With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 2, we continue with the “other” Tigers in the SEC West, LSU. Auburn will head to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU its road opener in Week 4.
All-time series: LSU leads 26-20-1
When last they met: One week after pulling out a squeaker against Louisiana-Monroe to pick up its first win of the season, Auburn nearly did the same against LSU. It was not to be this time, as the visiting Tigers escaped with a 12-10 road victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium. And though the term “slugfest” is wrongly applied all too often, it fits the bill here. The defining play of the game came in the third quarter, when Auburn receiver Quan Bray muffed a punt return that LSU recovered. That miscue set up LSU kicker Drew Alleman’s go-ahead field goal to give the visitors a 12-10 advantage, and more importantly, proved to be the final points of the game. Auburn had one last chance to knock off the No. 2 team in the country after Alleman missed a 34-yard attempt with 39 seconds remaining. Auburn was only able to pick up one first down after the miss, however, and quarterback Kiehl Frazier’s last pass attempt was intercepted by LSU’s Tharold Simon as time expired.
The coach: Les Miles (85-21 in eight seasons at LSU; won national title in 2007; 113-42 record overall after going 28-21 in four seasons at Oklahoma State from 2001-04)
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2012 Year-in-Review: There are only a handful of programs in college football where a team can win 10 games in a season and still have the year be considered a disappointment. LSU is part of that select group. After once again being part of the preseason discussion regarding legitimate contenders to win the national title last year, the Tigers weren’t able to live up to the lofty expectations. LSU dropped a close one on the road against Florida, falling 14-6 to end its undefeated season. LSU’s other regular season defeat was another memorable game against Alabama, with the Crimson Tide coming up with some last-minute heroics courtesy of quarterback AJ McCarron and freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. The two connected on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds remaining which allowed the top-ranked Crimson Tide to leave Tiger Stadium with a 21-17 victory. LSU’s third and final defeat of 2012 played out in similar come-from-ahead fashion to the Alabama loss. Leading Clemson 24-22 with just 1:39 to go in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU was in good position, with the South Carolinian felines pinned back at their own 20-yard line. But Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd led his band of Tigers on a game-winning final drive, which was sealed by kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who booted a 37-yard field goal through the uprights as the clock hit zero. Again, 10 wins is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just far less than what the Tigers were hoping for at the outset of last season.
Biggest area of concern: This has probably been repeated, oh, about 100,000 times by now, but LSU has to replace six starters on defense next season, chief among them being the defensive end duo of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Yes, it’s always crazy to question LSU, and especially the magic defensive coordinator John Chavis seems to be able to conjure up every season, regardless of the circumstances. This might be too big of an an obstacle for even Chavis to surmount, though. Along with Mingo and Montgomery, the Tigers lost another defensive end in senior Lavar Edwards, as well as defensive tackle Bennie Logan. Add linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid to that list of departures, too. (This isn’t even mentioning all-everything defensive back and playmaker extraordinaire Tyrann Mathieu, who didn’t play in 2012 after being dismissed from the team last August due to multiple failed drug tests. He did not attempt a comeback at LSU, instead electing to enter this year’s NFL Draft, where he was taken in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals with the 69th overall pick.) So there’s a lot to replace. Now we’ll just have to see if the Tigers can go out and defy the odds once more.
Key returning player/unit: Running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware both decided to forgo their senior seasons and put their names into the NFL Draft pool. No worries for the Tigers, though. Even without Ford and Ware, running back is one of the deepest positions on the team. With the pair of would-be seniors gone, it should open up more carries for junior Kenny Hilliard and senior Alfred Blue. Sophomore Jeremy Hill will factor into the rotation if he comes back to the team following his indefinite suspension, the result of getting into a fight at a Baton Rouge bar in April. The Tigers also welcomed Terrence Magee back into the fold after a one-year hiatus. Moved to wide receiver last season due to the depth at running back, the junior made his mark this spring, flashing the kind of versatility out of the backfield that will make him a weapon in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s pro-style offense.
Extra point: Miles began his LSU coaching career winning each of his first four bowl games, highlighted by the 2007 national championship game against Ohio State, which the Tigers won 38-24. But in his last four bowl appearances, things haven’t been quite as fruitful for the mercurial LSU coach, with the Tigers posting a 1-3 record in those matchups. (Lost the Capital One Bowl to Penn State in 2009; won the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M in 2010; fell to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game in 2011; defeated by Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year.)