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September 15, 2006

Game of the Week: No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn

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Merchants on the Alabama plains probably couldn't keep Charmin on store shelves this week. No doubt, too many crazed football fans have been stockpiling in anticipation of a big celebration.

Auburn's tradition of converging on the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue – Toomer's Corner – to heave rolls of toilet tissue into giant oak trees is reserved for only the most significant victories. If the third-ranked Tigers manage a win over sixth-ranked LSU on Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium it would certainly qualify.

The winner of this game has represented the West Division in the Southeastern Conference championship game five of the last six years. Although nine games will remain after this week's matchup, there is every reason to expect that would again be the case.

Auburn has steamrolled Washington State and Mississippi State by a combined total of 74-14. LSU has posted consecutive 45-3 victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Arizona.

"We know the size of this game," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They are always great football games and we look forward to the challenge. After last week's games, we've made some improvements from the first week, and we are still not as good as we possibility can be."

That quote alone should get the toilet paper rolling.

After all, Auburn running back Kenny Irons, who rushed for 218 yards against LSU last season, has picked up where he left off and again leads the SEC in rushing.

The Auburn defense hasn't allowed a point in five quarters.

Kicker John Vaughn, who missed five field goal attempts in last season's 20-17 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, has connected on five of six this year, including long-range shots from 52 and 55 yards.

"I've made a lot of kicks since then, and I've missed some," Vaughn said. "I'm kicking the ball (well) right now. I'm just trying to keep it going."

Auburn will also try to keep alive a streak in which the home team has won the last six games in the series.

All indicators seem to be pointing to a big party on Toomer's Corner.

Except that LSU doesn't intend to cooperate.

Quarterback JaMarcus Russell ranks third nationally in passing efficiency and he has a stable of big, explosive receivers led by Dwayne Bowe. Also, running back Alley Broussard - who is coming back from a knee injury and has been brought along slowly - appears fully recovered and figures to get more carries against Auburn.

Meanwhile, the LSU defense - which ranked third nationally last season - hasn't showed any decline after losing defensive linemen Claude Wroten, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver to the NFL Draft.

In fact, the LSU defense again ranks third as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, defensive end Tyson Jackson and linebacker Darry Beckwith have thrived in starting roles.

Furthermore, LSU's secondary - featuring safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels - could be the best in the nation.

"Everybody wants to compare this year's defense to last year's, and I think we're just about there," second-year LSU coach Les Miles said. "But the best way to test our defense is to go against the best offenses. So, I think what we do against Auburn will say a lot."

LSU defensive players are already saying a lot.

"The thought of Kenny Irons getting 200 yards on us last year personally motivates everyone on this defense," Daniels said. "We have too much pride in ourselves to let that happen again. We're going to stop him and make Auburn a one-dimensional team."

That would also probably put a stop to any party plans and spawn a weekend of depression on the Alabama plains.

But, hey, Charmin can be used to dry eyes, too.

Week 3 Games of the Week: No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn
Auburn running game vs. LSU run defense: Kenny Irons and Brad Lester form one of the best running back combos in the country. The Auburn offensive line is rugged, especially at guard with Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth. Auburn is averaging 202 yards rushing per game. That stat could be misleading after just two games, except that Auburn faced a pretty good defense from Mississippi State last week. LSU has allowed just 148 rushing yards after two games, but didn't figure to be tested by Louisiana-Lafayette or Arizona. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is a rock inside who has already notched three tackles for losses. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn passing game vs. LSU pass defense: Brandon Cox is a smart, efficient quarterback who has completed 64.4 percent of his passes. Senior wide receiver Courtney Taylor has 12 catches this season and has a good history against LSU. However, LSU's pass defense, ranked second nationally, might be the best in the country. LaRon Landry is arguably the nation's premier safety and cornerback Jonathan Zenon already has three interceptions. LSU can rush the passer, too, accumulating a half dozen sacks in its first two games. Edge: LSU.
LSU running game vs. Auburn run defense: No LSU running backs have rushed for more than 86 yards, but four have more than 50, including Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent - who have successfully come back from knee injuries. LSU is averaging 5.4 yards per carry behind a solid offensive line anchored by guard Will Arnold. Auburn has three new starters in the defensive line and is coming off a shutout of offensively challenged Mississippi State in which the Bulldogs managed just 79 yards rushing. Auburn has been good against the run thus far, but sure could use suspended linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon this week. Edge: LSU.
LSU passing game vs. Auburn pass defense: This figures to be the most intriguing matchup of the game. LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell trails only Tennessee's Erik Ainge and Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko in passing efficiency – Russell has completed 70.3 percent of his passes. He uses several receivers, and Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Early Doucet and Brandon LaFell are all averaging more than 16 yards per reception. Auburn cornerbacks David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite are as good a pair as any and head a pass defense which ranks ninth nationally. Auburn's pass rush has already posted nine sacks, and the pass defense is allowing an average of 116 yards through two games. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn special teams vs. LSU special teams: Going back to last season, Auburn kicker John Vaughn has converted 15 of his last 16 field goal attempts. That said, he missed five in last season's loss to LSU. He has hit career-long field goals in consecutive weeks, making one from 52 yards against Washington State and following with a 55-yarder against Mississippi State. One of the nation's premier punters, Kody Bliss is thus far averaging 48.0 yards per kick. Auburn has done a decent job covering punts and kickoffs. LSU's Chris Jackson is averaging 41 yards per punt and no LSU punt has yet to be returned. Ryan Gaudet and Colt David have both converted their only field goal attempt of the season. LSU's return men are typically dangerous, but haven't broken a long one. Not yet, anyway. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn coaches vs. LSU coaches: Tommy Tuberville is 18-1 in his last 19 games against SEC opponents, and he should have had a shot at the national championship in 2004 when Auburn finished undefeated. His defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, held that position for LSU when it won the national championship in 2003. Les Miles proved himself last season in his first year in Baton Rouge by leading LSU to the SEC West Division championship. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn will win if: Kenny Irons and Brad Lester must find enough running room to get significant yardage on first and second downs so Auburn can avoid obvious passing situations. Auburn also needs to pressure LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell so he doesn't have time to wait for his explosive receivers to get open. Oh yeah, and not missing four field goals wouldn't hurt, either.
LSU will win if: In the last meeting LSU allowed Auburn's Kenny Irons to rush for 218 yards, but still managed to win in overtime. No doubt, LSU doesn't want to press its luck this time. Slowing Irons is the top priority because LSU's talented secondary believes it can play man coverage against anybody. Next, is taking advantage of some physical mismatches in the Auburn secondary. LSU receivers Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Brandon LaFell are all big, strong and more than six-feet tall. They hope to use that size advantage against Auburn cornerbacks David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite, who are both 5-11 and about 185 pounds.
X-Factor: Playing at home has been an advantage in the recent history of this crucial series. The home team has prevailed in the last six games, including last season when LSU won 20-17 in overtime in Baton Rouge. Auburn has won six consecutive and 15 of its last 16 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Notes: The matchup of No. 3 Auburn and No. 6 LSU marks the first time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 since 1972. In that matchup, eighth-ranked LSU defeated ninth-ranked Auburn 35-7. …Auburn has won six of its last seven games against teams ranked in the Associated Press top 10 dating back to the 2004 season. … LSU's defense has not allowed a touchdown in 14 quarters, dating back to the third quarter of last season's SEC Championship game against Georgia. The Tigers have allowed just six points in their first two games. … LSU's defense has forced six turnovers in its first two games. … Auburn tight ends coach Steve Ensminger was an LSU quarterback from 1976-79. … Auburn running back Kenny Irons has rushed for 252 yards thus far, which is just 34 more than he gained against LSU last season. … Auburn has scored at least 30 points in 20 of 27 games under third-year offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Buchanan's pick: Auburn, 20-17
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Auburn, 17-14
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: LSU, 24-21
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: LSU, 24-23
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