Ranked opponent. National TV audience. Day game in Tiger Stadium. Opponentￕs backup QB. LSU stars suspended. Any of this sound familiar?
LSU’s game against Auburn on Saturday in Tiger Stadium has everything the top-ranked Tigers seem to thrive on.
This will be the fifth ranked team that LSU (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) has played this season. The Tigers beat the others by an average of three touchdowns.
This will be the third consecutive week and sixth time this season LSU has had a national television audience, though it hasn’t provided much audience-gripping drama at the end.
And for lagniappe, six days after being ranked No. 1 in the season’s initial BCS rankings, the Tigers face the team that was ranked No. 1 in the last BCS rankings of last season.
Even the mid-week suspension of cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware are consistent with how this season has gone. Previous setbacks such as quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe’s contraction of Parkinson’s, wide receiver Russell Shepard’s three games of ineligibility, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s arrest and four-game suspension seemed to unite rather than divide this team.
“They are the reigning national champions, and we’re on this national championship hunt right now,” LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said. “What’s better than to have the reigning national champions come in here?
“We feel like we’re a pretty good team and we feel like the national championship should come through Baton Rouge.”
LSU was 7-0 last season when it played at Auburn, and the score was tied at 17-17 until Onterio McCalebb ran 70 yards for a touchdown with five minutes left in the game to keep alive Auburn’s march to a 14-0 record and the national title.
“We understand that we’re blessed and that we’re in a good position right now,” LSU safety Eric Reid said. “But one game can ruin it for us.
“We were 7-0 last year and Auburn beat us and our title hopes were down the drain.”
Many of the key players from last year’s champions - most notably quarterback Cam Newton and defensive lineman Nick Fairley - are in the NFL now, but these Tigers (5-2, 3-1) are still ranked (No. 19)Auburn is Auburn,” Reid said. “They’re a good team. We can’t let the hype of being No. 1 distract us.”
For the third consecutive week, LSU is playing a team with a quarterback making his first start of the season. The past two teams - Florida and Tennessee - were doing so out of necessity after their starters were injured a week before playing the Tigers.
Auburn is doing so by choice as Clint Moseley steps in for Barrett Trotter after completing 4-of-7 passes for 90 yards in relief of Trotter during a 17-6 victory against Florida last week.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he hopes Moseley gives a much-needed “spark” to a struggling offense that has been built around running back Michael Dyer, the third-leading rusher in the SEC (107.4 yards per game). Dyer was a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman, but was second on the team to Newton.
“I think a lot of people overlooked him last year,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said of Dyer, “but this year you really can’t because he’s really the heart and soul of their offense. He runs the ball very hard and breaks a lot of tackles, so you have to be very prepared to tackle him.”
LSU’s quarterback situation is also fluid, but not because of injury or ineffectiveness. The Tigers plan to continue increasing the playing time for Jefferson as a complement to starter Jarrett Lee. Jefferson, who was reinstated three weeks ago, played just seven snaps in his debut against Kentucky. He played 13 a week later against Florida and 29 last week at Tennessee.
He has run the ball 22 times and thrown it just seven times as his role has been to add a running dimension that Lee doesn’t possess.
“Obviously we’ll have a plan for both,” Chizik said, “but it becomes challenging.”
Speaking of challenging, after an open date next week, LSU heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face No. 2 Alabama, which is hosting Tennessee on Saturday night before entering its open date.
That will once again put the Tigers in the spotlight that they have seemed to embrace in their march to No. 1.
“Just like Auburn knows, it doesn’t matter what you’re ranked,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “It doesn’t matter what ESPN says about you, it doesn’t matter what the BCS says about you, it doesn’t matter what the fans think about you.
“When you’re out there in between the white lines, nobody can save you. So it’s going to come out to who the great players are. That’s why you really shouldn’t pay attention to the BCS rankings or anything. Upsets happen all around the world every last Saturday and Thursday because people get caught up in the rankings. You’ve got to stay focused.”