- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Through the first three games, No. 6 LSU has looked mighty impressive on both sides of the ball. A title contender? Maybe. But the real season begins Saturday, when the Tigers kick off their SEC schedule with a home games against Auburn (3-0).
"You better be ready," head coach Les Miles said. "It's going to be a highly contested, very competitive game. It generally goes down to the end. So if you enjoy competition at the very highest level, you love these games."
Seven of the last nine games between Auburn and LSU have been decided by a touchdown or less, including LSU's 12-10 victory last year on the Plains. Auburn is looking to win in Death Valley for the first time since 1999.
What LSU needs to do to win: The offense has been much improved this season, and the Tigers have to continue that progression into SEC play. In last year's game, LSU scored just 10 points from its offense (and 12 total), and quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for just 169 yards. This year, he's 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.
What Auburn needs to do to win: Start fast. Auburn has looked nearly unstoppable on its first-quarter drives, no doubt scripted by head coach Gus 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.
Players to watch
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 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 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.
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.
Quotable: "It's just very competitive -- two talented teams. You need to do well in the West. We've had some games that were won in the last minute and some games that had some unusual twists and turns. Again, it's a competitive rivalry in the SEC." -- LSU head coach Les Miles, on the Auburn-LSU game.
10dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough