AUBURN — Of the many questions surrounding Auburn football at the moment, there is no doubt that coach Bryan Harsin and his staff want to run the football. Harsin has committed to that on a number of occasions, emphasizing just how important it is for the team to run the ball. The issue is no one really knows if they can.

The offensive line, which has already caught the injury bug and lost the top-two centers on the depth chart, has struggled in all phases of the game to start the season.

After getting just nine carries and 11 total touches in the loss to Penn State, Auburn went to junior running back Tank Bigsby 21 total times against Missouri, but he managed just 44 yards on the ground despite getting 62 yards after contact.

The rushing attack started the year right against Mercer, and Tank had 147 yards on 16 carries in the season opener, but since then, Bigsby has gained just 134 yards in the past three games.

In the barn burner against Missouri, Auburn averaged 1.8 yards per carry and finished the game with 82 rushing yards and four sacks allowed.

“We struggled in some of our pass protection, no question.,” Harsin said after the Missouri game. “That's an area that we've got to, we're going to continue to keep emphasizing and keep working on. And it's not going to go away until we fix some of our own problems.”

Auburn needed to make those improvements in practice this week as the talented defensive front of LSU comes to town on Saturday. 

The Bayou Bengals have a tenacious defense that is led by a strong defensive line that has dominated through four games this year, giving up 14.2 points per game, 16th-best in the country. 

“The front seven I'm very impressed with,” Harsin said on Wednesday. “Every single one of those guys are impressive in their own way, you know, whether it's their length, size, speed or power. It's a good front, bottom line and things that you would expect in the SEC, and what you'd expect from an LSU defense.”

They are also holding teams to only 111 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry, a problem for an Auburn offense that has not been able to get the run game going. Even when forcing teams to pass, the LSU defense is just as good, racking up 11 sacks so far this year and holding teams to 146.5 yards per game through the air. 

Saivion Jones leads the team with 2.5 sacks, but the entire pass rush has been by committee so far this year, and Auburn can expect more of the same on Saturday. 

Auburn’s offensive linemen will have their hands full with this LSU defense as Robby Ashford is poised to make his first SEC night game start and Auburn looks to fill the void now left by Tate Johnson. 

The 57th Tiger Bowl will kickoff inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m. CST. The forecast has cleared up, so rain should not be a factor during the primetime matchup.

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