LSU brought in Cam Cameron, and Auburn has Gus Malzahn in charge
“You look at the SEC as the Baby NFL. The speed is different from any other conference. The physicality, too.” CRAIG LOSTON, LSU senior strong safety
Auburn hired Gus Malzahn as head coach in hopes that he could re-create the most productive offense in school history, which was the centerpiece of its BCS championship team three years ago when he was offensive coordinator.
LSU hired Cam Cameron to be its offensive coordinator to blend a more productive passing game with its always-productive running game.
So far, so good as both sets of Tigers are undefeated heading into their biggest tests of the young season Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
No. 6 LSU is 3-0 heading into its Southeastern Conference opener and Auburn is 3-0 and 1-0 in the league after going 0-8 in the SEC for the first time last season under former coach Gene Chizik.
Neither team is a one-trick pony, but they both have revamped offenses that have helped define their early identities.
Auburn ended its conference drought last week with a 24-20 victory against Mississippi State as Nick Marshall passed for 339 yards, driving his team 88 yards to the winning score with 10 seconds remaining. Malzahn called the comeback win “a shot in the arm” for the rebuilding program.
But it’s LSU, of all teams, that leads the SEC in passing efficiency.
“The biggest thing I see is that they have more synchronization between the running game and the play-action passing game,” said Todd Blackledge, who will call the game along with Brad Nessler on ESPN. “It makes sense that that would be part of the LSU offense.
“I’ve always felt that they should have been better at that given the way they run the football. They’ve been very efficient in the play-action passing game.”
LSU is coming off a season-best 307-yard running game as Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee each had more than 100 yards.
Blackledge, who called LSU’s 37-27 victory against TCU in the season opener, said he sees improved footwork that has led to more precise throws from Zach Mettenberger, who has a school-record nine touchdown passes after three games and hasn’t thrown an interception.
Jarvis Landry (five touchdown receptions) and Odell Beckham Jr. (four) are both in the SEC’s top five in receiving yards per game.
“We’re a lot more diverse now,” Magee said. “We can throw the ball at any time, we can run the ball like we’ve always done here. We’re more balanced.”
Despite Marshall’s heroics last week, Auburn has had more success running than throwing, which is consistent with Malzahn’s history. Auburn is fifth in the SEC with 238.7 rushing yards per game.
“They use a lot of motion and personnel groups, and in certain situations they like to go faster,” Blackledge said. “That has been Gus’ M.O.”
Auburn defeated Mississippi State despite finishing minus-3 in turnover margin.
“We’ve learned a lot about our team these first three weeks,” Malzahn said, “but we’re still a work in progress.”
The Auburn- State game was the lowest-scoring of the five SEC games played — Ole Miss 36, Vanderbilt 35; Georgia 41, South Carolina 30; South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 25; and Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42.
No one is accusing the SEC of turning into the Midwestern Athletic Conference South Division, but if that kind of scoring trend continues, Mettenberger said LSU can handle it.
“I’m sure the coaching staff is pretty confident in the passing game if we have to go there,” he said. “If we have to go down that route, we can do it.”
But Malzahn doesn’t seem convinced the scoring pattern will be long term.
“This is the best defensive league in college football,” he said. “The defenses will get better, and more than likely, when we look back at the end of the year, we’ll have the best defensive league in the country again.”