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2010 Cheese Puff Previews: LSU

A week-by-week preview of Auburn’s 2010 opponents. But since you can find straightforward overviews in a half-dozen magazines and a ton of places across the web, these are a little more … disposable. Light. Cheese-puffy. Previously: Arkansas St., Mississippi St., Clemson, South Carolina, UL-Monroe, Kentucky, Arkansas.

Presenting: LSU!

What their logo tells us us about their football team:
Uh … what’s he doing?

Seriously–is he leaping at us? Why’s his left paw out like that, then? Is he roaring? Smiling? Just kind of, I don’t know, breathing through his mouth or something? He’s looking kind of paunchy on that right side, isn’t he? And no wonder he looks a bit disoriented on this sorta-swivel he’s got going on, what with those two bizarro motion-fins sticking out the back of his logo. So weird.

Overall, I know he’s a tiger, and he’s supposed to be fierce and all, but from here he just looks … wobbly. Unstable. (Maybe a little bit drunk? He is from LSU and all.) There’s potential there, but something’s just a little bit off.

What happened last year: You should really read Matt Hinton’s account, which posits LSU’s existence of razor-thin escapes and surprising yardage deficits as “the new normal” after a second straight year on the edge. It shouldn’t be possible to finish dead last in the SEC in total offense or be outgained for the season and still go 9-3, but the Tigers managed it, thanks in large, large part to the punt returns of (the since departed) Trindon Holliday and a series of big turnovers by an opportunistic secondary.

What happened the last time these teams met: Ted Roof looked around the visitor’s locker room just ahead of kickoff and discovered that Auburn’s starting defense still had yet to so much as put on their pads.

“What in tarnation do you dadgum think you’re doing in here?” Roof said, though much more colorfully. (Yes, more colorfully than “tarnation.”)

“Coach, the offense took the first half off last week,” said Wat McFadden. “We demand equal rights. We’re taking the first half of these week off. And Byrum says special teams get next week.”

Roof said many more colorful things.

“Sorry, Coach,” McFadden said. “But the much more rarely-discussed Title X ensures equal on-field treatment for both offensive and defensive players. After last week, we demand that we be allowed to take the first half off. If you have any questions, we’d like to direct you to our lawyer, Matlock.”

What actually happened: First-half LSU drives of 83, 47, and 59 yards plus two scoring drives of 16 and 21 yards after Auburn turnovers. Frankly, we were lucky to only be down 17-0 at the half, or to only lose 31-10.

What two things about LSU are causes for alarm:

1. You think I’m joking about this:

but I’m not. No, I don’t think Miles’s teams are exactly “well-coached.” No, I don’t think he brings a lot to the table in terms of preparation. Yes, the Ole Miss clock fiasco last year (and subsequent attempt to pass the buck onto one of his players) is an embarrassment.

But I’m an Auburn fan. Three years ago he won the Tiger Bowl with a supremely ballsy–and supremely correct, if you’ve still never noticed the ball is caught with :04 remaining on the clock–call at game’s end. Two years ago he turned around a game Auburn had in firmly in hand with a series of aggressive calls and trick plays. (It’s worth noting that in both cases, our head coach elected to simply let LSU run out the clock on their final drive, rather than take his leftover timeouts and give his offense a chance to respond.) He didn’t need any fancy gimmickry last year against Auburn, unfortunately; he just had his team ready to play their best game of the season by a mile.

So, yeah, I’d honestly feel a little bit better about things if the Purple Tigers had someone more … conventional on the sidelines.

2. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that LSU has the might of Mingovia and their glorious Steampunk Emperor on their side, wouldn’t I?

What two things about LSU are causes for confidence?

1. Remember that this game is the yin to the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry’s yang: the home team (almost) always wins. 9-1 over the rivalry’s last 10 years, in fact, with the only loss the one suffered by the worst team either team has fielded in that span, ’08 Auburn … and somehow, even that one was close. Forgive me for doubting that single LSU win somehow broke Auburn’s stranglehold on the series when it comes to Jordan-Hare.

