(CBS Local)- The battle of the Tigers returns to CBS this weekend when LSU meets Auburn in the network’s game of the week. The matchup has had some of the luster knocked off of it by the early season results for the two squads, but the game known as the “Tiger Bowl” has been tightly contested in each of the last four years and is likely to be so again on Saturday.
For LSU, the biggest storyline of the season thus far has been a struggling defense. The Tigers lost plenty of starters on both sides of the ball to graduation, but the defense seems to have been affected more by its losses. They’re giving up 30 points per game on the year, a number that would be even higher if you remove their 40-7 win over a depleted Vanderbilt team.
When dissecting the reasons for the team’s struggles, CBS Sports Network analyst Aaron Murray points to the guys up front and a lack of pressure.
“I just don’t see a pass rush from the defensive line. I think that’s the biggest issue,” said Murray in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “You look at that team and at times they are able to stop the run, but they just don’t have that dominant pass rusher….It’s tough, you can be the best cornerbacks in the world and have the best coverage but if he has three, four or five seconds, it’s just tough to hang with receivers that long.”
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That could pose a problem, Murray points out, against an Auburn team that has a solid group of wide receivers led by junior Seth Williams who is averaging 18.3 yards per catch this season. But, Auburn’s offense has struggled in its own right, ranking 71st in the country in scoring (24.4 PPG) led by quarterback Bo Nix who has had issues with accuracy (58.7%) and turnovers (4 interceptions).
While Murray praises Nix’s athleticism and his arm strength that allows him to make some plays other quarterbacks can’t he says that the sophomore still needs to learn when to give in on a play and live to the next down.
“I think the key for Bo is just play within himself. Bo gets in trouble when he tries to create when nothing’s there,” said Murray. “He has to learn that at times the defense is going to win. And there’s nothing wrong at times taking a sack there’s nothing wrong with throwing the ball away.”
Nix’s matchup against LSU was a struggle last season, completing just 15 of 35 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown while adding another on the ground. But, thanks to the Auburn defense, they were able to hang in that game falling just short 23-20. It will be interesting to watch how he handles the game this time around against an LSU defense that has less bite than last year’s group.
LSU has some questions of its own at quarterback as starter Myles Brennan is not expected to play in this game, still dealing with a lower-body injury. That means TJ Finley, who stepped in last week with a hyper efficient 17/21 265 yards and a touchdown with another on the ground performance last week against South Carolina, will get the start again. A 4-star prospect out of high school, the freshman impressed head coach Ed Orgeron with his performance last week.
“The thing I was most impressed with was his poise,” Orgeron said of Finley. “He was so confident.”
Murray is interested to see Finley play again this week noting that LSU did a good job with its play calling last week and the offensive line dominated the Gamecocks to the tune of 276 rushing yards. With Auburn allowing over 180 yards per game on the ground this season, Murray points to that matchup as one to watch Saturday.
“If I’m Auburn, you have to find a way to stop the run and put the ball in TJ Finley’s hand and put them in third and long situations,” said Murray. That’s something that he didn’t have to deal with much last week.”
LSU enters the matchup as 2.5 point favorites. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time kick-off on CBS.