DJ Chark made a mistake in the first minutes of the game, and then spent the rest of the day trying to make up for it.
Early on, it looked like this one was going to get out of control. Auburn scored the first 20 points of the game, and it seemed like LSU was following the usual formula: one bad play early in the game puts LSU in a bind, the team fails to react and somehow makes it worse, and the death spiral was on.
This week’s culprit was DJ Chark. LSU’s defense actually played pretty well on the opening drive minus one play (though that one bad play was a doozy, made worse by a late hit). Down 3-0 in the early going, Danny Etling connected with DJ Chark for 39 yard pass play on an underthrown ball. Then, as he was going down, Chark fumbled the football.
Two plays and 64 yards later, Auburn was in the end zone.
However, part of the early hole was not entirely on effort, it was on execution. Auburn spent most of the first half picking on Grant Delpit to great success. Auburn gashed LSU on the ground, as Kerryon Johnson crossed the century mark in the first half, en route to a 156-yard day.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the blowout. LSU got back off the mat and made this one a game. Russell Gage broke off a 70-yard run on the jet sweep, getting LSU in the red zone. The goal line offense sputtered and gasped, but aided by an offside call leading to five shots at the end zone, LSU finally found its way in on a jet sweep to Stephen Sullivan.
LSU further put pressure on Auburn by driving down the field, keyed by a big DJ Chark run after the catch, as the first half expired. With under a minute on the clock, Danny Etling found Russell Gage in the corner of the end zone, where Gage made a diving catch.
Suddenly, the blowout was a nine-point game going into the half. LSU found itself, on both sides of the ball. The third quarter, neither team could quite find a heavy blow. Both offenses drove the field on occasion, but neither could put points on the board. LSU went into the fourth with a legitimate chance to pull off the upset.
And on the second play of the fourth quarter, DJ Chark blew the roof of the joint. He fielded a punt on his own 25, made the first guy miss, and then took it to the house. This wasn’t just a game LSU could keep close, this is one they could win. The crowd went nuts and the 2007 team on the sidelines did as well.
The pressure was now entirely on the Auburn sideline. Auburn converted a few first downs, but then failed to convert a third and short at midfield. That’s when Gus blinked. He confidently sent out the punting unit, who responded by shanking a punt to just the 25. It was a gutless call, and the football gods immediately punished him. The questioned remained: could LSU punish him, too?
It came down to a decision point for Ed Orgeron. This time, LSU was just short on a critical 3rd down, and he had 4th and inches. LSU could either attempt a 42-yard field goal with a freshman kicker or try and get inches behind an interior line that had been getting killed all season. He didn’t trust his kicker, nor did he trust his line, but he had to choose someone.
He chose wisely, and Connor Culp delivered a 42 yarder straight down the middle to give LSU a one-point lead. Still, because this is LSU-Auburn, the game was not over. We still needed a defensive stand.
Mission accomplished. However, again, the game wasn’t over, as there was a ton of clock yet, so LSU had to run out the clock. And LSU could not get that first down. So LSU kicked another field goal and asked the defense to make a stand again, this time with the comfort that only a touchdown would lose this game.
The defense came through. The offense came through. The kicker came through. The fans came through. Ed Orgeron came through. Mike the friggin’ Tiger came through.
This was everything an LSU-Auburn should be. It was nerve-wracking, insane, and glorious. And it ended with an LSU win. What a damn strong win by a damn strong football team.