As has been well documented, Auburn hasn’t defeated LSU in Death Valley since 1999. Even in recent years when Auburn had the better team, something went awry. Like, in 2017 when Auburn blew a double-digit lead, or in 2013, when the eventual SEC champions and national runners-up didn’t find themselves until after the LSU game. Some of this is expected after all. A home field advantage is just that, an advantage. What good is it if you never beat a team or two that is probably better than you? But for Auburn, the Death Valley road block has become burdensome.
There are many things Auburn needs or can do well to help them overcome being underdogs at LSU this time around, but here are the three things that are the most important for Auburn to knock off LSU.
1. The defensive line must dominate
While some are going to look to the Auburn DB’s, I feel that matchup isn’t winnable for Auburn. LSU’s wide receivers led by Justin Jefferson are going to get free against a weaker Auburn secondary, and Joe Burrow has the tools to make Auburn pay. But, the way Auburn has an opportunity to change the game is by not allowing Joe Burrow the time to make the secondary pay. Remember in 2013 when Auburn finished off Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M team with Dee Ford corralling Manziel in the backfield? That needs to be Auburn on a lot of pass attempts on Saturday.
Auburn has the horses to do it, but it basically comes down to the first few plays of the drive because if LSU gets to going up tempo, it gets very hard to get pressure on the QB because the line tires quickly. Making Burrow uncomfortable all day with pressure, is the way Auburn can hold the Tigers offense down to its lowest numbers of the year.
2. Bo Nix needs to be a threat with his legs, and play it cool with his arm
Bo Nix using his legs is not a new request for Auburn fans, and it’s something that for the most part he has done more as the season has gone along. To rehash its importance, the key thing it does is make a defender account for the QB, hopefully allowing more running lanes for the running backs. What will be more essential for Nix however, is playing it cool with his arm, meaning, take care of the ball and don’t force it. In Gainesville, Nix threw three interceptions, and rather it being because of poor throws, the first two picks thrown were because of bad decisions forcing the ball into traffic.
There has been an element to Nix this season where it still looks like he’s playing high school ball, wildly running around and then trying to pull off a wild throw. As he is learning, that won’t work in college ball. Take a few of those throws away, and Nix has played well this season, and will be capable of a good performance in Death Valley, as LSU ranks just 70th in pass defense. The key for Nix, as it probably will be all year, is to not force things.
It might seem like the cop out, obvious answer, but it doesn’t make it any less important. First, Auburn’s secondary is apt to get grabby, it’ll be important to be able to get a pass breakup without getting handsy with the receivers. Although, there might come a time where grabbing a receiver might be beneficial to prevent a big play. Offensively it figures to be more important. Not committing five yard procedure penalties in a tough road environment is difficult but simply needs to be done. With Auburn still unsure of its running game without JaTarvious Whitlow, getting behind the chains could cripple the run game, and put Bo Nix in those situations where he might force passes into tight coverages.
Auburn opened as double digit underdogs which will be sure to motivate them, and I do expect a single digit ballgame. But the three keys above will determine who wins what figures to be another great game between Auburn and LSU. With Auburn coming in with a loss already, and not being able to afford another, the stadium which opponents’ dreams come to die, has a chance for yet another victim.