The Opening Drive: Auburn at LSU

AUBURN, Ala. – Having already played this season before the largest crowd to ever witness an Auburn football game (109,958 at Penn State), the No. 22 Tigers have another opportunity to compete before a six-figure gathering Saturday in Baton Rouge.

The combination of Tiger Stadium’s capacity (102,321) plus a full day of Bayou tailgating will make for a raucous setting. To prepare, the Tigers practiced Wednesday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, cranking the volume to levels that necessitated an advance email to inform campus staff of the impending noise. 

The Western Division showdown marks Bryan Harsin‘s first SEC game as Auburn’s head coach.

“That’s the fun part for everybody,” Harsin said. “There’s history against these teams and guys who have played against each other. That’s something as a competitor you look forward to every year. 

“Our challenge is going on the road again and finding a way to win, being in an environment that’s going to be loud and hostile. That’s the goal every week: play good football and prepare yourself to do that.”

Auburn (3-1) and LSU (3-1, 1-0) will kick off at 8 p.m. CT on Saturday from Tiger Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN with Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy and Katie George on the call. You can also listen to Andy Burcham, Stan White and Ronnie Brown who will have the radio call on 93.9 Tiger FM and online at AuburnTigers.com.

Barton Lester, Football: Auburn vs Georgia State
 

THREE QUESTIONS WITH … LB BARTON LESTER

Q: Coach Harsin’s emphasis on game-changing special teams has paid off in each of Auburn’s victories this season. In last week’s win vs. Georgia State, Caylin Newton blocked a punt and you recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. What was your view of the play?

A: I thought Zion [Puckett] was preparing to get it. The ball bounced away at the last second and I jumped on it as fast as I could. Fortunate to be in that position. Caylin made a heck of a play. He’s a guy who busts his tail every day. A real blue-collar guy doing what he can to help the team. I was really excited for him to make a big play like that.

Q: What’s a bigger thrill: blocking a punt, or recovering a blocked punt for a TD?

A: I think blocking it is more fun, but you get more notice when you score. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as we win the game. I’m really thankful we were able to make a big play and I was just there to finish it up.

Q: In the past two seasons, you’ve scored two touchdowns on blocked punts, and blocked a punt that led to a field goal. As a walk-on, how have you been able to earn your key role on Auburn’s special teams unit?

A: I knew coming here, I probably wasn’t going to start at linebacker. I made it my goal to give 100 percent every single day. It was a slow process. I was ineligible my first year here (after transferring from Air Force) and it took doing well in a scrimmage for the previous coaching staff to notice I could play, so I got the opportunity last year. With Coach Harsin and the new staff, I had to earn their trust. It’s back to the work we put in and giving 100 percent every time. That’s my mentality, and that of walk-ons before me like Tanner Dean and Spencer Nigh. They were great examples on how to do it, so I just try to follow in their footsteps.
 

INSIDE THE SERIES: LSU

Auburn trails the all-time series with LSU, 31-23-1. The home team has won 18 of the last 21 in the series, including Auburn’s 48-11 victory last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The 48 points were the most ever scored by either team in the series, and the 37-point margin of victory was the largest ever for Auburn in the series. 

Prior to last year, 11 of the previous 16 meetings in the series were decided by seven points or less, including the four games from 2016-19 which were decided by a total of 14 points. 

Since the SEC moved to two divisions in 1992, LSU’s lead in the series is just 16-13. In 24 of the last 26 meetings between Auburn and LSU, at least one of the teams was ranked at the time of the game and in 14 of those, both teams were ranked. From 2002-14, at least one team was ranked in the AP Top 10 at the time of the matchup, with both teams ranked in the top 10 three times in that stretch (2006, 2008 and 2010).

Series: LSU, 31-23-1
At Auburn: Auburn, 13-8
At LSU: LSU, 19-5-1
At Neutral Sites: Auburn, 5-4
First Meeting: 1901 (Auburn, 28-0)
Most AU points: 48 (2020)
Current Streak: Auburn, W1
 

BY THE NUMBERS

10.5: Auburn and LSU are tied for the national lead in team tackles for loss at 10.5 per game. For Auburn, senior defensive lineman T.D. Moultry is tops on the team with six tackles for loss through the first four games, including two last week against Georgia State. 

98: T.J. Finley engineered a 13-play, 98-yard scoring drive against Georgia State, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Shedrick Jackson to put the Tigers in front with just 0:45 remaining. Only six Auburn scoring drives since 1970 have been longer than 98 yards. 

320: With 14 points last week, All-America kicker Anders Carlson moved up to third in career scoring at Auburn with 320 points, passing John Vaughn (312 points, 2003-06). His brother, Daniel Carlson (480, 2014-17) and Wes Byrum (363, 2007-10) are first and second. Anders also ranks third this season in the SEC in scoring at 11.2 points per game. 

33: Nehemiah Pritchett ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally in kick return average, averaging 33 yards per return this season. His 165 KOR yards against Georgia State were the seventh-most in a game in Auburn history. 
 

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