BATON ROUGE - LSU defensive tackle Lewis Neal and the rest of the Tigers’ defensive players who were there remember exactly what happened the last time LSU traveled to Jordan-Hare stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
Auburn stomped LSU 41-7 and rushed for 298 yards on 49 carries, logging 566 yards of total offense in the blowout.
But this season, LSU comes into the matchup on what Coach Les Miles called the defense's most complete performance on the season, and facing an Auburn offense that has struggled in the opening weeks to get going and to finish.
During the painful loss in 2014, Neal was playing on the inside of a traditional four-man defensive front, in the three-technique despite only weighing 250 pounds at the time.
“I remember,” Neal said. “I made sure the guys who are playing now understand what the atmosphere will be like. When you go in there you better be ready.”
No. 17 LSU (2-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) and Auburn (1-2, 0-1 SEC) kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
One of those newcomers, sophomore LSU defensive end Arden Key, is looking forward to the challenge.
“I just can’t wait to get down to Auburn and play in their stadium,” he said. “We’re focused on trying to study them.”
Neal said the team is using the loss in 2014 as motivation to go into the hostile environment and shut down Auburn’s offense. It’s all just part of the season plan.
“Our goal is to win out in the SEC West,” Neal said. “We know we have to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to overstress. We want to stay focused.”
The two teams LSU has excelled in stopping on the ground in the last two wins, Jacksonville State and Mississippi State, run similar kinds of offense to Auburn, especially in the running game.
Auburn heavily employs the zone-read in and leads the SEC, and is No. 15 nationally, in rushing with 261 yards a game – 24 yards more than No. 2 SEC rushing team Texas A&M. Auburn is averaging five yards a carry.
LSU held the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks to under four yards per carry in the last two weeks.
The key battle will be on first down, where Auburn has excelled running the ball, averaging six yards per carry and ripping off 10 runs of 10 yards or more and five runs of 20 yards or more.
LSU has kept opposing offenses behind the sticks with its first down defense, limiting teams to 3.51 yards per carry.
Keeping Auburn off schedule will be especially important for LSU, considering Auburn’s struggles in the passing game on third down. In situations where Auburn has to pick up between four and nine yards, it has only completed 50 percent of its passes, down from just more than 60 percent on first and second down.
Auburn, which is fifth in the SEC in total offense with 455.7 yards per game but 10th in scoring 26.7 points a game, put up big numbers in a 51-14 win over Arkansas State on Sept. 10 in the second game of the season, but struggled to score in 19-13 and 29-16 losses to Clemson and Texas A&M, respectively. Against the Aggies, Auburn suffered five three-and-outs over one six-possession stretch.
Perhaps the biggest difference LSU will face against Auburn is the tempo Coach Guz Malzhan sometimes uses, hurrying his team to the line to keep opposing defenses off balance. LSU has been practicing at a high speed and has been rotating more bodies on the line to keep fresh, Neal said.
“They’ll read the ends and maybe read the tackles a little bit too,” Neal said. “Our goal is to be better after every game.”
Auburn also has been using two quarterbacks. Third-year sophomore Sean White remains the starter after starting six games last season. Through three starts this season, he is seventh in the SEC in passing efficiency at 134.8 on 45-of-71 passing for 510 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He has rushed 22 times for 56 yards.
Junior college All-American transfer John Franklin III played more than he has all season in the Texas A&M loss as he completed 4 of 8 passes for 37 yards and rushed nine times for 47 yards. Senior Jeremy Johnson, who opened the season last year as the starter, played in only the opener this season.
“I think the Auburn offense has a wide scope,” Miles said. “And I think what you do is you will prepare for some of the things that some of these other quarterbacks that have come through have done.”