Five games into the season, Auburn has established itself as the favorite in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division—and a serious contender for the national championship.
To stay that way, the sixth-ranked Tigers (5-0) will have to avoid looking past upset-minded Louisiana Tech (3-2).
With a dominating 34-10 win at then-No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday night, the sixth-ranked Tigers took an important step toward reaching their first conference championship game since 2000.
However, coach Tommy Tuberville doesn’t want his team looking ahead to the remainder of the conference schedule, rather than focusing on the task at hand.
“We’re not going to start talking about anything other than playing the next game,” Tuberville said. “Obviously there will be a lot of talk about it. But we’ve got a good start—a lot better than we did last year.”
Auburn lost its first two games last season before winning five straight, including a victory over Tennessee. The Tigers then fell to eventual national champion LSU, Mississippi and Georgia, finishing third in the West.
Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said the Tigers’ main challenge this week will be stopping Louisiana Tech running back Ryan Moats, who enters the game as the nation’s leading rusher with 928 yards, nine touchdowns and 6.8 yards per carry.
“He’s the real deal,” Chizik said of Moats, who is averaging 185.6 yards per game. “He is the best running back we’ve faced up to this point this year in my opinion. We need to stop him and then we have to stop all the play actions and boots off what they do with him.
“It’s going to be a tough football game. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight. It will have to be the best tackling job we’ve done all year.”
Though Louisiana Tech has never defeated Auburn in nine meetings (0-8-1), the Bulldogs have a history of playing the Tigers tough at Jordan-Hare Stadium, including a 48-41 overtime loss in 2001, a 38-28 defeat in 2000 and a 16-14 defeat in 1990.
The Bulldogs snapped a two-game losing streak with last Saturday’s 28-21 victory over Fresno State, handing their WAC rival rivals their first loss.
Louisiana Tech’s only other win against a ranked team came in 1999, when it beat No. 18 Alabama 29-28 in Tuscaloosa.
Tech is in a four-game run against ranked teams; the Bulldogs were blown out by No. 4 Miami and Tennessee. They can finish the difficult stretch at .500 if they can knock off the Tigers.
“This is something you dream about, but it is such a struggle with our schedule,” coach Jack Bicknell said. “We needed to get one of these games, and we did.”
Moats rumbled for 236 yards on 34 carries against Fresno State. He scored his fourth touchdown with less than four minutes to play.
“I knew I had to carry the load,” Moats said. “I know I just can’t get tired, and I just want the team to keep giving me the ball.”