“Eagle, Eagle, Damn War Eagle! Kick ‘Em In The Butt, Big Blue.”
That cheer shouted by throngs of hostile Auburn football fans proves both intimidating and menacing to opposing teams as it echoes across the Plains and into Jordan-Hare Stadium’s highly partisan, crowd of 87,450.
Dealing with it and an Auburn team picked to win the Southeastern Conference West Division championship will present a tough, two-way problem for LSU when the Tigers open division play on Saturday, September 20.
A Look Back
If that’s not enough of a hill for coach Les Miles, and the defending SEC and National Champion Tigers to climb, the host Tigers will be smarting to defend their territory and avenge last season’s disappointing, 30-24 loss at LSU. A defeat made all the more painful by LSU roaring back to claim victory in the final seconds after having erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit.
Auburn capped a 9-4 overall record with a 23-20, victory over Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Tigers finished 3-2 in the SEC West, including a 17-10 win over intrastate, arch-rival, Alabama. Auburn was 5-3 overall in SEC action, with its one other loss being, 45-20 against East champion Georgia.
“Last year we had a good football team,” says Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. “The one thing we didn’t do well is come out of the block. We lost two of the first three games and both of them were at home. We lost four games total and three of those were on the last play.”
A Look Ahead
“It’s that time of year and we’re excited,” Tuberville said at SEC Media Days. “I was really excited that you guys (SEC media members) picked us to win the West. Ya’ll are never right and that puts me in a bind. I don’t know what I’m going to tell my team. ’We need to have a sense of urgency, a lot more than we did last year.
“We’re looking forward to the season,” he added. “I think its goanna be a challenge for us. The schedule is tough, as all of them are in this conference.”
Finding a starting quarterback to direct the spread offense under the direction of a new coordinator, Tony Franklin, will pose the chief problem for Auburn. The Tigers will be looking to improve on last season’s efforts of 5th and 53rd (SEC/nationally) in rushing, 8th and 103rd (SEC/nationally) passing, 10th and 87th (SEC/nationally) total offense, and 9th and 84th (SEC/nationally) points per game.
“We have a chance to have a good football team,” Tuberville said. “It’s unusual that we don’t have a starting quarterback to speak of in terms of knowing, who it’s going to be. If it were today, it would be (sophomore) Kodi Burns. We have (junior college transfer) Chris Todd, who went through about 80-percent of the spring practice.”
Auburn will have eight of its 17 returning starters on offense, including senior running back Brad Lester, who rushed for 530 yards in seven games last season.
The Auburn offensive, front will be anchored by senior center Jason Bosley and senior guard Tyronne Green. The duo will be joined by returning sophomores, guard Chaz Ramsey, tackle Ryan Pugh, and Lee Ziemba.
Senior wide receiver, Rod Smith and Montez Billings, a junior, return to lead the Tigers’ receiving corps.
“Offensively, everything will be new and totally different for me, Auburn and the SEC,” Tuberville said. “”Everybody says, well some teams run this, but not like we run it. It’s no huddle, fast pace, and fast tempo. You involve your quarterback in running the football, spreading the field, and using a lot of wide receivers. It’s really a change for us and it’ll be fun to watch. Is it a gamble? Not really. You know, there are only so many running plays you can run.”
Paul Rhoads takes over as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, the fourth in five seasons. He’ll rely on seven returning starters to anchor a stalwart defense that was fifth against the run and 29th (SEC/nationally), 2nd against the pass and 8th (SEC/nationally, 2nd and 8th in total defense (SEC/nationally), No. 1 and 8th points per game (SEC/nationally).
“Paul (Rhoads) is a guy I tried to hire seven or eight years ago from Pittsburgh,” Tuberville said. “He’s a great teacher, who has a lot of enthusiasm, and knows his defense. We won’t make a lot of changes, but I’m going to let him use his imagination in terms of what he thinks will help our team with the talent that we have.”
