clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Greatest Games from Every Season: 2017

New, 25 comments

Don’t call it a comeback.

Auburn v LSU Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

1970
1980
1988
1992
1995
2001
2008

The LSU/Auburn rivalry is strange. Starting in 1902, it may surprise you to learn the teams have played only 52 times in history. Compare that to 106 times vs. Ole Miss and even 82 vs. Alabama. This is even more amazing when you consider that in the 60 seasons this series covers, LSU & Auburn played only 34 times. 8 out of those 34 seasons did we determine it was the best game of the year, and that doesn’t even include when Auburn’s barn burned down, the 2007 thriller, or that time Leonard Fournette struck down with great vengeance and furious anger upon them. Perhaps the universe knows that it could only sustain 34 LSU/Auburn matchups in six decades. Perhaps we’re heading for a fiery conclusion by opting to make this an every year commitment. At least we’ll go out having a good time.

The only guarantee when it comes to LSU/Auburn is chaos.

Greatest Game from 2017: Auburn

Every season tells its own story. And every season also becomes a chapter in a larger story. How 2017 is remembered will be heavily reliant on how the rest of the Orgeron tenure plays out in Baton Rouge. If he finds success, delivers a national championship and retires a hero, people will point to this Auburn game as the moment things began to fall in place for him. If he stumbles to mediocrity or worse, people will say this Auburn game was a blip in a season that was otherwise a failure.

As a chapter, it’s important to never gloss over the details. The specifics are what makes a story unique and interesting. It’s the Troy loss that will forever color the rest of the 2017 picture. The loss marked a type of failure not seen in Baton Rouge since the early days of Saban. It marked the end of a home winning streak. It seemingly marked Orgeron, permanently, as a great second-hand man, but shouldn’t be your head coach. If the chapter closed there, it would be a fair conclusion.

But it didn’t. After losing to Troy, believe it or not, LSU picked up the pieces on went on the road to play Florida. In 20 years the significance may be lost. It was a bad Florida team. They fired their coach. But a lot hung on that game, dating back to the weather re-scheduling debacle from 2016, the fired head coach’s caustic statements, and the SEC’s willingness to bend over backward to accommodate a school being a completely unwilling partner in Florida. You can’t talk about 2017 LSU/Florida and thus 2017 LSU without talking about that.

And so, LSU did the thing. It was ugly and agonizing. It was, at times, unwatchable. But the team, coming off a devastating loss, hunkered down, got focused and won a game on the road against a then top 25 opponent. It gave reason for optimism, even if a guarded version. It at least meant LSU’s season wasn’t about to tailspin out of control. At least not yet.

That next week they returned home to welcome in Top 10 Auburn. Don’t easily forget that this team, by their own failures, put themselves into a vulnerable position. There was but little reason to hope. Sure, the game was in Tiger Stadium, but was the mystique gone? After all, Troy of all teams were able to come in and win there.

It didn’t take long to re-confirm the narrative. Auburn drove half the distance of the field on their opening possession, before settling for a FG. No worries, they quickly stopped LSU and then scored a TD two plays later. After knocking LSU off the field again, they decided to take their time this time, 4:46 exactly, before scoring for a third time in the opening quarter. With 3:30 left on the clock in the 1st quarter Auburn lead 17-0. Ed Orgeron and the mystique of Tiger Stadium were dead.

LSU, not feeling particularly inclined to do much about it, petered around on another three and out and punted it away. Auburn kept the foot on the gas, though their acceleration took a hit. This time it took 11 plays to go just 46 yards, but it still wound up with points. In the early 2nd Auburn held a 20-point lead on an LSU team that lost to Troy in this same stadium just two weeks ago and were on the wrong side of a beatdown from Mississippi State just two weeks before that. Little else remained to be done but to spend the remaining game clock formulating a head coaching candidate’s big board. Maybe LSU could get ahead of this thing and go steal Chip Kelly back to the college game? Maybe Jimbo is ready this time? Maybe...

LSU got the ball back. Trying to find any rights, they handed to Derrius Guice. He busted free for 13 yards. It felt like 130. The offense lined up and gave it Russell Gage on an end around. Magic happened.

