When Auburn heads to Death Valley on Saturday to take on LSU, the game will feature more than simply a matchup between Tigers. The Week 4 showdown between SEC West rivals will also feature two of the brightest offensive minds in the game facing off against one another.
Yes, this is a game between two big-time SEC brands and the conversation must start with offense, not defense. Such is the effect first-year coach Gus Malzahn has already had in The Plains.
More importantly, in the season’s early going, however, has been the effect of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s game-planning at LSU.
Malzahn tutored Cam Newton when the superstar won a Heisman at Auburn. He was the offensive coordinator when Newton led the program to the 2011 national title. He then took over the head coaching duties at Arkansas State and is now back with the big boys, having replaced his former boss, Gene Chizik.
Everyone knew he would bring his dominant offensive scheme back to Auburn, and so far, so good. The quarterback he chose to lead the team, JUCO transfer Nick Marshall, is doing exactly that: Leading. Through three games, he has passed for 585 yards and run for another 102. He threw the winning touchdown pass against Mississippi State with almost no time left on the clock. He has already found a rhythm with sophomore Sammie Coates, junior Quan Bray and even freshman Marcus Davis.
Malzahn has his running game clicking on all cylinders as well. Corey Grant is averaging a stunning 9.58 yards per carry and has totaled a team-leading 230 thus far. Tre Mason is not far behind with 206 and a third junior (along with Grant and Mason), Cameron Artis-Payne has 166 himself.
Defending all of these weapons is a slew of new faces along the LSU defensive front. Coach Les Miles lost tons of talent to the 2013 NFL Draft. In fact, star linebacker Lamin Barrow is the only senior within the top 14 in total tackles on the team through the first three games.
That being said, a new-look group featuring linebackers Barrow, Kwon Alexander, and Lamar Louis, cornerback Jalen Mills and defensive linemen Ego Ferguson and Jermauria Rasco will play Auburn tough – and that may just be an understatement.
The real question then becomes this: Can a solid Auburn defense hold up against a completely revamped LSU offense?
More to the point: Can Auburn find a way to stop Zach Mettenberger?
Cameron has gained a reputation as somewhat of a quarterbacks guru. That will happen when you develop Philip Rivers into a Pro Bowler and Joe Flacco into a Super Bowl champion. Through three games, it looks like he has worked his magic touch with Mettenberger.
Mettenberger transferred from the junior college level prior to 2012, but disappointed massively in his first year in Baton Rouge. He has been absolutely sparkling, however, in the early going this fall. He has posted a 65.2 completion percentage for 797 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in 2013. Extrapolated over the length of a full season, and those are Heisman-type numbers.
The onus will be on cornerbacks Robenson Therezie, Ryan White and Joshua Holsey to lock down the two-headed LSU wide receiving monster of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Will they be up to the task?
Even if so, will Auburn’s defensive line be able to shut down an LSU rushing attack that boasts three players that could start on just about any team in the country? Last year’s leading rusher, Jeremy Hill, is back in the swing of things after missing the team’s opener against TCU on suspension. However, he, at 167 yards, is competing for carries against the team’s current leading rushers, Terrence Magee (210 yards) and Alfred Blue (153).
A crowded depth chart like this is a great problem for coach Les Miles and Cam Cameron to have, but it may not be quite so fun for Auburn.
War Eagle, in opening the 2013 season at 3-0, has already matched its 2012 win total. Life has been good in The Plains, especially with wins over the Pac-12’s Washington State (a team that recently beat USC) and, again, Mississippi State.
But can it possibly remain so against another 3-0 SEC West team in LSU?
We have no idea what the answer is to this question, but perhaps you do: