Auburn opponent early scouting report: LSU

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Auburn opponent early scouting report: LSU

We're taking an early look at Auburn's opponents for the 2018 regular season. This 12-part series will feature analysis and occasional insight from beat reporters who cover the teams Auburn will play this year.


Game date & time: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Sept. 15 at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS

2017 record: (9-4, 6-2 SEC)

Coach: Ed Orgeron, second year (15-6 at LSU, 31-33 overall)

Betting line: Auburn by 12

Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists

Most important returning players: QB Myles Brennan, TE Foster Moreau, DB Andraez "Greedy" Williams, LB Devin White, S Grant Delpit

Most critical departures: DE Arden Key, RB Derrius Guice, WR DJ Chark, QB Danny Etling

Insight from LSU beat reporter Brody Miller (@BrodyAMiller):

  1. How has the offense changed yet again from Matt Canada to Steve Ensminger?
    It's hard to pretend anybody knows exactly what the offense will look like. Ensminger admitted in June only 50 percent of the offense was implemented through spring ball. Ed Orgeron said at media days much of what LSU can do throughout the year will be dependent on what the quarterback shows he can do week one against Miami.
    What we do know is what they tell us, and they tell us it's going to a much more pass-oriented offense than what LSU is used to. One can expect to see the Tigers go with four- or five-receiver sets, which is another change.
    Ensminger said he considers the receivers to be the strength of the offense, and he wants the play-calling to reflect that. The phrase he used was, "It's gonna be a throw first and run when they give it to us."
    The aggressive move to sign graduate transfer Joe Burrow from Ohio State reflects that mindset, which leads us to our next question.
  2. Is there any chance Joe Burrow isn't the starter at this point in the season?
    If you're a man who believes in the power of the gambling bookmakers, BetDSI placed odds of +130 on Burrow being the starter. Those odds, theoretically, imply he has less than a 50 percent shot in the four-man race with Myles Brennan (+270), Lowell Narcisse (+360) and Justin McMillan (+510).
    In reality, it's certainly Burrow's job to lose. Orgeron is saying all the right things about it being an even race to start camp and that everyone will get equal reps at first, but LSU wants Burrow to take this job.
    He fits what Ensminger wants, which is an accurate quarterback, and clearly none of the other three showed the staff enough in spring if they went for Burrow so hard this summer. I would say +130 is good bet to take, but there's definitely a chance he doesn't win it.
  3. Who is most likely to emerge as LSU's top running back and wide receiver?
    LSU definitely sees it as a running back by committee situation, which is another rarity for LSU after seemingly having a star NFL-level rusher every year. Ensminger, always one to be blunt, flat-out said they don't know who the running back is.
    Clyde Edwards-Helaire is most likely to be No. 1 on the depth chart after a good spring. He's the one coaches point to most, but Nick Brossette will get carries and Ensminger said Lanard Fournette (Yes, Leonard's brother) could be the physical third-down back. Freshman Chris Curry is the wild card name to watch.
    At receiver, Texas Tech-transfer Jonathan Giles is likely the No. 1 guy. He's been given the prestigious No. 7 jersey, and reports in the spring were the LSU defensive backs couldn't defend him. Receivers coach Mickey Joseph said last month nobody has clearly become the guy, but Giles or Justin Jefferson seem most likely.
  4. Who takes over for Arden Key and Donte Jackson?
    K'Lavon Chaisson will take over for Arden Key. He was a highly-touted prospect coming in and filled in when Key was out last year. He's shown flashes of hitting his massive potential. Whether he reaches it in 2018 remains to be seen.
    Cornerback is the main question mark -- aside from that darn quarterback position. Stanford graduate transfer Terrence Alexander is likely who LSU hopes steps up and is probably the front runner there. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has spoken highly of his intelligence and quickness, but we will know more when camp comes.
    Kary Vincent is going to come in and try to beat out Alexander for that spot, and Aranda thinks he's earned a chance to compete for it, but it's probably Alexander's to lose.
  5. If LSU loses to Miami, what would a win or loss against Auburn mean? If LSU beats Miami, what would a win or loss against Auburn mean?
    After loss to Miami: A loss to Auburn would probably make LSU 1-2. No matter how much people might be preparing for a down year and know the schedule is tough, the optics there are awful. I'm not saying it would be right or wrong, but a 1-2 start would cause a lot of noise for Orgeron. That could create a scenario in which LSU might be 3-6 going into Arkansas.
    A win would basically mean starting the season 0-0. I don't think many people would reasonably expect LSU to win both the Miami and Auburn games away from home. If LSU splits those two, the season is essentially on an even keel.
    After win against Miami: Refer to my last point if they lose to Auburn. LSU will be a decent underdog going into Auburn, so if it beats Miami and loses to Auburn, things will basically be going as expected.
    If LSU beats both Miami and Auburn? Well, that will have probably meant Joe Burrow was the star people want him to be. Orgeron will look great for bringing in Burrow, and he will have just won two marquis road games. His stock will be at its highest. LSU will still have a brutal final nine games, but Orgeron will have gained the capital to make it through some losses.

