Auburn Tigers: Jarvis Landry

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
PM ET
Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC lunchtime links

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
12:00
PM ET
Forty-yard dash times and bench-press figures. Measuring height and weight down to the seventh of an inch. It's the annual meat-market bonanza known as the NFL combine and it came to you fast and furious throughout the weekend. When you're done scrolling through the day's SEC links, be sure to check out the rest of ESPN's NFL draft coverage at our combine headquarters.

Our All-SEC second team choices

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
2:00
PM ET
On Monday, we gave you guys our All-SEC first team. Today, we thought we'd unveil our second team for 2013. There are so many guys in this league who deserve recognition that we just wouldn't feel good about not having another team to give props to during the holiday season:

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Todd Gurley, Georgia

DEFENSE

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ego Ferguson, LSU
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
PR: Christion Jones, Alabama
KR: Christion Jones, Alabama

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
AM ET
We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute field Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:20
AM ET
1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:45
AM ET
Hard to believe the first month of the college football season has come and gone.

And while it’s still hot throughout much of the South, that’s not necessarily the case for everybody in the SEC.

GLOWING EMBERS

SEC offenses: What’s with this offensive explosion in the SEC? Seven of the top 35 offenses in the country, in terms of total offense, belong to SEC teams. Texas A&M (No. 5), Georgia (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 7) are all in the top 10. Surprisingly enough, two-time defending national champion Alabama isn’t in the top 50 nationally in total offense and ranks 13th in the SEC. The running game simply hasn’t been very consistent for the Crimson Tide. Two of the more potent offenses in the SEC will go at it this coming weekend when LSU visits Georgia. Both teams have scored 35 or more points and racked up more than 400 yards of total offense in all of their games this season. Could yet another shootout be on the horizon in Athens? We've already seen more in this league than we're accustomed to seeing.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJarvis Landry has had at least four receptions in each game this season, including seven in the victory over Auburn.
HOT

LSU receiver Jarvis Landry: There’s not a hotter receiver in the SEC right now than Landry, who leads the SEC with six touchdown catches and has caught one in eight of his past nine games. He had a 32-yard catch and run for a score against Auburn and finished with seven catches for 118 yards. Landry is a baller, meaning he’d be a star no matter where you lined him up on the field.

NOT

Georgia’s special teams: At one point in the third quarter of Georgia’s 45-21 win over North Texas, it was a 21-21 game. Two of North Texas’ three touchdowns came on special teams, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Remember, too, that the Dawgs had a high snap in the Clemson game that cost them on a short field goal attempt. Special-teams breakdowns always have a way of catching up to you.

HOT

Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.: The Vols never had any answers for Fowler, who finished with three tackles for loss and had a hand in two of the Gators’ six takeaways in the game. The truth is that not many people will have answers for Fowler, who’s quickly becoming one of the SEC’s premier defensive difference-makers.

NOT

Alabama on third down: No wonder Alabama is wallowing down at 13th in the SEC in total offense. The Crimson Tide have been awful on third down. They’re ranked 98th nationally and have converted just 11 of 33 third downs through their first three games. Part of the problem is that they’re not running the ball as consistently as they have in the past and have faced a lot of third-and-long situations. Of their 33 third downs this season, 17 have been third-and-9 or longer.

HOT

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott: Making his third consecutive start for the injured Tyler Russell, Prescott passed for 233 yards and a touchdown in the blowout win over Troy. He also rushed for a couple of short touchdowns and even caught a 36-yard touchdown pass. About the only thing he didn’t do was hand out cowbells before the game.

NOT

Arian Foster’s Vol For Life membership: Foster has always been a speak-his-mind kind of guy. But with Tennessee already on NCAA probation, the last thing the Vols needed was one of their former players coming out five years after he left and saying publicly that he took money on the side. Maybe Foster will get a taco endorsement out of the publicity. Tennessee is sure to get more scrutiny.

HOT

NCAA: Everywhere you look, the heat is being turned up on the NCAA, especially now with players openly protesting during games. The current model is archaic, and you can’t help but wonder if we’re headed toward a model where the bigger schools break off from the NCAA, take their ball and go form their own league.

NOT

Arkansas’ bowl chances: In blowing a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter and falling at Rutgers, Arkansas’ pathway to a bowl game this season just got a lot more complicated. The Hogs’ next four games are against Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. They also have to play at Ole Miss and at LSU later in the season. We'll see if the Hogs can win one nobody expected them to win.

FREEZER BURN

First half of Florida-Tennessee game: Don’t look for Florida’s 31-17 win over Tennessee to pop up on any instant-classic replays in the near future, particularly the first half of that turnover-fest. The teams combined for seven turnovers in the first half alone, and that doesn’t count a dropped snap by Florida punter Kyle Christy at his own 15. Tennessee managed just 31 total yards in 25 plays in the first half and turned it over four times. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman was making his first start for Tennessee and was swamped. He finished 4-of-11 for 5 yards and three turnovers and suffered an injury to his hand before taking a seat on the bench just before halftime. The Vols’ only touchdown in the first half came on an interception return of a Jeff Driskel pass. For the Gators, the first half was bad over and above their issues on the field. Driskel was lost for the season after breaking his fibula in the first quarter.

Five things: Auburn-LSU

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
7:30
AM ET


When the sun finds it home in the western sky, SEC West rivals will face off in Death Valley. It’s Auburn vs. LSU, a clash of two undefeated teams. Here’s what we'll be watching when a pair of Tigers square off against each other Saturday night.

