While I am an unabashed fan of the box score, I will admit there are times it fails to truly capture a game. We can record every snap, measure every yard gain, track every detail and change of field position, but we cannot capture the emotion on the sideline or even the noise from the crowd. We cannot adequately measure a team’s heart.
Yet, somehow, it still comes shining through. LSU was down 20-0 and pretty much left for dead. What we’re left with is a bipolar box score, one showing a tale of two games: one, in which Auburn dominated LSU and staked itself to a huge lead, and the second half in which they slowly but surely blew that lead.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in half-by-half stats, but they do tell the story so effectively. Games are 60 minutes, so I’m not a big fan of component stats like this, but this game is a special case due to the extreme nature of the run of play. To be honest, it’s even more jarring to look at the first quarter stats.
5-7-119. Jarrett Stidham’s first quarter passing numbers. Out of the gate, Auburn’s passing game destroyed LSU’s defense. Auburn receivers were making incredible catches, and Stidham was picking apart the defense with relative ease. However, once his receivers stopped making diving catches and brilliant fingertip grabs, the passing game fell apart. Stidham would pass for 2-6-40 in the second quarter, and then collapse entirely in the second half, throwing for 2-13 for 6 yards. That’s right, six yards. No player more symbolized Auburn’s afternoon than Stidham.
11. LSU’s pass breakups. To be fair to Stidham, it’s not like he simply collapsed. LSU defensive backs notched 11 PBU’s, which is a crazy high number. Auburn, by contrast, finished the game with 1. Six teams in the SEC don’t have 11 PBU’s in SEC play yet on the season. It’s a massive amount, and the difference between Stidham going 9 of 26 in a frustrating loss and 20 of 26 in a convincing win.
19-188. Auburn’s plays-yards in the first quarter. Auburn would finish the game with 354 yards of total offense, so just over half of the team’s offensive output took place in the first 15 minutes of the game. Auburn was at 290 yards at the half, so Auburn gained just 64 yards in the second half, which is less than LSU gained in the disastrous first quarter. LSU had 67 yards in the first quarter, which isn’t a huge red flag, but they were able to improve the pace and finish with 363 yards. LSU withstood a massive first quarter storm and won the game from that point forward.
21-123. Kerryon Johnson’s halftime rushing stats. The one thing that didn’t slow down right away in the second quarter for Auburn was Kerryon Johnson. Auburn rushed for 62 yards in the second quarter alone. And then in the second half, Gus Malzahn forgot Johnson existed. He had just 10 carries for 42 yards in the second half. Those are pretty decent numbers, though not spectacular. But he was Auburn’s best offensive weapon and he never totally lost effectiveness. He saw his touches decline and Gus punted on fourth and one, rather than rely on maybe the best player on the field.
233. Before I anoint Johnson as the best player on the field, let’s let DJ Chark have a word. He had 233 yards of all-purpose yardage, including a 75-yard punt return for a TD. He caught 5 balls for 150 yards and was a general all-around bad ass all game long. Big players step up in big games. Chark stepped up.
3-3. Both teams, technically, went 3 of 3 in the red zone. But not all red zone conversions are the same. Twice, Auburn got inside the 20 and settled for a field goal, while LSU only did so once. When you get the chance, you have to score touchdowns. Auburn had a chance to put this one away in the second quarter, but failed on a series with goal to go, settling for three points. Those three points were the difference.
15-2.0. Devin White finished the game with 15 tackles, 2 TFL’s, and 1 sack. He was everywhere, and he kept making big tackle after big tackle. One of his biggest plays wasn’t even a tackle, but a quarterback hurry. In a season in which a lot of players have struggled, the one constant has been White’s excellence.
9. Auburn’s losing streak in Tiger Stadium. Hope you enjoyed those cigars, Tigers. Because they were almost two decades ago.