2. I never quite got the time to write the full, bilious post I wanted to on the latest round of despicable cuts and last-second grayshirts by Miles and the coachbot. But between cutting Chris Garrett, booting Elliott Porter out of his dorm room, and yoinking Deangelo Benton’s scholarship on Signing Day eve, it’s pretty clear that as he’s gotten more and more desperate at LSU, Miles has decided to care less and less about the promises he’s made to the players and recruits under his watch. It would be awful, awful nice to see the football gods wax wroth for this kind of bait-and-switching.

What tidbit I found most interesting from Phil Steele’s LSU preview: No, LSU was not that good last year:

Last year they had fortunate ypp‘s on both offense and defense and despite their 5-3 SEC record were -33.4 ypg (4th worst) in SEC play and on the season were outgained by an avg of 328-305.

Yup: even after playing Vandy, the Ragin’ Cajuns, Tulane, and Louisiana Tech, LSU still finished the year giving up 23 yards more per game than they gained. If this all seems familiar, it should: it’s an almost perfect replica of Auburn 2006, who was also the fourth-worst team in SEC in conference yardage margin at exactly -33.4 yards-per-game. Auburn didn’t plunge off a cliff in 2007, but the harrowing wins of 2006 most certainly did gave way to a number of harrowing losses. LSU’s got a few coming their way.

What tidbit I found most interesting from LSU’s associated Wikipedia pages: If it’s Lousiana, and it’s historical, you know who’s involved and you know how it ends:

In 1928, LSU was a small-time country school that generated little interest or attention in the state. Labeled a “third-rate” institution by the Association of State Universities, the school had only 1800 students, 168 faculty members, and an annual operating budget of $800,000. In 1930, Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana, initiated a massive building program on campus to expand the physical plant and add departments.

By 1936, LSU had the finest facilities in the South, a top-notch faculty of 394 professors, a new medical school, more than 6,000 students, and a winning football team. In only eight years, it had risen in size from 88th in the nation to 20th, and it was the 11th largest state university in the nation. Long financed these improvements by arranging for the state to purchase acreage from the old LSU campus, which adjoined the grounds of the new State Capitol building in downtown Baton Rouge. To the consternation of his critics, Long essentially diverted $9 million for LSU’s expansion and increased the annual operating budget to $2.8 million.

LSU was hit by scandal in 1939 when James Monroe Smith, appointed by Huey Long as president of LSU, was charged with embezzling a half-million dollars. In the ensuing investigation, at least twenty state officials were indicted. Two committed suicide as the scandal enveloped Governor Richard W. Leche, who received a 10-year federal prison sentence as a result of a kickback scheme.

Of course he did.

What I actually think about this matchup: Auburn had better win it, dammit.

Look, I know what happened in Baton Rouge last year. But that was LSU’s single best game of the season and Auburn’s worst; over the course of the entire season, our Tigers were just as good as theirs, if not better. (Take a look at the difference in the two Louisiana Tech box scores, for one example.) Which is more accurate: a sample size of one, or a sample size of many?

Not that what happened last year means that much about this season; LSU’s not about to go 5-7. But the easy-to-identify “lucky” SEC team from each of the last several seasons has gone on to regress the following year: Auburn ’06, Miss. St. ’07 (and Tennessee ’07), Vandy ’08.

LSU could conceivably avoid being next if they had a ton of starters back, good coaching, a few gamebreakers, etc. But they have just four defensive starters returning; questionable coaching just about everywhere besides defensive coordinator (hey, Steve! How’s it goin’?); and no Holliday, no Chad Jones, no Brandon LaFell, no Ciron Black on the line, none of the old defensive tackle terrors we’ve seen in the past.

There’s a lot of good players here, sure; Jordan Jefferson is underrated, the RB tandem should be solid, Terrance Tolliver is damned useful, and of course Patrick Petersen might be the best cover corner in the country. But overall, top-to-bottom, it’s Auburn who returns more and ought to take the bigger step forward … when they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with LSU already. Take that, combine with the fact that game is in Jordan-Hare, and you’re looking at an opportunity to end the drought against that bunch that couldn’t be much more golden.

If Auburn loses at home to Arkansas or Georgia this year, I’ll be decidedly unhappy (particularly the Dawgs at this stage, of course), but if they blow it against this LSU team, I’m going to be furious. This is a game Auburn should win, period. Which is why I think they’ll win it.

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