Not a great chance. Not even a good chance. It’s barely a puncher’s chance, since the Auburn offense isn’t capable of doing much punching these days, likely even less against LSU’s band of merry defensive monsters in Death Valley. But a chance. I believe it’s there.
Even that’s more optimism than I expected to have during the precious, thrilling, inspiring/infurating, slipshod South Carolina win, or the second-half capitulation at Arkansas. And obviously, beating Florida by 11 points when LSU beat them by 30 shouldn’t really inspire much in the way of confidence.
But it’s nonetheless inspired a small, probably irrational acorn of confidence I’m going to give some water and sunlight by explaining why I think Auburn’s got a chance:
This is exactly the kind of offense our defense wants to see. What’s been lost in all the Ted Roof back-and-forth is that his (and Gene Chizik’s) defenses have always been hot garbage against any team that can throw to set up the run, offers a controlled four-wide short passing game, or executes any kind of spread option. Thus: Utah State, Mississippi State, Clemson.
But they’ve also always been flat outstanding against any team that breads its butter with a straightforward pro-style pounding running attack. Thus: 2009 Alabama (a team that should have easily topped 30-plus points with their field position that game), South Carolina (this year and last), Florida. Yes, it helped that a labrador retriever with a football-propelling cannon strapped to its back would have made a far better quarterback than what the Gamecocks and Gators trotted out there, but still, it wasn’t all Auburn’s opponents’ incompetence; the Gators averaged more than a yard less per-play against our Tigers than they did LSU.
So yes, LSU is going to line up and try to knock Auburn backwards Cro-Magnon style and there’s no doubt they are very good at it and Auburn’s front seven is still very young. But: 1. this is exactly what Roof and Chizik want them to do and exactly what they know how to gameplan against 2. they will not have Spencer Ware, the back which has made this approach particularly effective so far in 2011 3. young or not, Auburn’s front seven is playing very, very well at the moment. If The Toro is on his game, the tackles hold up, and Jarrett Lee isn’t entirely on his game, Auburn will give LSU’s offense some legitimate problems.
It’s a day game, and the last in a long streak of SEC day games which LSU has dominated before they finally get to start preparing for Alabama. And LSU is favored by three touchdowns. If I’m LSU, I’m feeling like this is just the one last thing like all those other easy, easy things to get out of the way before moving on to the thing that really matters. By this point, if the Bayou Bengals really are thinking “DESTROY THEM” over “OK, one more time, let’s get this over with,” Miles is doing a stupendous coaching job. On a related note …
These teams’ offenses ought to be on opposite sides of the escalator. By which I mean: at some point Auburn is going to play better offensively. At some point, LSU is going to play worse offensively.
Actually, at some point, LSU is going to play worse on the whole: they’re not just 7-0 overall, they’re 5-1 against the spread and haven’t won by fewer than 26 points since the Miss. St game … despite the fact that on a per-play basis, they’re not quite in that national championship echelon. (Their schedule may have something to do with that, mind.) Lee has hit 17 of his past 21 passes for an absurd 12.8 yards an attempt. They’ve gone four straight games without one turnover. Before the Florida and Tennessee games, they’d been held under 4 yards per-carry in four of five games. They’ve converted 80 percent of their red zone possessions into touchdowns and 97 percent of them into points. These are simply not sustainable levels of offense. At some point, the Purple Tigers are going to have to come back to earth a bit.
Likewise, an offense coached by Gus Malzahn is not going to stay as horrid as it’s been the past few weeks forever. I know, I know: Clint Moseley making his first career start in Death Valley. Auburn’s not going to do a lot on offense. But Moseley really can’t be any worse than Trotter has been* the past few games; Blake is mostly back; Dyer and McCalebb are still Dyer and McCalebb; Frazier’s Cam imitation hasn’t really stopped being effective yet; Mathieu and Simon are out, as a big a blow to their rush defense and their pass defense given how much LSU relies on their secondary to make tackles; and ssshhhhhh, LSU somehow gave up 111 rushing yards to the SEC’s worst ground game last week.
The bottom line: don’t be surprised if Auburn’s offense looks better than it has the past couple of weeks. Not good, of course. But better.
Auburn may not give LSU the field position advantage they so desperately crave. How do you rattle off a string of merciless blowouts against stout competition while fielding the nation’s 80th-ranked team in total offense? Field position, field position, field position. Thanks to their massive advantages in turnover margin and special teams, LSU has the nation’s fourth-highest number of red zone possessions … even as they have the nation’s 68th-best offense in yards-per-play.
So what happens if LSU doesn’t have massive advantages in turnover margin and special teams? We may find out on the latter point: Parkey and Clark have all-but-negated opponent’s return games, bless them, and with Mason back we’ve got at least as much a crack at breaking a long one as they do.
As for turnovers, well, Auburn is now the only team in the country that hasn’t lost a fumble yet KNOCK ON EVERY PIECE OF WOOD YOU OWN and as indicated, LSU is overdue to make a mistake somewhere. But this is where Moseley’s inexperience hurts the most: Auburn cannot throw interceptions and hope to survive this game. (Here’s to hoping Gus has told anyone else who might throw the ball not to let go of the thing unless their target is more open than a 24-hour Wal-Mart.**) And field-flipping three-and-outs are going to hurt even worse than usual.
But if the Tigers can consistently grind out just a first down or two … and if Clark and Parkey do their things … and if Moseley takes care of the ball … then yes, Auburn can hang in the field position battle. And that’s at least half of the whole battle against LSU.
As for the other half, well, that’s trickier. But I believe the possibility exists for an erratic game from Lee. For a somnabulant performance from an LSU defense that thinks it’s just biding time ’til the Tide. For an inspired, confident performance from an Auburn defense that won’t fear what LSU brings to the table. And for just the barest trickle of improvement from the Auburn offense to get our Tigers to, say, 16 points. Which, if LSU only scores 13 or 14, would be enough.
That’s not what I believe will happen; I’m too rational to look at the trail of dead behind LSU and the trail of defeated-in-ways-even-I-am-at-a-loss-to-explain behind Auburn to call for the upset of the season. But I believe it could. And knowing that’s what this Auburn believes, too
*If you missed this tidbit from my CBS post on Moseley’s ascension: At halftime of the Clemson game, Trotter was completing 68 percent of his passes on the season for 8.9 yards an attempt, with a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Since that point: a 45 percent completion percentage, 5.3 yards an attempt, more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4). And that’s with the FAU game. I know the Blake injury stung, but … the hell? Seriously?
**See, there’s a lot of doors in front, even when it’s 3 a.m., so if we’re judging openness … look, it’s late Friday afternoon, you’re not getting my best metaphorical work here.
* The real history of rolling Toomer’s Corner
* Gene Chizik in high school
* Playboy in Jordan-Hare… 1994
* The truth behind the 1988 Auburn vs. LSU “Earthquake” game
* Five Auburn coeds featured in Playboy’s “Girls of the SEC” issue
* John Travolta in an Auburn shirt
* Auburn grad stars in new National Geographic reality show
* Glee star Naya Rivera wears Auburn shirt in FHM photo shoot