Where: Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Line: LSU by 18
Radio: 1070 AM, 100.5 FM
1.Off on the right foot: With Auburn’s win last week, Gus Malzahn became only the ninth coach in school history to begin his career 3-0. Terry Bowden had the best start to a coaching career on the Plains, winning his first 20 games. He was followed by Mike Donahue (5-0), Gene Chizik (5-0) and Billy Watkins (4-0). The remaining trio of Auburn head coaches to win their first three games were Ralph “Shug” Jordan, Tommy Tuberville, Dave Morey and W.S. Kienholz.
2. Nick the quick (learner): In just his third start as Auburn’s quarterback, Nick Marshall had a career-best showing last week against Mississippi State, throwing for 339 yards. He became the first Tiger quarterback to break the 300-yard barrier since Cam Newton threw for 335 against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game. Marshall’s total also was the most by an Auburn quarterback in his SEC debut.
3. LSU lights-out at night under Les Miles: LSU is 39-2 in Saturday night home games since Les Miles took over in 2005. The only two losses the Tigers have suffered in that span came to teams ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. In 2009, Florida beat LSU 13-3, while Alabama came away with a last-minute victory last season by a score of 21-17.
4. Youth movement: Fourteen true freshmen have already taken the field for LSU this season. That ranks as the third-highest total in the country, trailing only Texas A&M (17) and UCLA (15). It’s far from a rarity in Miles’ tenure, as 87 true freshmen have seen playing time in their first season in Baton Rouge.
LSU offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line: LSU has fantastic skill players wherever you look, from quarterback Zach Mettenberger to receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham to the quartet of options (Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee) in the backfield. None of the success it has had this season — which has the Bayou Bengals averaging 46 points and 488 yards a game entering Saturday — without the big men up front. LSU’s offensive line, always defined by its mauling run blockers, have done far more than that in 2013. LSU is part of a select group (along with Tennessee and Arkansas) of teams that have not allowed a sack this season. That hits at one of Auburn’s problems this season. Through three games, it has just four sacks. The return of Dee Ford — Auburn’s top pass-rusher — last week should help Saturday. But if the defensive line can’t get into the backfield to disrupt the attack, it could be a long day.
The chess match between Malzahn and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will be fun to watch. LSU likely will focus on keeping Auburn’s running attack grounded for the second week in a row. That means it will fall to Marshall to once more win a game with his arm. Can he do it? Possibly the only weak point LSU has on either side of the ball is at cornerback, where two freshmen — Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson — have seen their playing time increase. Though talented, they aren’t above making rookie mistakes. Then again, it might not matter how much Marshall does if his defense doesn’t find a way to slow down Mettenberger and Company. Given the similarities, the game should remain close going into halftime. LSU’s superior depth and knack for winning Saturday night home affairs will be too much for Auburn in the final 30 minutes, though, as the Bayou Bengals will hand the visitors their seventh straight loss in Tiger Stadium. ... LSU 37, Auburn 17.