- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.