walker Howard, Will Campbell, #1 LB Harold Perkins (choosing LSU over Texas A&M for this visit), or Arizona-located DT Anthony Lucas, among many others, but there will also be a who's who of LSU Legends in appearance:
Expect Shaquille O'Neal, Odell Beckham Jr, Jacob Hester of course, maybe even some 2019 LSU members, but expect the unexpected, as well as a breathtaking sight to behold when so many gather for the first time in nearly 2 years.
But for Auburn, a great feeling at Death Valley hasn't existed since before TJ Finley was born....
Winless inside the maniacally crazed confines of Tigers Stadium, Auburn haven't won on Louisiana soil since 1999....
With heavy storylines surrounding LSU's offensive line struggles, the lack of a running game, or TJ Finley's return, I feel there's a few more factors which decide this game:
Can LSU consistently tackle Tank Bigsby in the hole, shutting him down when it counts, right as he's finding second gear?
Will the Tigers be able to shut down the Auburn receivers without Derek Stingley Jr?
How long can our one dimensional offense rely solely on the brilliant exploits of Max Johnson and Kayshon Boutte?
We answer those questions and more...we're ready to predict:
LSU will start the game on the backfoot, allowing long runs from Bigsby and Shivers, even when utilizing 5 or 6 DBs to try and meet the backs with combinations of speed and physicality.
After both near a 150 yards combined during the first half, LSU's defense finally start to stuff the run, but the damage Auburn creates from their early running game put LSU up against it early, Bigsby rushing for 2 scores.
The Tigers' defense grab a few first quarter sacks on Bo Nix, the chosen starter for the game, and on the second sack Maason Smith forces a fumble, swatting the ball loose for Jaquelin Roy to pick up his 2nd fumble recovery of the season.
Offensively, Max Johnson and Kayshon Boutte combine for the opening touchdown to capitalize on another early, tone-setting turnover.
Nix continues to make poor throws against LSU's strong, thick secondary...with Daronte Jones utilizing extra DBs and Jay Ward as a dime back at times to completely throw Nix off.
He's often pressured toward the sidelines running for his life as if Burt Reynolds is chasing him from behind, shooting a crossbow at his ass, tossing the ball away into the sounds and affording LSU's offense countless possessions.
However, LSU's offense will give it right back, the offensive line blowing it and the running game stalling for a good portion of the first half.
LSU take a 21-14 lead into halftime, but worries abound throughout a hushed, but still defiant Tigers Stadium.
Heading into the second half, we see a different LSU on offense, from TDP and Kiner ripping off long runs, a faster offensive precision with Thomas Jr, Jack Bech, Deion Smith and Trey Palmer receiving repeated targets.
But this may just be a game for Malik Nabers, the freshman coming out of Lafayette looks poised to rise, if only his injury woes from just before UCLA don't creep up again. He's been appearing in good health and making some good plays on the ball, though he's still at the raw point of his trajectory....he still has much to offer.
This could be the type of game where Nabers' strength, intensity and smooth agility come to roost for the first time in 2021....and I think it's his turn.
I believe Boutte will finish off drives and be clinical on 3rd downs, but Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr and Jack Bech will all play massive roles against Auburn's strong run defending unit.
Attacking their weakness with our greatest offensive strength, Jake Peetz has no choice but to allow the pass to set up the run....we don't have the luxury of an offensive line that plays with confidence, athleticism and energy.
I feel Peetz is going to try and deploy plenty of RPOs, which he finally unleashes during a rollicking second half from Max Johnson and his receiving corps, though the passing artistry begins to open lanes for TDP, Corey Kiner and Armoni Goodwin against the school he once committed to.
But while Nix fails, Harsin turns to TJ Finley and the second year QB reacts and puts on a nervy but fine performance, bringing Auburn closer with LSU by way of the running game and some strong passing plays by Finley on the run.
The biggest play arrives with the game gridlocked at 21-21 to start the 4th, Jake Peetz's offense being given a major gimme when an Auburn punt is partially blocked by Jaquelin Roy, setting up a short field.
Only two snaps later, Johnson faked a Boutte jet sweep to the left before tossing a fading wheel route for running back Ty Davis-Price, catching in stride and bulldozing over a defender to score.
By the midway point of the 4th quarter, now possessing a 28-21 lead, LSU's defense starts tackling as if they were innoculated with a Butkus gene; LB Bugg Strong has an outrageous second half, making dynamic tackles;
Then Daronte Jones' defense makes its biggest play, via an Eli Ricks interception inside the red zone, picking off his former teammate TJ Finley as the LSU transfer forces a pass into coverage.
LSU then go on a near 6 minute drive the length of the field, with our offensive line performing their best all season; Max dinks and dunks LSU down the field, leaning on Bech, Boutte and Deion Smith.
Then, around the 25 yard line, Malik Nabers gets free on a long developing deep crossing route at the back of the end zone; Max Johnson accepts a brutal hit while delivering a punishing strike through the teeth of Auburn's defense, completing his 4th TD pass of the night & Nabers' 1st ever....this time to put the game out of reach.
Andre Carter's defensive line get after Finley to finish the game off, B.J Ojulari burying TJ from behind for the strip sack, with Soni Fonua recovering the ball.
After yet another Cade York field goal, Finley forces another throw into coverage, only for safety Jay Ward to hunt the ball down from 30 yards away, meeting the ball on a line and snatching the sweetest interception of LSU's season out of the air.
Though the Tigers began the game up against it, down and out while getting ran over, they continue to find a way to make plays, Auburn screw things up for themselves, and every time....Coach Orgeron's 2021 Tigers have an answer.
LSU emerge victorious in their 2nd SEC test, all in front of a raucous Tigers Stadium ready to party until dawn below the Blue Bayou Moon...
On a Saturday night in Baton Rouge....anything is possible.
LSU WIN 34-21
MAX JOHNSON: 411 Yards, 4 TDs
KAYSHON BOUTTE: 86 Yards, 1 TD
JACK BECH: 121 Yards, 1 TD
BRIAN THOMAS JR: 71 Yards
MALIK NABERS: 55 Yards, 1 TD
TY DAVIS-PRICE: 79 Yards, 1 Rec. TD
COREY KINER: 65 Yards
CADE YORK: 2 field goals from 45+
ELI RICKS: 1 INT, 5 Tackles
BJ OJULARI: 2 sacks, 1 FF
MAASON SMITH: 1 FF, 1.5 Sacks
CORDALE FLOTT: 10 Tackles, 1 PD
JAY WARD: 9 Tackles, 3 PD, 1 INT
BUGG STRONG: 7 Tackles, 3 TFL
LT BRADFORD / HILL / WIRE
RG HILL / HINES
RB TDP / KINER
WR / TE BECH
WR THOMAS JR
DE GAYE / WEBB / FONUA
DT FARRELL JR
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: ALL MY TIGERS IN TIGERLAND, LET'S GEAUX!!!!