BATON ROUGE, La. — As sixth-ranked Louisiana State University began practicing for its Southeastern Conference opener against Auburn, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson had to do a double-take when he saw Les Miles stretching on the field with his players.
“I’ve never seen coach Miles stretch with us,” said Johnson, adding that he and his teammates understood the symbolism of their head coach’s participation in the pre-practice routine. “Everybody’s attitude is set on being dominant and winning the West (Division).”
Auburn was one of the worst teams in the SEC last year. That hardly seems to matter now. Both of the SEC West teams known as the Tigers head into tonight’s clash unbeaten.
Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has a new head coach Gus Malzahn, and the team is gaining confidence in new quarterback Nick Marshall after he led a game-winning drive against Mississippi State. Auburn could announce its return among the SEC’s elite by following that up with a win at LSU (3-0, 0-0).
“We felt like getting that first SEC win was a really big positive step forward,” Auburn tight end T.J. Uzomah said. “This game will be a huge measuring stick and we’d really show a lot of people that it is a new day and we are on the right track.”
LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said he wasn’t surprised by Auburn’s apparent resurgence.
“When you have a season like they did last year, you’re going to come out more motivated the next year. You want to prove everybody wrong and prove that you’re not the team that they saw last year,” Beckham said. “They’re coming out fired up. We just hope to get on top of them early and just never slow down.”
LSU has climbed from its season-opening ranking of No. 12 with three double-digit victories highlighted by the superb play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger and strong outings from its young defense.
Yet Miles, as only he can, asserts that the week of an SEC opener is no time for his team to start feeling impressed with itself.
“I can tell you when you have a contest that you know is going to be competitive and the need and want to get that to your team and prepare them, there is no responsibility or task that allows you to then, at that point in time, you know, take some personal luxury,” Miles said.