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LSU 23, Auburn 20: Post-game Review

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Tigers hold on in a defensive slug-fest for yet another top-10 win in 2019.

Auburn v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Well, there’s winning left-handed, and there’s winning with no hands, I guess.

LSU ran 88 plays for 508 yards with 30 first downs, but managed to score just 23 points. It was enough to hold off Auburn, but it damn sure wasn’t pretty. A testament to the power of turnovers — LSU muffed a punt, threw and interception and failed to pick up two fourth downs. Auburn had just 287 yards at 4.2 per play, but ultimately couldn’t take advantage of those miscues. As Poseur always says, yardage advantages need to translate to points or bad things happen.

But the Tiger defense rose up in the second half, forcing four straight three-and-outs and ultimately holding on to preserve the win.

It was LSU’s ugliest win of the season by far, but still one that could’ve easily been more definitive save for just a couple of mistakes. Just a play here or there could’ve completely changed the complexion of this game. But that’s the power of turnovers and red-zone mistakes, and what the margin for error can be in games like this. Auburn Jesus got warmed up late, but the Tigers found a way to cut that mojo off.

The Tigers are 8-0 for just the fifth time in program history, and staring down the barrel of another top-five match-up with Alabama in two weeks. But for now, let’s still talk about something fun.

  • For starters, yours truly didn’t make it to his seats until LSU’s first possession thanks to an insanely long, and slow-moving line at the stadium gate. Despite making it to our gate before 2 p.m. Official word from LSU indicates that they’re aware of the problem. But then why aren’t they accounting for it? Judging from reports, this was not unique to my gate, either.
  • Auburn came out with their classic tempo early on, but, in something we’ll discuss, they just really struggle to move the ball with any regularity through the air. Although credit to Bo Nix — his first third-down pass looks like it’s about to be jumped by Kristian Fulton, only the ball’s located high and outside where he can’t get to it. Incomplete, but could’ve been worse.
  • Likewise, on defense, the Other Tigers come out with a 3-1-7 defensive alignment that they used for the bulk of the game. That shows insane confidence by Kevin Steele, both in his defensive line to control the line of scrimmage, and his defensive backs’ ability to rally to the ball. Allowed Auburn to really congest a lot of passing lanes.
  • Burrow doesn’t miss slants very often, but a defensive lineman gets an arm up and grazes the ball to put it just behind JaMarr Chase on an open one on third and short, forcing a rare three-and-out for LSU on the first possession.
  • Really saw Auburn’s defensive line show out early on in this. Derrick Brown gave Damien Lewis some real hell. He chucked Lewis back so hard he bumped into Burrow and knocked him down near the endzone. A few plays later he blew up a short-yardage run as well.
  • On the big shot on Burrow’s scramble down the sideline, I actually thought it was a clean play. One defender had Burrow’s ankles in his grasp, and so the hit up high looked a lot worse, but the defender led with his shoulder and contacted Burrow’s shoulder.
  • Auburn was able to chip away for that field goal, but finally in the second quarter LSU gets on track. To no surprise, the drive featured three huge completions to Chase, who was just big-boying Auburn DBs. Particularly on the back-shoulder throw down the sideline. Burrow puts the ball on time for Chase to get back to it, but it’s a little inside. Chase just rips the ball out of the air before the DB can even really get a hand close.
  • The game’s first touchdown to Terrace Marshall is a great example of the virtue of being aggressive on first down:

