The LSU Tigers begin SEC play by welcoming the 3-0 Tigers from Auburn to Death Valley on Saturday and Auburn is bringing their three-headed rushing monster with them to Baton Rouge which has been a pleasant surprise for Gus Malzahn.
The first-year head coach is known for having a spread, hurry up no-huddle offense and the misconception is that his team’s top rush the football that often. However, Malzahn has had eight 100-yard rushers in his six years in college football. This year’s Auburn team features a 1,000-yard rusher in Tre Mason, top junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne and Alabama transfer Corey Grant.
The biggest surprise is Grant who he leads the team with 230 yards on only 24 carries. That is good for 9.4 yards per carry. The Opelika, AL native was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and the No. 7 all-purpose back in the 247Sports composite rankings. The 5-10, 186-pound back is a homerun threat and has a 75-yard touchdown run already on his resume this season.
Mason is Mr. Dependable and leads the team with 39 carries and tied with Grant with two touchdowns. His 1,002 yards on the ground were the only bright spot in an otherwise awful season for Auburn’s offense last season.
Artis-Payne was the No. 1 JUCO running back recruit last year and at 212-pounds brings much more size and physicality than either Mason or Grant. His 166 yards on 35 carries is a nice change-of-pace to that of Mason and Grant.
Collectively the three backs—and dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall—have rushed for an average of 238.7 yards per game which is good enough for the No. 31 ranked rushing attack in the nation.
LSU’s rush defense led by reigning SEC defensive player of the week Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson are yielding 110.6 yards per game, but only allowed 58 last week in the win over Kent State last weekend.
I believe it will be tough for Auburn to get anywhere near their average on the ground vs. LSU. Auburn will have to beat LSU through the air because LSU will load the box and force Marshall to beat them with his arm.
Grant, Mason and Artis-Payne are a nice trio of backs and will help Auburn win twice as many games as Auburn did a year ago, but they won’t even be the best three-pronged rushing attack in this game.
Jeremy Hill, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue take home those honors in what should be a comfortable win for LSU at home as they improve to 4-0 and pick up their first SEC win.