No. 2 LSU descends on struggling Auburn

September 21, 2012

Both the Auburn Tigers and LSU coach Les Miles have brought up recent meetings leading up to Saturday's game between the SEC West rivals, albeit in very different ways.

Miles remembers when Auburn was on its way to a national championship - a run that seems like ages ago these days - in 2010. Auburn players, meanwhile, recall last year's 45-10 humbling when only one of the Tigers mustered much of a roar.

Something else that sticks out for Auburn: LSU fullback J.C. Copeland later said that Tigers' defenders were shying from contact and just ''laid on the ground'' rather than take him on.

''It's a huge disrespect to us and what we stand for,'' Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier said. ''We're just going to use that as ... motivation for us.''

That was the most the most lopsided game in the rivalry that not so long ago was often a big factor in the Southeastern Conference Western Division race.

Copeland's actual bulletin board comments were: ''After the first couple of hits, everybody was just backing up,'' Copeland said last December. ''They didn't want to hit at all. Before I got to them, they just fell down and just laid on the ground.''

True or not, Auburn will need more than emotion to have a chance against LSU.

Times have certainly changed since 2010, when both teams were in the top 10 and Cam Newton-led Auburn would go unbeaten. LSU (3-0) is holding up its end of the bargain going into its league opener. Now, Auburn's highlight has been an overtime win over a much less prominent Louisiana team, Louisiana-Monroe. The lowlight was a mistake-filled loss to fellow SEC West team Mississippi State.

The visitors come into Jordan-Hare Stadium as nearly three-touchdown favorites; the teams clearly separated into different sides of the haves and have-nots of the SEC. Miles has a kinder assessment, past and present.

''Not long ago when Auburn and LSU played, it decided the Western Division,'' he said. ''We recognize a very, very competitive tradition there and look forward to playing a Western Division opponent and conference opponent. I understand the start's not necessarily what Auburn wanted but they're still very, very capable and coach (Gene) Chizik will have them ready to play.

''They're two years removed from a national title. The defense is very athletic. The play of their special teams is excellent. Kiehl Frazier is coming into his own at quarterback. He's a very good athlete as well as has the ability to throw the ball. We look forward to a very competitive environment.''

Whereas LSU leads the SEC in four major statistical categories - including scoring offense and total defense - Auburn (1-2, 0-1) is 13th or 14th in six of them. Including scoring offense and total defense.

Auburn's predicament: Trying to outscore a team that is averaging the equivalent of four more touchdowns a game, run the ball against a defense giving up 47 yards a game on the ground and stop a relentless rushing game with a struggling front seven.

LSU is averaging a league-best 269 rushing yards, 13th nationally. Auburn is giving up 217 - last in the league and 107th in the nation.

Even losing starting running back Alfred Blue at least for this game with a knee injury seems unlikely to slow LSU down. Replacement Kenny Hilliard leads the team with 303 yards and the SEC with six touchdowns. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware have played more limited roles but were LSU's top two rushers last season.

Tackling troubles and other issues have beset Auburn's defense all season.

Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said LSU, Georgia and Alabama are typically the most physical games of the season. All three routed Auburn last year.

''It's a whole other level,'' Lutzenkirchen said. ''Especially at home, it's a different atmosphere. Trying to get these young guys who haven't played in a game like this before - a big ESPN game, a night game, at home in Jordan-Hare - it's a different element. The fans probably even prepare differently for this game to be louder and create havoc. It's just exciting.''

The last meeting is still fresh, and so are Copeland's comments.

''It did not go our way at all last year in this game,'' Lutzenkirchen said. ''There's been some things said that have not sat well with our team. For the past 365 days, we've been thinking about this one.''