Quarterback Nick Marshall gives Auburn a chance to upset No. 6 LSU.
Sure, the game may be played at Death Valley, where LSU is 39-2 in Saturday night games under Les Miles. Then again, stranger things have happened in college football.
I mean, did anyone foresee a 3-0 start from Auburn?
OK, Marshall relied on a 12-play, 88-yard touchdown drive with less than two minutes remaining to beat Mississippi State last weekend. However, that’s exactly the kind of pressure Auburn would have folded under a year ago.
And against an LSU defense that only returns three full-time starters, now is as good of a time as any for Auburn to really make some noise in 2013.
Here’s how Marshall can take advantage of LSU’s inexperienced defensive unit.
Keep the Chains Moving
It’s easy to be intimidated by LSU’s defense. The unit ranks No. 10 in total defense (267.7 YPGA), No. 15 against the pass (157.0 YPGA) and No. 24 against the run (110.7 YPGA). However, the team ranks just No. 37 in scoring defense, allowing 19 points per game.
This is largely due to poor situational defense.
Through three games, LSU ranks No. 59, allowing opponents to convert on 37.2 percent of third downs. That number is even worse inside the red zone, where the unit ranks No. 74, allowing points 87.5 percent of the time. But the biggest red flag for LSU’s defensive unit is its No. 43 ranking in first-down defense, allowing 46 first downs.
It’s imperative that Marshall ensures that Auburn makes use of its first two downs—especially since his own team struggles on third down, converting just 41.9 percent of the time.
He should look to capitalize with short passes on early downs or rely on his legs to pick up yards. Anything should be done to prevent the Auburn offense from having to convert long-yard situations on third down.
If all else fails, Marshall can lean on a running game that has four players—including himself—that have rushed for over 100 yards on the ground.
Protect the Ball
Marshall can’t afford to cough up the ball.
Making his first start in an SEC road game, the pressure will be tough enough. Marshall doesn’t need to make things worse by forcing bad passes and allowing the LSU defense to create points off of his miscues. Nothing is worse for a first-year starting quarterback than being behind on the road.
Spreading the ball around should also help keep LSU’s defense honest.
Thus far, Marshall has done a fantastic job with this. Nine different Auburn receivers have three receptions or more. In fact, all four of Marshall’s touchdown passes have been caught by a different receiver.
The longer Auburn can hold onto the ball, the more confidence Marshall will gain. That’s essential if Auburn wants to pull off the upset on LSU’s home field.
It also helps that LSU’s defense doesn’t necessarily force too many bad decisions from opposing offenses. The unit ranks just No. 52 in sacks (six) and No. 89 in turnovers gained (three).
It’s up to Marshall not to make that job any easier for them.
Summing It All Up
Being honest, the tables are completely stacked up against Auburn this weekend. Nobody believes that they have a chance of even keeping this one close.
Then again, nobody expected No. 2 LSU to rely on a second-half field goal to beat a struggling Auburn squad 12-10.
The games are meant to be played. And as long as the coin has yet to be flipped, Auburn has a chance to win.
It may not be likely, and a lot has to happen. But, anything can happen in college football.
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com