Rabalais: Intensity oozing out of Auburn/LSU matchup

When you’ve got a program like LSU, everyone puts on a good front.

Take every season a game at a time. Treat every opponent the same way.

But occasionally someone pulls the corner of the curtain back to reveal just a bit of what we all know:

Not every game is the same. Not every opponent stirs the same passions, sharpens the same focus, drives the same determination.

This is one of those weeks for the LSU Tigers.

LSU didn’t get to 3-0 and the No. 6 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 by half measures. The Tigers gave pretty close to their best in each nonconference game against TCU, UAB and Kent State, an attitude reflected in the fact that LSU has yet to trail for even a second this season.

Come to think of it, the Tigers didn’t trail for a second in their last game of 2012, either. It wasn’t until the clock read triple zeros that Chandler Catanzaro’s field goal sailed through the uprights to give Clemson a 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Not to take anything away from the Clemson Tigers and their victory over LSU, but those Tigers didn’t really have the LSU Tigers’ full attention.

The Tigers LSU will face this weekend, the Auburn Tigers, definitely do. For multiple reasons.

Number one, it’s LSU’s Southeastern Conference opener (Auburn snapped a 10-game SEC losing streak with a win over Mississippi State last week). And everyone from the guy pulling his RV into the lot on Friday to the guy removing the trash from the RV lot on Sunday knows this is the real opener for LSU.

The TCU game was a nice trial run, though with the Horned Frogs’ 1-2 start maybe not quite the trial it looked to be for LSU in the preseason.

But this is SEC play, when the importance of every game is doubled down and the consequences of showing a losing hand can be borderline disastrous.

For that reason, the extra hum of electricity this week around the LSU football complex was palpable. So much so players like defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson ditched the script and told how it really was.

“Coach (John) Chavis was laid back the first few games,” Johnson said of LSU’s defensive coordinator. “This week he was “more vocal. And I’ve never seen coach (Les) Miles stretch with us before.”

Stretch? As in the old guard was itching to get in there and play in a real meaningful game?

“Yeah, I told him to get those old bones down there,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He said, ‘You’re right, old bones.’”

The bones of the Horned Frogs, Blazers and Golden Flashes may be littered around Mike VI’s habitat, but it’s the Auburn Tigers he and his namesake team want to feast on most.

“Everyone is focused on being dominant in the (SEC) West,” Johnson said.

There’s a good reason for that: everyone associated with the LSU program last year remembers what a struggle LSU’s 12-10 win at Auburn was, a stark slap of reality compared to LSU’s 45-10 blowout win over Auburn here in 2011.

It was a reminder that even when a program is in disarray as Auburn was in 2012, it can still be dangerous. The comparisons between the SEC and the NFL — where even a pair of close, down-to-the-wire wins like the ones the New Orleans Saints have enjoyed so far — are legitimate.

“You look at the SEC as the Baby NFL,” senior strong safety Craig Loston said. “The speed is different from any other conference.

“The physicality, too.”

Safe to say then, that despite being a massive 17-point favorite, LSU is ready for the challenge Auburn can bring.

Just the same, you can tell LSU has been itching for a real fight.