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What to watch: Auburn vs. LSU

Auburn football is not for the faint of heart. No program in college football ricochets from success to failure and back more feverishly or frequently than the Tigers. There are very few dull moments.

Last week, Auburn benched its quarterback who has started all 28 games of his career, scored a last-minute touchdown on fourth down from its backup quarterback to defeat an overmatched Sun Belt Conference team, and then fired its wide receivers coach the next day.

This week, the Tigers head to Baton Rouge searching for their first win at LSU since 1999. The Bayou Bengals lost their season opener but have since bounced back to win three straight games heading into this contest.

Take a look below at a few things that will determine whether or not Auburn breaks its losing streak at LSU.

Auburn’s quarterback

Unsurprisingly, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin has avoided officially naming a starting quarterback for this game. He has never indicated that his decision to pull quarterback Bo Nix from the game last week is permanent, but he also hasn’t said the opposite.

Instead, Harsin said that both players have been practicing with the first team and have had a good week of practice. It seems that anyone outside of that locker room is unlikely to know who will take the first snap for Auburn until tonight.

Bo Nix has started every game of his Auburn career and won some really big games. However, he struggled last week and has been a much less effective player away from Jordan-Hare stadium.

Quarterback TJ Finley, a transfer from LSU, replaced Nix in the third quarter last week and eventually led Auburn to a much-needed win. Finley was far from perfect last week but did deliver a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to save the game for the Tigers.

Will Harsin turn to the more experienced Bo Nix? Do the seemingly positive vibes that inserting Finley into the game last week gave to the sideline matter? Is there a plan for both guys to play?

Those answers will be clear tonight, and whether or not they are the right decisions will have a huge impact on the game.

Auburn’s pass defense

The Auburn pass defense has struggled this entire season. The Tigers are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete roughly 73% of their pass attempts to this point in the year. For reference, that puts Auburn dead last in the SEC for that category.

However, the more troubling problem has been the Tigers allowing opposing receivers to run free in the open field due to blown coverages far too often. This has happened multiple times a game for the last couple of weeks.

The concern is that LSU’s receivers, led by star wideout Kayshon Boutte, do not need the defense to make a mistake to be effective. So, if Auburn’s secondary does not do a better job of communicating and carrying out their assignments, Boutte may add a few touchdowns to the eight he has already impressively racked up this season.

The Auburn defense must play soundly on the back end in order to slow down an LSU offense that has found good rhythm in its passing attack in recent weeks.

Auburn’s Offensive Line

Auburn’s decision about quarterback was mentioned earlier, but here is the truth — if the offensive line does not play much better against LSU than it did against Georgia State, then who the quarterback is will not matter.

This group had performed anywhere from average to admirable in the games leading up to Georgia State. But last week, the line allowed quick pressure on both quarterbacks and several run-throughs in the rushing attack.

This week Auburn’s offensive line faces an LSU defense that leads the nation in quarterback sacks. If the visiting Tigers are not able to at least slow down the LSU pass rush and give the quarterback a chance to complete passes down the field, then points will be tough to come by for Auburn.

Auburn’s offensive line must create some space for quarterbacks to operate and lanes for tailbacks to run if they are going to win in Baton Rouge for the first time this century.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.

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