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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz has studied Auburn's game film from both this season and last, and comes away far more impressed with the 2014 version of the Tigers.
"We have watched a lot of film from 2013 and I do not think it is close how much better they are this year than what they were a year ago," Holtz said. "It is scary to think that a year ago they competed for the national championship and yet they are a lot better than they were a year ago."
That's high praise indeed, considering the fifth-ranked Tigers (3-0) are defending Southeastern Conference champions.
Holtz's Bulldogs (2-2) enter Saturday's game with Auburn as 32.5-point underdogs. It's a potential milestone game for Auburn, which is seeking Win No. 300 at Jordan-Hare Stadium and has won 24 consecutive nonconference home games.
A challenge for the Tigers will be avoiding looking ahead to the six consecutive ranked SEC opponents lined up after this game. Coach Gus Malzahn has tried to keep his player's attention on the present.
"Coach says to never overlook any opponent," Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones said. "You get ready for them the same way you get ready for LSU or Georgia. You come in and practice on Tuesday and Wednesdays and get to it. We practice the same way every week."
The Bulldogs become the first team to play two opponents ranked in the Top 5 this season. They opened with a 48-16 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma.
Here are some things to watch for in the Louisiana Tech-Auburn game:
OFFENSIVE EXECUTION: Malzahn wasn't pleased with Auburn's offensive execution against Kansas State, when the Tigers produced the fewest yards of his first 17 games (359). "We're not too far away, so I don't want you to think that we're trying to reinvent the wheel," the coach said. "It's just a matter of us getting better at what we do and being perfect."Holtz said missing basic reads meant quarterback Cody Sokol had his worst game of the season in a loss to Northwestern State. Sokol was intercepted three times.
SEEING RED: Both teams are among the 20 nationally who have scored on every trip into the red zone, or the opponents' 20-yard line. Auburn has 11 touchdowns and three field goals in that situation while opposing offenses have failed to get points on four of 11 trips. Louisiana Tech's offense is 11 for 11 with nine touchdowns; opponents, however, are 16 of 17 with 14 TDs.
RUNNERS: Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne and Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon are both averaging 100-plus rushing yards per game. Artis-Payne has run for 352 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Dixon has gained 404 yards with five TDs in four games but faces a defense ranked 11th against the run.
FACING DIAZ: Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has had some success against Malzahn's offense. Diaz's Mississippi State defense held Auburn to 17 points and 348 total yards during the Tigers' 2010 national championship season while containing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. "They made it very tough on us," Malzahn said. "We had to earn it, and we were fortunate to win that night."
REBOUNDING: The Bulldogs are trying to regroup after losing to Northwestern State on a 47-yard, last-play field goal. Louisiana Tech committed five turnovers. "You do not have long to wallow in self-pity," Holtz said. "You have 24 hours to enjoy a win and 24 hours to mourn a loss. That one is over and you have to get ready for Auburn."
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