Will LSU train rumble through Auburn?
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's a series that has brought us earthquakes (during LSU's 1988 win in Baton Rouge), fires (in 1996, when the old Auburn Sports Arena burned down outside Jordan-Hare Stadium) and hurricanes (in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan brushed by Auburn).
There have been plenty of strange happenings around the Auburn-LSU series, which will be renewed Saturday when No. 2 LSU (3-0) visits Jordan-Hare to face AU (1-2), but perhaps none more strange for LSU than the story of Cecil "The Diesel" Collins.
To those who follow LSU closely, Collins is one of the great talents ever to play running back at LSU, but he played a mere four games for the Tigers. In his only season, he was suspended for the 1997 opener for violating team rules, then piled up 596 yards in four games before being lost for the season to a broken leg.
His highlight game was 15 years ago Thursday, when he piled up 232 rushing yards against an Auburn team that eventually won the SEC West, in no small part because it escaped Baton Rouge with a 31-28 win on Collins' big night. But so good was Collins, there was talk that he would become a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy the next season.
Instead, in June 1998, he was arrested for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling and assault (reduced from sexual assault) in a Baton Rouge apartment, an incident he blamed on sleepwalking. He was kicked off LSU's team, resurfaced at McNeese State, and washed up after two unspectacular games for failing a drug test.
He briefly went to jail (the failed drug test was a violation of his bond for the original charges), got a shot with the Miami Dolphins in 1999, had a decent rookie season, then broke into another apartment in 1999 in Miami, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The incident, he said, occurred because he wanted to watch a woman sleep.
A strange story, indeed. Perhaps every bit as strange as arenas burning down outside a stadium or touchdown celebrations that register as earthquakes (that was on Eddie Fuller's game-winning touchdown catch in LSU's 7-6 win in 1988).
Will another strange chapter be written Saturday?
Three Things to Watch:
1. Running like a Diesel?: Every week, AU's defense must feel like the 1997 defense trying to stop Collins. Auburn is last in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 217 yards a game. LSU leads the SEC in rushing (269.3 ypg). Even with LSU missing injured starting RB Alfred Blue, Auburn has its hands full.
2. Youth is served: LSU first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger will get his first road start and first SEC start Saturday. His counterpart, Kiehl Frazier, is also a first-year starter who has struggled (two touchdowns, five interceptions).
3. Still Badgering: Even without Tyrann Mathieu, LSU leads the SEC in total defense (205 yards per game), bettering even the impressive numbers of Alabama (210 ypg). Can Frazier and Auburn make a dent?
LSU Tigers to Watch
1. RB Kenny Hilliard: The most likely choice to replace Blue as the starter, he leads LSU and is third in the SEC with 303 rushing yards, and he leads the SEC with six touchdowns.
2. DT Anthony Johnson: Off to a strong start (11 tackles, 2.5 for loss), the sophomore will be a key figure against an Auburn team that will present LSU's defense with the most physical rushing game it has faced so far.
3. Mettenberger: In his first true road and SEC test, will the LSU quarterback continue to blossom or be overwhelmed by a road environment?
Auburn Tigers to watch
1. RB Onterio McCalebb: McCalebb is second on the team in rushing (214 yards on 31 carries), but has game-changing, big-play ability. He has a 100-yard kick return for a TD this season, and in 2010 his 70-yard TD run against LSU was a game-winner in a 24-17 AU win.
2. DE Corey Lemonier: With three sacks and a blocked kick, Lemonier's the kind of disruptive force who can change the course of a game for an underdog.
3. Frazier: The sophomore will probably have to play the best game of his young career for Auburn to have a chance.
AU special teams vs. LSU special teams: LSU prides itself on special teams and has an all-American punter (Brad Wing), the SEC's most accurate field goal kicker in 2011 (Drew Alleman) and return threats (Odell Beckham, Jr., already has a punt return for a TD). Auburn is also good with McCalebb's TD return, a 6-for-6 season so far for kicker Cody Parkey, and three blocked kicks.
By the numbers
5-1: Auburn's record in the last five home games against LSU.
1980: The last year Auburn started SEC play 0-2, a record it's hoping to avoid Saturday.
8: SEC West championships claimed by the winner of the LSU-Auburn game in the last 12 years.