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LSU 27, Auburn 23: Post-Game Review

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Breaking down the signature win of the 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Around the end of the first quarter of this game, when Auburn had a 17 point lead and appeared well on its way to a blowout victory, I thought aloud that if “you are what your record says you are,” then this LSU team is one that folds in the face of adversity.

Boy, howdy, was I wrong — and proud to be so. The Tigers responded with a touchdown soon after that, and continued to chip away until things broke loose in the fourth quarter.

The biggest comeback in an SEC game in nearly 70 years. A signature win for the 2017 Tigers, and, depending on what happens over these final five games, a building block for a program. The win over Florida got this team to the surface for air. This win gets them on a boat. Now, we see where it all goes.

So let’s see how the Tigers pulled this off.

Box Score:

Holy two halves Batman! Almost everything about this game turned at the intermission:

  • In the first half, Auburn averaged 7.6 yards per play. In the second, that number dropped nearly 75 percent, to just two yards.
  • Jarrett Stidham opened the game five-of-seven for 119 yards in the first quarter. He finished 9-of-26 for 165 yards, so that means he was 4-for-19 over the final three quarters, for just 46 yards. He completed just two passes in 13 attempts in the second half.
  • LSU gained nearly 20 yards in average field position, from its own 23 to the 42-yard line in the second half. While Auburn lost eight yards, dropping from its own 27th to its own 19.
  • LSU’s punters pinned three down inside the 20. In addition to his running and catching heroics in this game, Russell Gage downed LSU’s last punt inside the five, and also had two tackles on special teams.
  • If you would have told me LSU would lose the turnover battle in this game, I just would have assumed blowout. Even at just -1.

Film Study:

