Auburn vs. LSU: Time to See If Gus Malzahn Has Really Turned Tigers Around

Justin Lee@@byjustinleeContributor ISeptember 21, 2013

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 14:  Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers leads his team onto the field to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Friday afternoon, Gus Malzahn and his Auburn football team arrived in Baton Rouge, La., taking a quiet walkthrough of Death Valley.

A little more than 24 hours later, that same Auburn team will be forced into the fire, kicking off its first road game of the season in a prime-time matchup against No. 6 LSU in a roaring Tiger Stadium.

To most coaches and players, that's a nightmare scenario.

For Malzahn and his team, it could be a blessing.

Saturday night in Death Valley, the Tigers face their first road test of the season, hoping to find out just how close—or farthey are from being where they want to be.

"I think it is a good gauge," Malzahn said earlier in the week on Tuesday. "Just like last week (against Mississippi State), playing an SEC team at home. I told our guys, 'Hey, we are going to find out where we're at after this game, how we respond to different things, and I think this is no different.

"It's our first road test against a top-10 team in the country to see where we're at. It'll be good to go there and judge and look back and see where we're at."

The Tigers have fared well enough through the first three weeks of the season, winning a shootout against Washington State, holding serve against Arkansas State and coming from behind in the waning moments against Mississippi State.

With those wins, Auburn is 3-0 under Malzahn, having already matched last season's win total.

But LSU is a different beast.

Through the first three games of the season, LSU stands 10th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 267.7 yards per game. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger is averaging 265.7 yards per game through the air, good for third best in the SEC, with nine touchdowns on the season, good for second best in the conference.

Perhaps just as important, Saturday's game is under the lights in Death Valley, where LSU is 39-2 in night games since Les Miles took over as head coach in 2005and those two losses were to teams ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 22:  Zach Mettenberger #8 of the LSU Tigers looks to pass against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In fact, Auburn hasn't won in Baton Rouge since 1999.

"We've got to get a good plan for our guys together going into a great hostile environment," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said on Sunday. "If you’re a player, that’s what you live for.

"I always liked playing on the road more than home, anyway. Not because you don’t love your fans, but you love going in there when it’s just your team. It’s just you and your guys and you know you’ve got a great challenge ahead, and that’s what we know we definitely have this week."

That's how it will be for Auburn Saturday nightthe orange and blue seemingly against the world, away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time this season.

For some players, like breakout quarterback Nick Marshall, it'll be their first big test in an Auburn uniform.

"From us pulling in on the bus, people yelling at us, to talking into the stadium to anywhere in between, it's going to be like an atmosphere (Marshall) hasn't encountered before," tight end C.J. Uzomah told the Montgomery Advertiser. "We felt like getting that first SEC win was a really big positive step forward to us.

"This will be a huge measuring stick, and we'd really show a lot of people that it is 'A New Day' and we are on the right track and ready for the season."

Just how ready are the Tigers for this season?

The world will know Saturday night.


Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.