The Tigers are traveling to LSU this weekend, seeking their first win in Baton Rouge since 1999. Auburn dominated the 2020 matchup in Jordan-Hare, beating the Tigers of LSU 48–11 by way of a 300-yard, three touchdown pass performance by quarterback Bo Nix. Here are some players to watch and keys to victory for Auburn to get its first road win in the Tiger Bowl this century.
Players to watch
LSU quarterback Max Johnson
Son of Super Bowl winning quarterback Brad Johnson, the sophomore quarterback has been lights-out through four games, throwing 1,144 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Athens, Georgia native also has added 119 yards and two scores on the ground. Against a shaky Auburn pass defense, look for Johnson to have a big game Saturday night in Death Valley.
In 2020, Johnson split time with now-Auburn quarterback T.J. Finley. The former four-star recruit appeared in six games for the Tigers — starting in two of them — and threw for 1,069 and eight touchdowns, only throwing one interception. Against Auburn last year, Johnson replaced Finley in the game, completing 15 of 24 passes for 172 yards and a score.
Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain
After serving his first-half suspension for a targeting penalty the week before, McClain entered the game against Georgia State in the second half and his presence was immediately felt. The Auburn defense allowed a season-high 24 points in the first half without the senior linebacker, along with giving up nearly 300 yards of offense. Upon entering in the second half, McClain and the Auburn defense shut down the Georgia State offense, not allowing any scores and only 85 yards of total offense.
The former four-star recruit is tied for second on the team with 23 tackles through four games. Look for McClain and the Auburn defense to shut down the rushing attack on Saturday.
Auburn defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett
Against a formidable LSU passing attack, the Auburn secondary will have its work cut out for them on Saturday night in Death Valley. Pritchett has been a solid contributor through four games, both on defense and on special teams. Last week against Georgia State, the junior defensive back had five kickoff returns for 183 yards — taking one for 72 yards — the second-most return yards in a game in program history. Against Alabama Stat, Pritchett returned a blocked field goal 80 yards for a score, a momentum-swinging play that led to an impressive offensive outing in the third quarter.
The former three-star recruit also had an interception against LSU last season, nearly returning it for a touchdown before stepping out inside the LSU five-yard line. Pritchett and fellow defensive back Roger McCreary will have to step up if the Tigers hope to leave Louisiana with a win.
Keys to Victory
#1: Establish the run early
A bit of a football cliche, however an important one. The Bayou Bengals allow 108 rushing yards per game, fifth-best in the SEC, and it will be important to establish a rushing attack early in the game. Look for a three-headed rushing attack by the likes of Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter and Shaun Shivers. With head coach Bryan Harsin not announcing who will start yet at quarterback, whoever is taking the snaps will need to rely on a strong run game to leave Baton Rouge with a win.
#2: Make Max Johnson uncomfortable
The pass rush will need to step up against the pass-happy LSU offense. Through four games, Auburn has accrued 12 sacks, although the Tigers did not record any against Penn State and could barely get pressure on quarterback Sean Clifford. The lack of pressure allowed the Penn State quarterback to pass all over the Tiger defense, completing 28 of 32 passes in Auburn’s lone loss of the year. If the Tigers hope to leave with a win on Saturday, the pass rush will have to get home against LSU. Look for T.D. Moultry to have a big game.
#3: The offense needs explosive plays
Through Auburn’s four games, the quarterbacks have combined to throw 126 passes. Of those passes, only 21 of those have been receptions for 15 or more yards, and eight of those have gone for 25 or more yards. Whether it be Finley or Nix who starts at quarterback for Auburn on Saturday night, he will have to generate explosive plays in the pass game. Harsin has preached the importance of high-yardage plays in the pass game for the past two weeks — now it’s time to show up.
#4: Special teams needs to continue to contribute
The highlight of last week’s game against Georgia State was the special teams unit for the Tigers, generating over half of the scores in the win. Throughout the season, special teams has been a strong suit for Auburn, and that will have to continue Saturday. Whether it is Anders Carlson nailing kicks, blocking field goals and punts or in the return game, the unit will likely play a significant role on Saturday.