Auburn story lines:

  • Avenging last year's loss
    The collapse in Baton Rouge will be the motivating factor for those who endured the blown 20-point lead, but there will be plenty more on the line in this SEC opener.
  • SEC opener
    As referenced, this is the SEC opener for both teams and will be a chance for both to set the tone for several weeks. Both Auburn and LSU could enter at 2-0 off big non-conference wins, giving the winner the early lead for contending in the West with Alabama. Both could be 1-1 with a loss to Washington and Miami, respectively, and in need of a big win to get momentum started. Or one could be 2-0 and the other is 1-1, in which case the opportunity is there to deliver a potentially devastating blow to postseason hopes or to rebound from an early loss.
  • Where the offensive line stands
    Center is seemingly the only position truly up for grabs entering the season but after two games, including one that could see a lot of personnel rotation against ASU, any adjustments to the offensive line could be done by the end of this week.
  • Running back rotation
    Similarly, if a second and third back emerged during the first two weeks  a pecking order may be clear heading into this game. Against Dave Aranda, the more certainty Auburn has the better.
  • Javaris Davis vs. Greedy Williams
    Two of the best cornerbacks in the SEC should be a showcase of man-to-man coverage and both can be gamebreakers. Who Aranda chooses to line Williams up against will have a big impact on Auburn's passing strategy.

LSU story lines:

  • Ed Orgeron's status
    Even after a nine-win season there is chatter about Orgeron due in large part to LSU's offensive struggles and the replacement of Matt Canada after one year. If LSU comes in at 1-1, regardless of how Auburn is doing there will be plenty of talk about Orgeron being on the hot seat with another loss.
  • Steve Ensminger returns to Auburn
    Auburn's former offensive coordinator has been back to the Plains before with LSU but not as the play-caller. Just as Orgeron became the interim head coach after LSU's loss at Auburn in 2016, Ensminger became the interim OC for the rest of that season.
  • How is Joe Burrow leading a different style of offense?
    Assuming Burrow does indeed win the job, how different is LSU's offense and is he the right fit to lead it?
  • Running back rotation
    It's hard to believe given LSU's pedigree of running backs that there's no clear starter entering the season. Against a very good Auburn rush defense, LSU may need to hope it found answers during the first two weeks.
  • Les Miles
    It was after the 2016 loss, which had one of the most dramatic finishes in a rivalry full of them, that Miles lost his job. If LSU is 1-1 and the heat is turning up on Oregon as mentioned, the analogies to Miles will be made all week.

An Auburn win would mean:

Starting SEC play on the right foot and improving to either 2-1 or 3-0. Auburn will be in line got two more wins and the Oct. 6 trip to Starkville becomes even bigger in the SEC West race.

An Auburn loss would mean:

This will depend a lot on what happens in the season opener. If Auburn were to fall to 2-1, it would be a seemingly missed opportunity against an LSU team that most expect to be rebuilding on offense. However, as last year illustrated, one SEC loss won't derail Auburn's hopes entirely. But if Auburn enters at 1-1, falling to 1-2 would be a brutal way to start the season and be devastating for its playoff hopes.

James Crepea is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCrepea.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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