Auburn, Ala. (EETV) - No. 10 Auburn hits the road for the first of a three-game road trip. This game may be the toughest for Auburn, going to LSU.
Tiger Stadium, aka Death Valley, is known for being loud and hostile and a place Auburn has been unable to win at since 1999.
Auburn will have to put their nose to the grindstone in order to grind out a win against their SEC West rival.
Here are my 5 keys to an Auburn victory over LSU:
1) Run the ball
This may seem obvious every week, but the LSU defense is lacking in their run defense.
Auburn has one of the most potent run games in the country, led by Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson is coming off a career-best game, rushing for 204 yards and 3 TDs against Ole Miss. He is certainly one of the best backs in the country right now, leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (12).
Kerryon Johnson is the 4th Power 5 player in the last 10 seasons to score 11 TD in a span of 3 team gms.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2017
35-3 Tigers on SECN/es.pn/2yOvkHH. pic.twitter.com/47OOxqKeFn
LSU will certainly have a hard time stopping Johnson, considering they have given up huge run numbers in their loses this season.
In their loss to Mississippi State, LSU gave up 285 yards and in their loss to Troy, they gave the Trojans 206 rushing yards.
Those run numbers are very high for a defense to be giving up, showing their defensive weakness in the run game.
Along with Johnson, Pettway may be returning this week if he is healthy to go. Missing much of the season thus far, Pettway has been a non-factor except for his 3 TD game against Mercer.
“We are going to stick to the fact that when he is healthy that we will play him," said Gus Malzahn on if Pettway will play against LSU. "If he is healthy we will play and if not, then we’ll hold him out until he’s healthy.”
If Pettway cannot go for another week, Kam Martin is more than able to help out Johnson, having a pair of 100-yard rushing games himself.
With Auburn ranking 18th in the country in rush offense (1368 yards), the Tigers of Auburn should be more than able to exploit the LSU run defense, giving them an offensive edge in this game.
2) Protect Stidham
The Auburn offensive line has improved as the season has gone on, and look like a totally different line than the offensive line that gave up 11 sacks in week 2 at Clemson.
I will just leave this: Our defense vs Auburn:— Jesse Stephanie Dyar (@sgullicCU) October 9, 2017
117 total yards allowed
38 total rushing yards allowed on 42 attempts pic.twitter.com/ReLBDPyKmq
With that being said, they will have to continue their solid play against LSU if Auburn wants to win this game offensively.
LSU has a total of 20 sacks this season, that is a lot of sacks, averaging just about 3 sacks per game. On top of that, LSU has 32 tackles for loss in 2017.
It's clear that LSU's pass rush defense is by far their strength. LSU is led by a pair of linebackers defensively that pose a major threat to the Auburn offensive line.
Corey Thompson leads LSU with 4 sacks on the season while Devin White leads LSU in total tackles.
"Their linebackers are very aggressive, and they can really run," said Malzahn.
On top of leading in total tackles, White is an all-around player having a sack, tackle for loss, and pass break up against Florida.
What this means for Auburn is that their offensive line has to be able to pick up the blitz from the linebackers. So far this season Auburn's offensive line has given up 41 tackles for loss and 19 sacks.
Granted minus the 11 game sack night at Clemson, Auburn has only allowed 8 more sacks. This number clearly shows the offensive line has improved through six weeks.
However, for Auburn to win and give Stidham a chance to establish the passing game, the offensive line has to be able to pick up the blitz and keep the LSU linebackers from pressuring Stidham.
3) Throw away from Andraez Williams
For Auburn to come out of LSU without throwing an interception, Stidham will have to throw away from Andraez " Greedy" Williams.
Williams is tied for the lead in the SEC with the most interceptions this season, tallying 3 in a 6 game span. Not only is he good at picking off quarterbacks, he is also a redshirt freshman.
Top graded SEC cornerbacks through WK6:— Vinnie Ronca (@PFF_Vinnie) October 10, 2017
Luckily for Auburn, they have no true number one receiver. Stidham has been lucky to have a plethora of receivers that have all been key factors this season.
Stidham actually has 5 key receivers that have played key roles this season: Nate Craig-Myers, Will Hastings, Ryan Davis, Eli Stove, and Darius Slayton.
"They’re getting a little more opportunities down the field," Malzahn said
Each of these receivers has also been deep threats, making it easier to avoid Williams.
Stidham has thrown 8 passes this season of at least 40+ yards. These include a 47-yard touchdown to Hastings, and a 49-yard touchdown to Slayton.
On top of that Stidham has thrown 5 passes of 50+ yards this season. A 57-yard touchdown to Craig-Myers, a 75-yard touchdown to Davis and a 57-yard completion to Stove are all apart of this stat.
Keeping Stidham's multiple deep threats in mind, it should be easier for the Auburn offense to avoid Williams. By avoiding Williams, the likelihood of throwing an interception are decreased.
4) Force them into penalties
This season, LSU has been known to be undisciplined and have a ton of penalties. In the first three games of the season, LSU racked up 30 penalties which were the most in the country.
Since those games, LSU has only had 12 penalties. This shows that yes they have lessened their amount of penalties but are still vulnerable to commit them.
Auburn will usually average 4 penalties a game, which is 8th best in the country. So with that in mind, LSU will give Auburn more bonus yards than Auburn will give them.
In LSU's loss to Mississippi State, they committed 9 penalties for 112 yards. What that means is that LSU had a lot of 10-yard and 15-yard penalties.
With LSU's loss to Troy came 5 penalties for 35-yards, which means a lot of 10-yard penalties.
For Auburn to advance the ball easier, they must be able to force LSU into penalties. These penalties will be a key factor in stopping LSU drives and sustaining Auburn drives.
5) Take out the crowd noise
LSU's stadium is known as Death Valley for a reason, they are loud and hostile towards visiting teams. Their fans at home always give the LSU Tigers an edge.
29 years ago today ... Death Valley shook.— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 9, 2017
LSU beat Auburn 7-6 in the Earthquake Game. pic.twitter.com/2xScl4DLpS
Luckily for Auburn, the game is an afternoon game and it is proven that LSU plays better at home at night.
Former LSU coach Les Miles even noticed this saying that their fans are just louder at night.
LSU is 34-26-3 during the day, so really they are still good at home during the day but are more beatable. When compared to their 247-66-4 record at night, it is clear to see that LSU is far more beatable during day games.
For Auburn to quiet the LSU fans, another key is for the Auburn Tigers to score first. Auburn has scored first in all 6 games of the season and are 31-8 when scoring first.
If Auburn can score first and quiet the crowd, their chances of winning at Baton Rouge are increased.
With scoring first also comes keeping the ball. For Auburn to keep the hostile crowd a little more quiet, they have to be able to keep from turning over the ball.
Currently Stidham has only thrown two interceptions, not a bad stat to have. But Auburn has a problem with fumbling the ball, having 12 fumbles on the season losing 8 of them.
Auburn cannot turnover the ball at all in Death Valley because if they do, they will be facing an uphill battle not only on the field but with the stands.