“But, we still live on speed, trying to put as many people out there that can run as fast as possible,” Tuberville added. “I look at the defense from the inside out, starting with the line. You have to be good on the line in this conference to have a chance to get to Atlanta. If you’re weak or short in that area, you’ll have no chance.”
“We lost some good ones from last year’s team, but our defense is going to be solid. I like who’s coming back, and we have some good, young players coming in. This could be one of our better lines if we stay healthy.”
Junior linebacker Tray Blackmon returns to lead the defense along with junior tackle, SenDerrick Marks, and junior end Antonio Coleman. They’ll be joined by sophomore linebackers, Craig Stevens, and Chris Evans. Jerraud Powers, a junior returns at cornerback, while sophomore safety, Zac Etheridge will key the secondary.
Sophomore place-kicker Wes Byrum, who kicked 17-of-23 field goals, including a last-second, game-winner against Florida as a freshman, returns to lead the Tigers’ special teams. Sophomore punter, Ryan Shoemaker returns at that position along with sophomore, Patrick Tatum.
Senior Tristan Davis and sophomore, Robert Dunn will head-up the Tigers’ return game.
What has become one of the South’s most tightly contested intra-division series didn’t start out that way.
Auburn and LSU played sparingly before taking a break from 1941 until 1969. The Tigers from the Bayou hold a 22-19-1 advantage in the series, which has seen the teams meet every season since 1992.
The games have been highlighted by a last-second victory at LSU that produced a seismograph recording of noise and also an in-game fire at an on-campus facility just outside Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn, once known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute is actually the Alabama State University, even though its intra-state rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide (coached by Nick Saban, formerly of LSU) may be known more for its football reputation.
The school’s name was officially changed to Auburn, where it’s located since the late 1950’s. The athletic teams are known as Plainsmen, War Eagles, and Tigers.
Tommy Tuberville has a wining record of 80-23 going into his ninth season at Auburn and is 105-43 through 12 seasons as a head coach, including a stint at Ole Miss.
Les Miles is 34-6 going into his fourth season at LSU and 62-27 through seven seasons overall, including four at Oklahoma State. He has guided the Tigers to two SEC West titles, an SEC and National Championship in his first three years as coach.
When Auburn Hosts LSU
The winner of this crucial contest has gone on to capture the West Division title six of the past seven seasons. LSU has parlayed two of its victories into an SEC and National Championship victory.
This will be the first road game and SEC West Division opener for an LSU team which will be without a quarterback with game-experience. The Tigers will have a bevy of outstanding running backs, a solid receiving corps, an explosive kick-return specialist, and an outstanding place-kicker, but are searching for a punter.
The LSU offensive line, one of the largest and more experienced in the SEC returns four starters. The defensive line and secondary has solid performers returning, but the linebacker corps, although tenacious, lacks overall starting experience.
The Auburn game comes after LSU opens the season with home games against Appalachian State, Troy State, and North Texas State in the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium. It marks the start of a rugged, five-game run that finds LSU playing West Division rival Mississippi State at Baton Rouge before traveling to play tough East Division teams, Florida and South Carolina, and then returning home to play another stout, East Division club, Georgia.
This LSU team should have solved the problem of finding a quarterback and improved in every phase of play during its three non-conference home games leading up to the key West matchup against Auburn.
The Tigers lost a number of outstanding players off last year’s team, including a number of which signed to a play in the National Football League.
This game is expected to be along the same lines of the last few trips LSU made to the Plains and a low-scoring contest heading into the fourth quarter. The last time Les Miles went into Jordan-Hare there were cries coming from the LSU faithful regarding the offensive play-calling and commitment to the running game.
This year, though, if LSU is going to beat a good Auburn team in its own backyard then it will take a stout running game to take pressure off a quarterback making his first career road start.
If LSU’s signal caller plays smart and doesn’t make many mistakes in the hostile environment, and is able to complete enough passes to keep the defense from stacking eight and nine in the box all day then LSU will be in the game late.
If it comes down to a field goal then LSU finally gets the edge with Colt David as long as the yellow hankies don’t litter the field.