Auburn at LSU: 10 Things We Learned in Auburn's Loss
In a battle of undefeated SEC rivals, LSU held off Auburn 35-21 to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Auburn couldn't stop LSU running back Jeremy Hill and that proved to be the difference in the game. Hill finished with 184 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Auburn falls to 3-1 on the season, and 1-1 in SEC play. They are off next week before heading home to play Ole Miss on October 5.
Here are 10 things we learned in Auburn's loss to LSU on Saturday.
Auburn's Linebackers Continue to Struggle
Auburn's linebackers struggled in the season's first three games. Those struggles continued on Saturday against LSU.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill was dominant from start to finish in this game. Even when Auburn stacked the box with eight defenders, their linebackers either missed a tackle or were slow diagnosing the play.
If Auburn has postseason aspirations, they must get better at linebacker. They have the ability, led by Jake Holland, but simply aren't making enough plays.
Nick Marshall Comes Up Short, but He'll Be Better for It
In his first career start away from Jordan-Hare Stadium, junior quarterback Nick Marshall struggled.
Marshall struggled in the short-to-intermediate passing game all night long. His two biggest throws of the night came in the second half, both to Sammie Coates, and each set up an Auburn touchdown.
Auburn was able to run the ball effectively all night. That should have made things easier on Marshall, but it didn't seem to.
Considering his first career road start was at Tiger Stadium, things should go much smoother from here on out. Marshall has tremendous potential and is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn's offense.
However, it's worth noting that late in the fourth quarter when Auburn needed to score fast, they still chose to run the ball.
Special Teams Not so Special
The Tigers had their issues on special teams throughout the night. Punter Steven Clark dropped the snap on a first-quarter punt attempt that gave LSU the ball inside Auburn's 10-yard line. They scored on the next play. It gave LSU a 14-0 lead.
Auburn had only 19 combined return yards on the night—three punt returns for five yards and one kickoff return for 14 yards.
An illegal touching penalty on a fourth-quarter onside kick essentially put the game away for LSU.
The Tigers Struggled with Tackling
LSU running back Jeremy Hill is hard to tackle. The 235-pound back may be the hardest runner in all of college football to bring down. However, Hill broke way too many arm tackles in the first half.
We spoke of the linebackers earlier, but the secondary had their issues as well. Instead of going low on Hill, the Tigers continually attempted to arm-tackle him. The competition will be tough from here on out so this needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.
Sammie Coates Has a Bright Future
Anytime Marshall needed a big play, he went to the 6'2", 200-pound Sammie Coates.
Coates finished with four catches for 139 yards in this game. On two plays, he showed outstanding ball skills, jumping and taking the ball away from the defender.
On another play, Coates took a short pass and raced down the sideline for a big gain. He is outstanding in every phase of the game and is just a sophomore.
Look for Malzahn to continue to find ways to get Coates involved in the offense going forward.
Auburn Is in Good Hands with Tre Mason at Tailback
Tre Mason finished with 26 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns. None of those yards were easy, either.
Even when there wasn't much room in front of him, Mason would bounce it outside and find extra yards. Mason is the perfect type of back for this offense as he is a tough inside runner and can take it to the house at any time.
Tigers Struggled in the Secondary
The final stats may not look too bad, but Auburn had issues with LSU's wide receivers throughout the game. Zach Mettenberger finished with 229 yards passing, although 177 of those yards went to two players.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham continuously found holes in Auburn's secondary that led to big plays, especially in the second half.
The Tigers did a good job in the first half against Mettenberger, but made it too easy on him in the second half. Focusing on LSU's running game was likely the biggest contributor to Auburn's struggles defending LSU's WRs.
Defense Needs to Create More Turnovers
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a reputation as one of the best in the country. Now that the schedule is SEC-heavy for the rest of the season, Johnson needs to find a way to create more turnovers.
The Tigers clearly have some issues on defense. If they are to contend this season, they need Johnson to scheme more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It makes the secondary's job a little easier and the Tigers lack the type of pass-rusher than can repeatedly get offensive tackles.
If Auburn can create more pressure, it will lead to more turnovers. That will make Gus Malzahn's offense much more dangerous.
Pass-Blocking Must Improve
Marshall was running for his life most of the night. Much of that was due in part to Auburn's inability to slow down LSU's pass rush.
To be fair, the sloppy field played a big part in the offensive line's troubles. When the ground is in that condition, it is hard for offensive linemen to move laterally. However, they also struggled with pressure up the middle. Marshall was forced out of the pocket consistently because of pressure in his face.
The run-blocking continues to get better each week. Now, the pass-blocking must improve if Marshall is to succeed.
Gus Malzahn Is off to a Good Start
After last season's disastrous performance, Auburn fans have to be happy with a 3-1 start. Malzahn has this team headed in the right direction and they showed fight all night against LSU despite being behind by 21 points throughout the game.
His offense is continuing to find playmakers each week. Coates and Mason are future stars. If he can get Marshall to play the way he needs him to, the Tigers have a chance to win eight or nine games this season.
Regardless of how this season unfolds, Malzahn will recruit his type of players to Auburn and that will lead to sustained success.