It’s big-game time for Auburn, LSU quarterbacks

Published 3:45 pm Friday, September 19, 2008

AUBURN – They don’t play games quite like Auburn-LSU at Harvard University or Hutchinson Community College.

Welcome to the big leagues, Chris Todd and Andrew Hatch. Where 87,000-plus frenzied fans, a few million folks at home and probably some of the Southeastern Conference and national championship contenders will be tuning into your game Saturday night.

Former Hutchinson junior college quarterback Todd leads No. 10 Auburn (3-0, 1-0) against No. 6 LSU (2-0, 0-0) and Harvard transfer Hatch, though each has a backup who could see action.

They are both facing two of the nation’s top defenses, along with the other big-game trappings.

“This is what you live for. It’s what you dream about,” Todd said. “This will be fun. It’ll be a great atmosphere and I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it.”

Todd has started the past two games for Auburn, and more mobile backup Kodi Burns, the opening game starter, has barely played. Then again, Todd & Co. managed only a field goal in a rare 3-2 win at Mississippi State with a spread offense that has yet to take off.

Hatch has started both of LSU’s games, but has only completed one more pass than quarterback 1A Jarrett Lee. Neither has been tested much yet after easy wins over Appalachian State and North Texas.

Auburn defenders, who are tied for third nationally in scoring defense, would like to give them a greeting to the SEC. Defensive end Antonio Coleman notes that he hasn’t ever sacked an Ivy Leaguer.

“Hopefully, I’ll get to do it Saturday,” said Coleman, who has three sacks. “I’d feel real smart about myself.”

All the quarterbacks who play will face two of the nation’s top 12 defenses. Hatch and Burns are the better runners. Auburn coaches have been secretive about their plans, if any, for Burns in this game. He didn’t play at all against Mississippi State but might at least get used in goal line situations, where Auburn has struggled.

Receiver Mario Fannin doesn’t expect Todd to get rattled by the atmosphere or pressurized situation.

“That’s something that Chris does well. He’s able to shake off things,” Fannin said. “That’s what kind of makes him a great quarterback. Yeah, he made some mistakes but as a quarterback you have to learn how to forget and move on.”

Hatch has become acquainted with the rivalry, but knows this will be a new experience.

“It will be a little different for me since it will be my first road environment,” he said. “It will be a hostile environment. I have to be ready for that. We’ll take steps to be ready for that. We’ve had a great history with that team. Auburn has a solid defense that just schemes so well. It will be a great opportunity for our offense.”

The quarterbacks do have plenty of help.

Both offenses lean heavily on the running game. Auburn’s Ben Tate is the league’s No. 4 rusher and LSU’s Charles Scott is leading the way with a whopping 11.4-yard average and four touchdowns on 23 carries.

Auburn tailback Brad Lester is expected to play after sustaining a sprained neck in last week’s game. LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith will miss the game with a leg injury.

“I think that we’ll be very honest to recognize that that offense is very dangerous,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “They have running backs and a quarterback that can throw it and receivers. I think we’ll look forward to a very competitive game and be ready to play.”

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville can look at the statistics and the recent history of the series — last year’s 30-24 LSU victory notwithstanding — and predict a low-scoring game. Probably not 3-2, though.

“This is always a defensive battle,” Tuberville said. “Every year you see guys just give all they’ve got and somehow they get back up and go another play after two or three quarters. It’s what college football’s about.”

Auburn linebacker Chris Evans was already picturing the scene early in the week, including the team’s traditional walk to the stadium through a tunnel of fans.

“You see the crowd. You go through Tiger Walk,” Evans said. “You’re going to get up for it. If you don’t, you’re dead.”