Auburn test will answer questions about LSU

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Jarrett Stidham
(Photo: Terrill Weil)

Many of the eyes of the college football world will be focused on LSU and Auburn this Saturday afternoon.

The home team has won 16 of the past 18 meetings in the series but the games tend to be close and dramatic.

Entering the ’18 campaign, LSU was perhaps the biggest mystery in the country. Now after two games, nothing has changed. Fans and analysts alike don’t know what to make of the Tigers. Although they have drawn enough attention to be ranked as high as 11th.

The offense, top to bottom, will have to take a giant step against Auburn. The Tigers must demonstrate vast improvement in several areas. Some of this uncertainty lies at the feet of an offensive line that must take charge soon or it’s going to be a long season. Joe Burrow has some things to figure out as he evolves at quarterback.

One factor that gives LSU a fighting chance is Dave Aranda’s defense. He can mix and match with enough tools in his box. Miscues, mental mistakes and penalties have to be kept to a bare minimum. In a game such as this SEC showdown, sometimes it comes down to which team blinks first.

Turnovers, penalties and third down conversions will determine the winner. In other words, smart and sound football prevails. LSU does have enough talent if it plays up to its best. The offense is dead last in the SEC in total offense but yet to turn over the football.

The staff has had to deal with suspensions, off the field legal matters, transfers and injuries, especially the opening game loss of K’Lavon Chaisson. Getting Saahdiq Charles and Michael Divinity back will help.

LSU is still surrounded by unknowns as mentioned, even though they were solid against Miami. However, the Tigers took their foot off the pedal against both the Hurricanes and the Lions of Southeastern. LSU was stout defensively but sloppy play late leaves many wondering if LSU can play a solid four quarters to win against a top 10 foe.

Back to the offensive line for a moment, the starters – Charles, Brumfield, Lewis, Cushenberry and Traore or Deculus, can hold their own. It’s a deep dropoff there after that group.

The move with Dare Rosenthal from defense to offensive tackle this week is long overdue. From the time that he decided that he was coming to LSU, I felt the 6-foot-7 freshman would be a good defensive lineman for the Tiger but could be an eventual NFL type bookend tackle. He possesses size, skill to succeed but Rosenthal will have to supply the effort and determination to play a position that is not his preference. That’s yet to come.

But if he makes any strides, ‘Dare’ I say he could be a starting tackle who is all-conference caliber. Don’t expect immediate dividends like being thrown into the fire successfully on the road in the sEC, but it’s good to have the journey begin for Rosenthal.

Auburn is led by Jarrett Stidham (6-3, 214), the nation’s third rated quarterback by Phil Steele in the preseason. Stidham had 3,158 yards passing in 2017 with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. His 246 completions are a school single season mark. This year, he has been efficient with 386 yards on 68 percent completions.

Wide receiver Ryan Davis (5-9, 175) broke the Auburn single season mark with 84 catches for 815 yards and five scores. He has 10 catches thus far for 86 yards this season. Watch out for him in the slot on key third downs.

Left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho (6-7, 301) could go in the top two or three rounds in the ’19 NFL draft. Right guard Mike Horton (6-4, 315) is another junior who is very solid.

Head coach Gus Malzahn’s offense is best when the running game is cranked up but this Auburn team is built around Stidham.

Former LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele enters his third season on the Plains.

Senior linebacker Deshaun Davis (5-11, 246) paces the defense but they are strongest up front, led by 6-foot-5 hulking tackle Derrick Brown, a projected first round pick.

Defensive end ‘Big Kat Bryant’ (6-5, 255), the latest in a long line of speedy Auburn edge rushers, has a pair of sacks already. Defensive tackle Dontavious Russell (6’3-310) and DE Marlon Davidson (6’3-282) will present a very formiable challenge for the Tigers.

Against the Washington Huskies in the season opener, Auburn prevailed against the PAC-12 favorites. Jake Browning, a top senior quarterback, was 18 of 32 for 296 yards with a touchdown and one pick. Nothing came easy for him. Running back Myles Gaskin, Washington’s all-time leading rusher, had 17 carries for 75 yards.

The Huskies have a huge o-line but Auburn had the upper hand in the trenches.

LSU has its hands full Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium but the Bengal Tigers can answer a lot of questions, one way or the other.

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