Gage busted wide and free for 70 yards, immediately stamping LSU into Auburn territory. The play gave the team and perhaps more importantly, the crowd, life. Underrated 2017 moment will forever be Gage shimmy-shaking the Auburn defender to dust at the end of the run.

LSU went back to the run game and finally got creative on a Stephen Sullivan end around for the touchdown. Finally, the bleeding stopped. A 13-point deficit in the 2nd quarter, at home, isn’t exactly ideal positioning, but it’s infinitely better than a 20-point deficit in the 2nd quarter, at home. Auburn took the ball back and for the first time all afternoon, the LSU defense stood up and held them to a three and out.

If you are like me, you remember the first touchdown being the tide that changed the game, but our memories are wrong. It temporarily halted the hemorrhaging, but even after LSU made a stop, they went three and out again. Auburn took the ball back, and put together a 10-play, 62-yard drive, which was stopped on the LSU 8, resulting in another FG. So the narrative that Auburn started fast, rolled up on LSU and rolled over doesn’t exactly fit the actual story. Auburn started fast, LSU finally showed some life and then Auburn came right back again with more. What may be more accurate is that Malzahn played conservatively by not opting to go for it on 4th down here. A TD may well have put LSU to sleep, permanently. Even if it failed, LSU, who showed little signs of life on offense, would be buried deep in their own territory with the realistic chance of giving Auburn the ball back in good field position. Instead, Malzahn took three points and then the game flipped.

LSU took the ball back with just 2:19 on the clock in the half and suddenly turned into the Greatest Show on Turf. Etling found Chark for a big 37-yard gain and then turned to Moreau for another 7. The drive went from unlikely to a scoring threat in a pair of plays. They stuck to the air. Etling scrambled for 4 yards and after throwing incomplete toward Gage, went back to him again for another 9 yards, pushing LSU into the RZ. A couple plays later, Etling found Gage again:

Gage’s theatrical catch shouldn’t be under appreciated. Etling laid out a perfect ball and Gage laid out to reel it in ahead of the defender. Suddenly, an extra point later, LSU trailed by just nine points. What looked like a rout now promised a shred of competitiveness. Auburn wouldn’t have time to do anything on the last drive of the half. Now LSU had proper opportunity to re-group from the early onslaught.

The Auburn narrative of this game is that Malzahn went completely gutless and tried to run the clock out. It’s a fine story, but not exactly one that checks out. LSU started with the ball in the 2nd half, but despite playing a pretty good game of keep away, didn’t do much and wound up punting away. Auburn then imitated the form, keeping the ball for a while without actually making much progress. But if you look at the drive chart, there were eight total plays and Stidham dropped back to pass on four of them. Not exactly “trying to sit on the lead.” In fact, their next drive played out similarly, albeit less successfully. In three plays, Stidham dropped back to pass twice.

The true story that develops is the ascension of the LSU defensive backs against the Auburn passing game. In the first half, Stidham proved viable, if not deadly. Now, suddenly, he couldn’t find an open inch. DBU came to play, locking up receivers and not giving Stidham windows to throw. LSU dialed up the pass rush as well, applying more pressure. Malzahn still spent the entire third quarter trying to make it work to no success. Add to that neither team found much success on offense the entire quarter and the score held. It was THEN that Malzahn turned to the running game, but this seems like a “I’m gonna sit on this lead” decision so much as “well the passing game isn’t there, so let’s try something else.”

On a 3rd and 5 to start the 4th quarter, Stidham threw another incomplete pass. Auburn lined up to punt again, still sitting on a 9-point lead. Aidan Marshall unleashed a nice punt. Over the action, Gary Danielson intones... “And we’ve seen some crazy things happen in these games... right up until the last second.”

This play will go down in history as the play that changed this game. LSU got away with a pair of blocks in the back. Yes, they should have been called. No, I don’t feel sorry for Auburn. Karma is a bitch. That’s what you get for being Auburn. After the blocks, Chark just put on the reminder: BTW, I’m still the fastest guy on this football field. LSU cut the lead to 2.

