LSU rallies from 20 down to upset No. 10 Auburn
BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU and Auburn have had one of the quirkiest rivalries in the SEC for quite some time. Their games have come down to the last play and have even cost coaches their jobs.
The latest edition of the series definitely goes on the short list of most memorable, as LSU rallied from a 20 point first half deficit to defeat Auburn 27-23. It was the largest comback at Tiger Stadium since 1949, the Tigers’ biggest comeback in SEC play since 1979, and it could be the game that people on day point too as the true beginning of the Ed Orgeron era.
Funny thing was, Les Miles was at Tiger Stadium as part of the 2007 National Championship team, which was honored during the game.
This was one that the “Mad Hatter” himself couldn’t have written this drama any better.
“What a great win for our football team,” said Coach Ed Orgeron, now 1-4 in his career against Auburn. “We made some plays when we were supposed to, and in the second half I think our defense came alive.”
LSU held Auburn to 64 total yards in the second half, including just six through the air, and Devin White continued to play like and All-American, with 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Russell Gage made big plays as a runner and reciever, and DJ Chark set career highs in catches (5) and recieving yards (150) to spark the offense. Chark finished with 233 total yards, also a career-high.
“You’re down 20 to zero in the second quarter, and you can kind of feel the emotion of the stadium,” said LSU tight end Foster Moreau. “You think ‘Aww here it goes’ you know, ‘Here go the Tigers’.”
But to get to a great comeback, you have to start with an awful beginning.
10th-ranked Auburn got things started on the games opening drive. The Tigers went with a heavy dose of Kerryon Johnson early and often. The junior tailback picked up a 20-yard run to the LSU 48. A personal foul on Andraez “Greedy” Williams added 15 more yards for Auburn, putting them at the Tigers’ 33. LSU would hold, but Auburn was well within the range of Daniel Carlson who booted a 46 yarder to put AU up 3-0.
LSU tried to strike back with a deep pass to DJ Chark, but after a 39-yard catch, Chark was stripped by Stephen Roberts and the fumble was recovered by Carlton Davis at the Auburn 36.
On the next possession for Auburn, it was Jarrett Stidham connecting with Will Hastings for a big play for the Tigers. Hastings got behind the secondary and hauled in a 49-yard score. The extra point made it 10-0 and the game was still not four minutes old.
LSU was stymied again on its second possession, leading to a Zach Von Rosenberg punt that was downed at the Auburn 19.
Then Auburn let Johnson go to work. Playing both Wildcat quarterback and running back, he accounted for 51 of Auburn’s 81 yards on an eight play drive that ended with Johnson scoring from four yards out. Auburn led 17-0 after one quarter.
LSU was limited to just one first down and a total of 67 yards in the quarter. The front lines were dominated, with LSU rushing for 12 yards on seven carries and allowing Auburn to rack up 188 yards on just 19 plays.
Auburn continued its early dominance into the second quarter. On their next drive, the Tigers took it 46 yards (31 by Johnson) to put Carlson in position for a 48-yard field goal, extending the lead to 20-0.
The Bayou Bengals finally responded on the ensuing possession. LSU went 90 yards in six plays, capped by a touchdown sweep by wide reciever Stephen Sullivan. The key play on the drive was another run by a reciever. Russell Gage had a 70 yard carry that got the ball down to the Auburn seven yard line.
“It gave us a chance,” said Orgeron of the score. “It gave us a chance to come in at halftime and say ‘You know what? We’re not that far away.’ Our guys believed at halftime. We just knew we a couple of plays here and there.”
After exchanging punts on the next two possessions, Auburn went on a 10 play, 62 yard drive that ended in Carlson’s third field goal of the game. Johnson continued to carry the load, picking up 31 yards on the ground during the drive.
With 2:16 remaining in the opening half, and LSU trailing 23-7, the Tigers put together a beautiful drive. It started with a 37-yard completion to DJ Chark that put LSU in Auburn territory, and ended with Russell Gage laying out of a 14 yard touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone. Connor Culp’s extra point brought LSU within nine at 23-14 heading into halftime.
The LSU defense came out reinvigorated in the second half. In the third quarter the Tigers didn’t allow Auburn to get past its own 40 yard line. Kerryon Johnson was held to 17 yards in the third after rushing for 125 yards in the first half.
Unfortunately, LSU’s offense could not match the defense’s production; gaining just 67 yards on 18 plays. Danny Etling was 3-9 passing in the quarter.
So, with many of the players from the 2007 national champions looking on, LSU dug down deep for one more shot at major comeback at the place “where dreams go to die.”
DJ Chark began the season hesitant about assuming the role of punt returner. He’s had some good moments, but 27 seconds into the fourth quarter he had his biggest. Chark fielded an Aidan Marshall punt at his own 25. He reversed field, avoiding a couple of tacklers before getting outside and sprinting up the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. Tiger Stadium erupted as the extra point went through the uprights, bringing LSU within two points at 23-21.
“We’re a team that’ isn’t selfish at all,” said Chark, who is still without a recieving touchdown this season. “Whether I catch a recieving touchdown, punt return touchdown, it’s still points. It really doesn’t matter how we get it as long as we win.”
Chark said his punt return went exactly as planned by LSU’s coaches. “The coaches have a great scheme,” Chark said. “They said we’re gonna get to the left, and my guys came with a wall and blocked who they were supposed to block and we were able to get into the end zone.”
The Tigers’ defense continued to frustrate Auburn. The Tigers found no holes for their running game and Jarrett Stidham struggled to connect with his recievers. LSU kept shifting the field position of the game until Chark fielded a punt at the Auburn 45 yard line with 6:40 to play.
“This is why we came here,” said Devin White. “When our backs are against the wall, keep pressing forward.”
The drive started slowly, with Derrius Guice getting the ball on five straight plays, picking up 17 yards. The on fourth down from the Auburn 26, the entire stadium held its collective breath as Connor Culp walked out for a 42 yard field goal attempt. As it sailed true, the crowd exploded as LSU scored its 24th unanswered point. The Tigers led for the first time, 24-23.
The Tigers would tack on another field goal with 38 seconds remaining to push the lead to 27-23.
Auburn would have one last possession. Stidham picked up 11 yards on a scramble, but the clock continue to wind down. On fourth and 10 with seven seconds remaining, LSU ended it with a sack by Arden Key, his first of the season.
“He came alive,” said Orgeron of Key. “He’s down to about 250 now. Playing better. Practicing better. He’s the Arden Key we know.”
“I’m so excited for this football team,” Moreau added. “It’s just a family. You go up to the guy at the beginning of the game and you say ‘Play for me and I’ll play for you’, and he says it back. And then at the end of the game to have a freshman come up to you, a first down away from winning the game say ‘You play for me, I’ll play for you’; that’s just powerful stuff.”
“I thought the crowd was electric,” said Orgeron. “It was everything that you dream about in a great LSU football game.”
It was a tremendous comeback. One no one who was inside of Tiger Stadium will forget. There are so days and some teams that are magical. Saturday afternon, for just over a half, the LSU Tigers were magical. And it was something to see.
Now the Tigers go on the road to face Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC), coming off of a 57-35 win over Vanderbilt to stay perfect at home. There is no doubt that Orgeron would love to get his first win as an opposing coach at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…