Game Time: 6 p.m. ET
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: LSU opened as a 4-point favorite. The line is hovering around 3 and 3.5 points elsewhere now (via OddsShark).
If last week’s Auburn-Texas A&M matchup was an indicator on which head coach would move towards keeping his job after the season, then what are the ramifications for the loser of this upcoming LSU-Auburn meetup on the Plains?
Here are three things to watch:
Which quarterback will have the greatest impact?
Les Miles and the LSU coaching staff have officially moved on from Brandon Harris at the quarterback position. Despite all of the praise that Miles gave Harris in the offseason, and Harris having the ‘best arm’ at his position in college football, there needed to be a change after dismal performances against Wisconsin and Jacksonville State. Enter Danny Etling, the Purdue transfer now tasked with saving the Tigers’ playoff hopes and potentially Miles’ job. To call that a burden is possibly the understatement of the 2016 SEC season. Etling performed well overall in his first start under center for the Bayou Bengals, going 19-of-30 for 215 yards and a touchdown. Etling gives LSU its best chance at winning moving forward, but I’m still not convinced that he has the goods to help the Tigers win the West.
Trying to figure out who is going to play quarterback at Auburn has become a lost cause. Gus Malzahn named Sean White the starter for the Clemson game only to have four other players take snaps in one of the ugliest offensive performances that I’ve seen. Malzahn went to the podium the next week announcing that he would stick with White moving forward. That lasted about seven quarters until Malzahn, once again, jumped ship and went to John Franklin III en route to Auburn’s sixth consecutive in-conference loss at home. My only advice is to stick to one quarterback, whether if it’s White, Franklin III, Jeremy Johnson, or Woody Barrett. Stick. With. One.
Will Auburn stick to the running game?
Malzahn has equally had difficulty with staying committed to the run game. Against Arkansas State, Auburn rushed for 462 yards and looked to have finally found an offensive rhythm. Kamryn Pettway, who rushed for 152 yards, seemed poised to create a dynamic duo with Kerryon Johnson. Just when I say that, Malzahn and OC Rhett Lashlee quit on the run game after halftime of last week’s Texas A&M game, giving Pettway only two carries the entire quarter.
Calling that a baffling offensive strategy is being nice.
Like sticking with a quarterback, if Auburn wants to have any chance of winning on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare, the offensive playcallers need to feed Pettway and Johnson the ball at least 45 times. Or however many times it takes to wear down Dave Aranda’s defense.
Which coach acts with the most desperation?
When you’re making at least $4 million a year in the SEC West and the expectations are through the roof, and you fall short of them, the pressure is on. Both Malzahn and Miles have, for the most part, received fair criticism over the state of their programs. Miles survived a coup last November only to have his offense flame out in the first six quarters of the season. Malzahn took Auburn to a national title in 2013 and had his team in the Top 4 of the playoff rankings enter November of 2014. The failure to live up to the postseason hype entering 2015 on the team and quarterback Jeremy Johnson has Malzahn where he is today. Miles typically saves something for Florida, but he may need to pull out a few more stops Saturday night.
If you love offensive football, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Etling makes enough plays and Auburn shows some fight, but in the end Malzahn looks like a man who knows he’s cooked.
Prediction: LSU 16, Auburn 13