Auburn took the ball back and went to the running game. But after six plays and not much progress, they punted the ball away. LSU took the ball and tired to rely on Etling. But after seven plays and not much progress, they too punted the ball away. Auburn again took the ball back but the LSU defense found new life. The defense played beautifully the entire half, but this may be the coup de grâce. Forcing a three and out that looked like this:

  • 1 yard loss for Kerryon Johnson
  • Incomplete pass to Darius Slayton broken up by Eric Monroe
  • Delay of game penalty pushed them back halfway to the goal
  • Stidham scrambles for 4 yards after finding no open man

It would be Auburn’s shortest drive of the day.

LSU took the ball back, trailing by 2, with 6:40 remaining. They turned to the Derrius Guice show. Guice carried for a yard and then four more. He caught a pass on 3rd down and narrowly picked up the first as he went out of bounds. He carried for seven more before being stuffed at the Auburn 28 for no gain. LSU called a timeout. Out of the TO they lined up in the gun and ran a read option play. Etling kept and plowed forward, being stopped just shy of the 1st down. Connor Culp, LSU’s shaky kicker, came on. The clock ticked down. LSU called another TO before it expired. No pressure, kid.

And then, he calmly buried a 42-yard FG. For the first time LSU lead, 24-23.

Auburn took the ball back with 2:36 to play, but DBU continued to swarm. Stidham completed his first pass, but for zero yards, when Grant Delpit, who busted earlier in the game, crashed it hard. He stepped back again on 2nd down. Devin White came on a delayed blitz and crushed Stidham, who still threw a good pass, though Eric Monroe made a great play in coverage to break it up. On 3rd down, Stidham had Slayton on the sideline for what would have been 8, but he dropped the pass. On 4th and 10, Gus decides to go for it, after calling a timeout.

Stidham takes the snap and is well protected. He scans the field looking for open targets. The pocket holds up well as he continues to search and find nothing. Finally, pressure starts to break through, so Stidham scrambles to his right to buy more time. Still, LSU’s DBs are locked onto the receiving targets. Stidham fires one deep down field and Donte Jackson is there to break it up. LSU ball.

With 1:38 to go, the game should be over, but not without a little more drama. LSU turns to Guice again, this time hoping to kill clock and end the game. Auburn sat with a pair of timeouts in their pocket. Their defense were ready. Guice picked up four yards and then a couple more, putting LSU in a 3rd and 4 situation with still 1:29 on the clock. LSU went back to Guice again, but he was stuffed for no gain. LSU let the clock run, but now must convert on a FG to put the game safely away. At :42 Coach O called timeout. Culp took the field again and again coolly, calmly booted a 36-yarder to give LSU a 4-point lead.

Auburn would take over from their own 25 with just :38 remaining, needing a TD to win. On 1st down, Arden Key breaks free off the edge, flushing Stidham from the pocket, who scrambled up through the pocket to pick up a 1st down. The clock keepers failed to stop the clock so an additional six seconds run, thanks to some homecooking. Auburn quickly snaps the ball and Stidham throws incomplete. On 2nd down again, Aranda brought the heat and Stidham again throws incomplete, with an assist from Donte Jackson. On 3rd down a clearly rattled Stidham fired the ball into the waiting arms of Jackson, who subsequently dropped a surefire pick 6. On 4th down, a wild crowd exploding, Stidham dropped again, looking downfield. Arden Key breaks through with a nifty spin move/swim move combo and jumps onto Stidham’s back. The crowd erupts on top of their roar. The comeback is complete. Orgeron is resurrected. Tiger Stadium is not demystified.

Poll

What’s the Greatest Game of 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    The Comeback vs. Auburn
    (113 votes)
  • 3%
    Getting back at Florida
    (5 votes)
  • 5%
    Whooping A&M
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Dramatic Bowl Loss to Notre Dame
    (2 votes)
127 votes total Vote Now

The Contenders

W 17-16 @ #21 Florida
W 45-21 vs. Texas A&M
L 17-16 vs. Notre Dame

Your options are basically this game and Florida. I lean Auburn for the dramatics and quality of opponent, though the vindication of beating Florida will live on. There’s a ton of beat downs to choose from, but A&M felt the most fun? The bowl game kinda sucked and I still haven’t watched it, but hey it was close?