No.18 Auburn entered the 2015 season as a top contender to reach the College Football Playoff, but some lackluster performances after two games has left the SEC powerhouse search for answers. They’ll get their first test against a ranked opponent on Saturday afternoon when they visit Baton Rouge to take on No. 13 LSU.
Though they remain undefeated, Auburn played so far below expectations in the first two weeks that they dropped 12 spots in the rankings. Gus Malzahn's squad edged unranked Louisville by a touchdown in their season opener, and needed overtime to defeat Jacksonville State last week. Auburn became the first FBS team to ever play beyond regulation against an FCS team and seemed fortunate to squeak out a victory.
Due to a cancelation in their season opener, LSU's only full game this year is a road victory over Mississippi State. Les Miles' squad won by two points, but they led the Bulldogs, who were ranked No.25 at the time, by 15 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Jeremy Johnson Under The Microscope
There were high hopes for Auburn’s quarterback to start the season, and was even considered to be among the top contenders to win the Heisman Trophy. But Johnson has struggled through the first two games of the season, and the junior should be more focused this weekend.
Johnson played very poorly against Louisville, completing just 11 of 21 passes for 137 yards, and he was intercepted three times. His numbers were better against Jacksonville State, but he was still picked off twice by an FCS team.
LSU had the nation’s No.4 pass defense in 2014, and they held Dak Prescott and Mississippi State without a touchdown for the first three quarters last week. Johnson hasn’t competed against an elite defense this year, and he could be in big trouble when he faces a playoff contender in his first true road game.
Leonard Fournette vs. Auburn's Defense
Auburn’s Heisman Trophy candidate has looked like anything but college football’s top player, but LSU’s Heisman hopeful was able to pick up where he left off from last season. He ran for 159 yards on 28 carries, making his way into the end zone three times.
Fournette could be in for a big afternoon after how Auburn's run defense looked against Louisville. The Cardinals' Lamar Jackson ran for 106 yards on just 16 carries, and Louisville finished with 238 rushing yards on five yards per carry.
Auburn did manage to contain Fournette last season, limiting him to 42 yards on 10 carries. They’ll look to make Brandon Harris throw the ball, after the quarterback completed nine of his 14 pass attempts for 71 yards in LSU’s opener. The health of defensive lineman Carl Lawson and defensive back Tray Matthews, who were both sidelined on Saturday due to injury, could play a big role against LSU.
Because of their struggles, Auburn enter as a seven-point underdog in Saturday’s game, according to vegasinsider.com. LSU was favored by four points against Mississippi State, and failed to cover. In fact, neither LSU nor Auburn has covered a point spread this year.
A win for Auburn would be their first at LSU since 1999. Auburn blew out LSU by 34 points at home last season, but their 2013 visit to LSU ended in a 14-point loss.
The over/under is 48.5 points at Las Vegas casinos.
It's too early in the season to give up on Johnson, but he will need to be far more productive against a strong program like LSU if he wants to keep Auburn in contention. The decibel levels will be high at Tiger Stadium, adding confusion to the Auburn offense. LSU’s defense should be able to force at least one turnover, and with Fournette leading a slow and steady attack, that will probably be just enough to pull off a tight win.
LSU over Auburn, 27-17