  • Devin White, obviously, is the best player on LSU’s defense right now, but when he’s not doing big things, or not on the field, hooo is it noticeable. Saw it in the first half, particularly when Kerryon Johnson had his success. White read the wrong gap on Johnson’s first big run, which of course was aided by a very foolish penalty by Greedy Williams.
  • Still, the defense holds the Other Tigers to a field goal, and LSU seems to get something going with a big pass play from Danny Etling to D.J. Chark, and then POOF. Fumble. It’s tough to say that Chark had truly completed the catch, but it was very narrow. Another tackle by Gage kept Auburn from getting too much of a return.
  • Two plays later, Stidham drops back off play-action, Will Hastings runs a really nice double-move route right by Grant Delpit and it’s an easy touchdown. 10-0, and hoooo might this be a long, hot afternoon.
  • LSU’s offense does manage to get a first down and start stringing a few plays together on the next drive, but another blown assignment in short-yardage allows AU to stuff Guice. Saahdiq Charles is uncovered on an inside zone play, and looks outside rather than in and Auburn’s Nick Coe just comes right in and barrels into No. 5.
  • Fantastic play-call by Gus Malzahn (or Chip Lindsey, whatever) on Auburn’s next possession to set up their second touchdown. Auburn spreads the field and motions a running back out of the backfield, and LSU’s Tyler Taylor follows him. Tigers still send pressure, but Auburn runs a tunnel screen and has a huge blocking advantage for 52 yards. Perfect call for what Dave Aranda was sending.
  • Might have wanted to come back to that play later. Maybe.
  • On the next possession, LSU keeps things basic and doesn’t panic. Fake the jet with the inside zone, then come right back to the jet, only with a little back-and-forth motion that makes the safety hesitate just a hair. Foster Moreau pulls out in front and gets a seal, Gage runs right by the linebackers and breaks the big play, only getting tackled when he had to slow down to try and cut around the deep safety.
  • Auburn’s defensive line shows how they got their reputation a few plays later on the goal line. This was a tough spot, because LSU really needed to get the touchdown after that big play, but Canada came back with another smart jet sweep call to Stephen Sullivan. J.D. Moore and Tory Carter don’t quite hit their blocks, but Sullivan has just enough speed to get around one defender, and enough size and length to get over the goal line through a tackle.
  • This was a desperation moment in this game, but the Tigers came through and you could kind of see the wave of relief break on the sideline a bit. And the momentum built slowly on the ensuing possession, forcing a three-and-out with Kevin Toliver JUST MISSING an interception.
  • Offense can’t take advantage, and Auburn is able to drive for another field goal — although again, the LSU defensive backfield nearly came through, as Williams batted away a potential touchdown that could’ve maybe been picked if the throw was a bit lower.
  • Huge two-minute drill by Danny Etling, even if it wasn’t always perfect. First, he snaps off a curl route to Chark. Cornerback goes for the ball and No. 7 gets a nice run after the catch for 37 yards. On the next play, Auburn is able to confuse Etling on the coverage a little, and he panics but is still able to ad-lib a little toss to Moreau for a solid gain.
  • Two plays later, Etling reads blitz and fires a nice slant to Gage. When he got what he expected, Etling generally processed things well, but credit Steele for mixing things a bit. You could generally tell because Etling would look freaked out almost by the back step of his drop.
  • Gage’s beautiful touchdown catch was flag concept where the far inside man in a trips formation runs a corner over a pair of in-breaking routes. Auburn brings a rush here, and Etling probably could have gunned the first in to Chark, but with man coverage he took his shot. High, outside, “our ball/no ball.” Either the receiver can run to it, or it hits the turf. Same mentality on his big third-down play to Chark in the fourth quarter, also on a corner route. Gage makes a majestic catch.
  • What’s funny about this second half, in hindsight, is that LSU really was able to set the tone on the first possession. The offense stalled out at midfield, but they were able to string 10 plays together before the punt, including a third-and-11 conversion pass to Chark, and a couple of tough inside runs for Guice. It wasn’t much, but it allowed LSU to flip the field. And Auburn immediately began their steady diet of run-run-pass-punt on the ensuing possession. The only thing that stopped it from going three-and-out was a very foolish roughing penalty from Arden Key.
  • A note on Auburn’s play-calling in the second half: the Other Tigers did not throw a first-down pass until the first play of their second-to-last possession.
  • And then things finally break LSU’s way with a 75-yard punt return by Chark. Aidan Marshall really hits it, and Chark has to back up a few yards right before the catch, which probably gave him the room he needs. Greedy Williams barely grazes one defender in the back, after Chark had already taken off away from him, and then Todd Harris makes the block that allows Chark to get in a lane behind Jacoby Stevens. Lanard Fournette cuts off some pursuit from behind, and Jonathan Rucker gets a seal that allows Chark to follow Stevens to the sideline. Stevens takes out the only man with the angle (and cuts off another in pursuit in the process) and No. 7 just turns on the jets for the touchdown.
  • In the stadium, the difference in energy between LSU’s sideline and Auburn’s at this moment was palpable. Re-watching it on TV, there might as well have been a huge neon “LEMONBOOTY” sign over the orange and blue bench.
  • Still, Auburn strings a few plays together — White barely sniffs out a very well-timed end-around, and prevents a big play. But Donnie Alexander meets Johnson in the hole and wins to force a fourth down at midfield. I have to say, I was absolutely stunned that Malzahn didn’t go for this. Granted, pinning LSU deep makes some sense given what we’d seen on offense, but still — his team needed life and has been aces in short-yardage all year. Completely flabbergasting from an Auburn perspective.
  • The ensuing drive didn’t get LSU the lead, but it did flip the field again, despite one of the more atrocious calls I’ve seen this season — which is saying something. Etling drops back off play-action. Sullivan releases deep and is bodied off his attempt to break to the sideline by two Auburn defenders, 10 yards down the field, some moron in a striped shirt decides that since there was no receiver near Etling’s pass, it was intentional grounding. THERE WAS NOBODY NEAR THE PASS BECAUSE TWO DEFENDERS WERE BLOCKING A RECEIVER IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROUTE. The SEC head of officials should apologize for this mistake, and the referee in question should be disciplined.
  • Great punt, great punt coverage, and Auburn has to come out of their endzone with a quarterback who looked like he’d just been told that his beloved family pet had died.
  • On the first play, White slices in to redirect Johnson, which allows Key to tackle him behind the line. It’s probably a good sign for Key’s health and conditioning that LSU is starting to move him around a bit, including playing him inside in some obvious passing situations. Sold six-tackle day for him too, including the game-clinching sack.
  • LSU’s offensive line has its issues, but we’re starting to see a bit of a mean streak from Charles, Ed Ingram and Adrian Magee.
  • Once the offense is in range, Orgeron hesitates on fourth-and-short, and understandably so. But with the ball relatively lined up straight on, Connor Culp had previously nailed a 45-yarder, so he decides to give the freshman his shot, and it pays off.
  • Y’all know how the rest went. LSU’s defensive backs, particularly Donte Jackson and Eric Monroe, stuck to the Auburn receivers like glue and Aranda turned things loose. We still had to sweat out one final possession, but by then the entire visiting sideline looked like they didn’t even remember who Auburn Jesus WAS. Donte Jackson helps break-up two of Stidham’s final eight passes, plus the dropped pick that he would have easily taken in for six. On the whole Jackson, Monroe and Kevin Toliver combined to break up seven passes in man-to-man coverage, with Stidham going 0-for-11 against those three Tiger defenders. Next up, Shea Patterson and Ole Miss’ high-octane passing game.

Now we see the inverse of the challenge of two weeks ago for Coach O and the rest of this staff: flushing a huge win and going on the road as a favorite. The early lines have LSU as a 7.5-point favorite next week at Ole Miss — a team that has had its own ups and downs this year on top of a host of other background issues, but one that has more than enough firepower to give the Tigers hell. They’ve done it before with even less, against a more talented Tiger squad.

It’s never boring.