October 19, 2011
LSU began the season facing a cloud of uncertainty created by a key suspension, and responded by roaring to the top of the midseason polls with quarterback Jordan Jefferson serving almost entirely as a bystander. Maybe they should consider that a dry run for this weekend: Per multiple sources, sophomores Spencer Ware, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon have all been suspended at least one game — and possibly longer — in the wake of a failed drug test, robbing the Tigers of their most reliable playmakers on offense and defense for one of the most critical weekends of the season.
If you're wondering, yes, that reference is to this Saturday's visit from Auburn. But it may also hold true for the most anticipated regular-season date in years, LSU's winner-take-all collision with fellow SEC West overlord Alabama on Nov. 5, already anointed as an unofficial play-in game for the BCS Championship Game in January. Next Saturday, Oct. 29, is the Tigers' bye week. If the suspensions extend beyond one game — and there is some early indication that they will — LSU may be rolling into Tuscaloosa with a hand and a leg tied behind its back.
Not that this weekend is some kind of afterthought in the meantime. At last glance, Auburn was listed as a 23-point underdog, due in no small part to sending sophomore Clint Moseley into the teeth of one of the most hostile defenses in the country in his first career start. But that defense will be without its best player, Mathieu, whose ball-hawking ways have produced six turnovers, five tackles for loss, two touchdowns, a team-high 36 tackles, one outstanding nickname and no shortage of premature Heisman hype. (Sorry, the "Honey Badger tokes what it wants" jokes have already been made.) It will also be without a regular in Simon, who frees up Mathieu to roam by holding down a corner spot in nickel sets and currently ranks fourth on the team in tackles himself.
Sans Ware, the Tigers will be without a 225-pound hammer who's carried more than 20 times for at least 80 yards in all five of their non-cupcake wins. On an offense lacking any real stars, Ware is the closest LSU has to a go-to guy, especially with a lead and a clock to kill in the fourth quarter. And when Auburn is involved, it virtually always comes down to the fourth quarter.
Even if it doesn't, the prospect of either team going into Nov. 5 at anything less than 100 percent is a thorn on what should be one of the sweetest days of the year. The intrigue surrounding the Day of the Crimson Tiger has officially begun.