Quarterback battle: It’s an intriguing matchup of contrasting styles, but the two quarterbacks share one thing in common -- they both started their career at Georgia. Zach Mettenberger transferred to LSU prior to the 2011 season, and he’s just now starting to come into his own. The senior has already thrown for nine touchdowns through the first three games after throwing 12 TDs all of last season. Auburn’s Nick Marshall took a different route. He played defensive back for UGA as a freshman but switched back to his old position when he went to junior college. Now he’s directing the offense for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers. Mettenberger has the edge in experience, but Marshall grew up a lot in last week’s game-winning drive against Mississippi State.

Starting fast: Both teams like to score quickly. LSU has jumped out front in every game and has yet to trail this season. Auburn has scored a first-quarter touchdown in all three of its games. What will give on Saturday? The onus will be on Auburn to score first as the visiting Tigers will try to silence the home crowd early. A quick touchdown would also calm the nerves and give confidence to Marshall and the rest of the first- and second-year players who are playing in Tiger Stadium for the first time. On the other side, LSU is hoping to put the game out of reach by halftime. The closer it stays, the better Auburn’s chances are for pulling an upset.

Big plays: There will be plenty of home-run threats on the field Saturday, but none bigger than LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham. He’s averaging 22 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns against UAB, all from 20 yards or more, including a 100-yard return of a missed field goal. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands and a perfect complement to fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry. But Auburn can hit the big play, too, having already scored four touchdowns of 68 yards or longer -- and it could’ve been more had Marshall not overthrown his target on at least two other occasions. Both teams can strike at any moment.

Hostile environment: You can turn the volume up at practice and prepare all you want, but nothing compares to the atmosphere in Death Valley on a Saturday night. It’s been talked about plenty this week. LSU is 39-2 in Saturday night home games under Les Miles. Auburn is 3-0 this season, but the Tigers have yet to play a game away from home. The key will be Marshall. How does he respond to the hostile crowd when it comes to making play calls and calling audibles? How does he handle the atmosphere? His teammates have helped him all week and are confident in their quarterback, but nobody knows for sure until he takes the field.

Inclement weather: There’s expected to be two to three inches of rain in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, and a flash-flood watch is in effect all weekend. It’s likely going to be wet, and it could be sloppy. The precipitation could slow down the two offenses, which would play more to Auburn’s favor in keeping the game close. However, LSU’s power rushing attack is better suited for wet conditions. Either way, it will make it difficult to hang on to the football, putting a premium on ball security.

Planning for success: Auburn Tigers

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
8:00
AM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- When Gus Malzahn took over a 3-9 Auburn team last December, he wanted to change the culture. He wanted to instill a winning mindset to a team that had grown accustomed to losing. The Tigers opened the season 2-0, but the real progress showed up in last week's come-from-behind win over Mississippi State. It's a step in the right direction.

"In football there are a lot of mental things that go on with winning: expecting to win, knowing how to win. I think that will help us moving forward," Malzahn said. "As a matter of fact, I know that will help us moving forward if we have situations like that. Our guys will believe they can win."

The Auburn head coach hopes the renewed confidence will carry over to the Tigers' matchup with No. 6 LSU on Saturday. A trip to Death Valley is never easy, especially for a young football team, but they Tigers are not going in defeated, but with hope.

What Auburn needs to do to win: Start fast. Auburn has looked nearly unstoppable on its first-quarter drives, no doubt scripted by Malzahn, but putting up points early is a must against LSU. It's the Tigers' first road test of the season, and they have to find a way to take the crowd out of it. It won't be easy, with quarterback Nick Marshall making his first start outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium, but he showed poise on the final drive Saturday against Mississippi State. He has to limit turnovers and make plays for Auburn to hang with LSU.

What LSU needs to do to win: The offense has been much improved this season, and the Tigers have to carry that progression into SEC play. In last year's game, a 12-10 win, LSU scored just 10 points from its offense, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for just 169 yards. This year, he is averaging 266 yards and three touchdowns per game, and LSU has scored at least 37 points in each of the first three games. Couple that with an Auburn defense that has given up its fair share of yards, and the Bayou Bengals might reach 12 points in the first quarter alone. But it starts with the offense.

Players to watch

Auburn TE C.J. Uzomah: Now known for his game-winning touchdown grab against Mississippi State, Uzomah is emerging as a go-to target for Marshall. If there was ever a game where the inexperienced quarterback needed a safety valve, it's Saturday against LSU.

LSU WR Odell Beckham: As a wide receiver, nobody has been able to cover him. He's fast. He's explosive. He flat out makes plays. Between Beckham and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry, LSU has one of the top tandems in the SEC. Beckham is also a threat in the return game, as well.

Auburn DT Gabe Wright: After a solid performance in Week 2, Wright was virtually non-existent against Mississippi State. The former ESPN 150 star has to step up this weekend if Auburn wants to have any chance of slowing down LSU's power rushing attack.

LSU S Craig Loston: The LSU defense starts up front with its two star defensive tackles, but Auburn likely will try to get outside the box, making Loston that much more important. Whether it's against the run or the pass, he needs to prevent Auburn from hitting on any big plays.

Quotable: "I did watch Nick's drive at the end of the game last week. Even before the drive started, I was sitting there thinking I've got a pretty good feeling that this guy is going to start making some history there at Auburn, because I had a feeling that they were going to move it down the field with him and put some points on the board." -- Georgia head coach Mark Richt on Nick Marshall's game-winning drive last week against Mississippi State.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Auburn Facing Difficult Stretch
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn discusses the Tigers' tough schedule, which includes LSU on Saturday.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 10/4