Top storyline: Is LSU’s revamped offense for real?
Three weeks into the season, LSU’s offense is humming along. If there’s anything constructed of wood, rap your knuckles on the surface now. The Tigers rank 12th nationally in scoring offense at 46 points per game, while the 488 yards each outing is No. 36. That alone is reason enough for cautious optimism among the purple-and-gold faithful, but the Southeastern Conference will be stiffer than the UAB and Kent State secondaries. The root cause: an efficient passing game, which is posting 269.3 yards a game. Zach Mettenberger and the Tigers rank fifth in the FBS for passer rating (205.1) and sixth in yards per attempt (11.6) with Auburn arriving Saturday night. The question looms whether the arrival of conference play will lead to a dropoff in production. Not to take a dig at Auburn, but coordinator Ellis Johnson’s defense is giving up 276 yards through the air. Worse, it has allowed 32 completions between 10 and 20 yards this season — the kind of intermediate throws that Mettenberger has lived on with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The reality is, until Florida arrives, LSU won’t face an elite secondary. Can it continue to capitalize?
Keep an eye on: Auburn WR Marcus Davis
Entering the season, Auburn’s task after identifying a starting quarterback was finding pass catchers. Perhaps Davis, a 5-9, 176-pound freshman, put a marker down against Mississippi State. The slot receiver snagged four catches for 38 yards on the game-winning drive, which was capped by a touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left in the 24-20 victory. There are no three legitimate wide receivers for Marshall to target — a fact that might help if Quan Bray and Sammie Coates are clamped down.
Key matchup: Auburn QB Marshall vs. LSU’s secondary
Auburn was hesitant the first two games with its JUCO signal-caller: He put up just 36 passes. Last week, his role expanded, with 151 yards on Auburn’s first three drives — 76 of those coming on a touchdown pass to Bray. He finished with 339 yards on 67.6 percent passing after State stacked the box to stop the AU ground game. Now, Marshall faces his first road start against a secondary that is relatively young with two sophomores in Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins at cornerback and new starting free safety Ronald Martin. If LSU stops the run game, Marshall will have to move the full-throttle Auburn offense with his arm.
X Factor: Does LSU pounce early?
LSU hasn’t made a habit of toying around with its prey, outscoring UAB and Kent State a combined 42-0 in the first quarter the past two weeks. AU arrives with a green quarterback in his first road start, a ground game stymied a week ago and a defense that’s bent (443.7 yards per game) but not broken (17.7 points per game). If LSU channels the same mojo it has had, Auburn could be in a hole early. Chances are Cam Cameron has several wrinkles he hasn’t revealed offensively, while John Chavis’ defensive tinkering may be scaled back. Conditions are ripe for LSU to make an early SEC statement.