  • Burrow has a much easier completion to Thaddeus Moss on a shallow crosser that probably picks up a good 15 yards. But he recognizes the one-on-one outside, sees that the inside help is occupied, and lobs a great “our ball/no ball” throw to the back pylon. Either Marshall is getting to that or nobody is. And Marshall does his thing beautifully. That’s smart aggression.
  • We’ve talked a lot about LSU’s offense responding in big moments this year — how about the defense following up the touchdown with a three-and-out?
  • Interesting offensive wrinkle that went nowhere on LSU’s next drive: Racey McMath lined up at tailback running a wheel route. Although Auburn covered it well and Burrow was forced to scramble.
  • Game management from officials is crucial: Tyrion Davis-Price makes a nice catch and run down the sideline. He takes a big hit and the Auburn defender stands over to taunt; TDP jumps back up in his face, and draws the response flag. This marks the second time an Auburn player had initiated extra-curriculars and LSU was flagged for the response. And I know “second guy gets the flag” is the old saying but it’s not supposed to be a literal enforcement point. Davis-Price will learn from that mistake, but will the officials?
  • I love the call to go for it on fourth-and-one, and I generally prefer the sneak as the play. But Auburn gets low and torpedoes the LSU interior. Burrow can’t really get his feet moving to surge. I would note that LSU’s going to need a little variety in these situations. Under-center isn’t a curse word to me.
  • Derek Stingley Jr. has had a tendency to catch punts away from his body all year, and I have to admit I’ve kind of been waiting for him to make a mistake on one. This one could’ve been a killer. Was his knee clearly down? No, and I’m fine with the referees refusing to overturn it. But it was about as clear as Kellen Mond’s knee a year ago.
  • On Auburn’s touchdown, LSU gets a similarly good push on the fourth down QB sneak. But if you let a pile like that go long enough without a whistle, the offensive players will eventually pull the guy over. And it makes even less sense when you look at the quick whistle on the Clyde Edwards-Helaire run in the second half.
  • In general, the new Bush Push rule worries me. It feels like only a matter of time until somebody gets their leg pinned in a pile like that and suffers a gruesome injury.
  • But what does LSU respond with? A 10-play drive of their own. Auburn’s pass defense finally congests things too much in close. Orgeron considers going for it, but takes the points and ties things up. It’s one thing to eschew the kick in that no-mans land around the 25 or 30. It’s also one thing to go for it against a defense that doesn’t have Auburn’s line.
  • Auburn has a clever call with the sprint draw, and catches LSU asleep at the wheel for a big gain with very little time on the clock. But luckily, Stingley makes up for his earlier gaff, and does a pro job of tracking the ball in the air and high-pointing it over Seth Williams. An all-pro job, if I’m honest. The kind of play that makes you want to use him on offense. Although it helped that the ball was a little too far for Williams.
  • Gus with the petty timeout at the end of the half. Now I don’t feel so bad about some of the bad things I’ll say later.
  • I won’t lie — when LSU punted after five plays to open the third, my dander got up a bit, because that was a prime opportunity to really grab some momentum. Especially with Burrow missing two straight throws before the punt. Although if an Auburn defender doesn’t get hand on the ball on an angle route to Edwards-Helaire, he probably runs a very long way.
  • Of course, it doesn’t help when Auburn rips off a huge run on their first play:

  • Auburn runs a basic zone RPO, and with an eight-man box, one guy is out of place and there’s a huge lane. JaCoby Stevens gets pulled to the field by Nix’s passing action, and with him out of his gap there’s nobody for D.J. Williams to get through and he’s off. Thankfully, Grant Delpit makes an all-timer of a hustle play to get a hand on his ankle barely, and Williams steps out of bounds. He might’ve actually made it had he not kept angling to the sidelines.
  • But I hope Auburn enjoyed that run, because it was literally the Other Tigers’ only successful play in the third quarter. They finished with an EIGHT percent rate for the third period.
  • Great job by the Tiger defense to hold on the ensuing play after the 70-yarder. Tyler Shelvin and Glenn Logan gum up the right side of Auburn’s line and Michael Divinity crashes down from the back side to make the tackle. It helped that Malzahn immediately pulled Nix for Joey Gatewood and ran an obvious power-read that set up a third-and-six, and ultimately led to a field goal. Which had to really suck some air out of the visiting sideline.
  • LSU’s offense looked poised to respond as they usually do. Burrow tosses a beautiful deep ball to Chase down the sideline for 45 yards. But Edwards-Helaire gets robbed of a touchdown by a whistle that was certainly a lot faster than Nix’s QB sneak.
  • This is where I think being in the gun on so many third-and-short plays gets a bit frustrating. That said, LSU has been successful enough running the ball that I get it. On third-and-short, Austin Deculus gets ole-d a bit by a linebacker, and Moss can’t quite turn his man out to create the hole.
  • Likewise, I get the idea of the fourth-down tunnel screen. You bet on your guy to make the play, but Auburn had numbers. This is where you want to have some checks out of that look if the defense has numbers to the play side.
  • Burrow’s aggressiveness catches up to him on the next possession with the interception. First and 10, LSU has three vertical routes with Chase alone to one side, but Auburn is playing quarters. With the safety help, Auburn has Chase effectively bracketed. Burrow could’ve laid up to Moss or Davis-Price on checkdowns, but he decided to take his shot and Roger McCreary had the inside position to haul down the pass. If he goes back pylon with it, maybe Chase could’ve gotten to it, but back shoulder has been his MO. Live by the sword, etc...
  • Oddly enough, it was when Auburn added another defensive lineman to it’s front that LSU found its best rushing success. Edwards-Helaire just puts the offense on its back on four straight runs for a 45-yard scoring drive. Twenty-two on the first play: Auburn’s line slants, but with the zone run Edwards-Helaire just cuts against the grain and has a huge lane.
  • Three of those four runs? Right behind Moss.
  • I’m inclined to give Cade York a break on the extra point because of the bad hold. Kid just needs to keep kicking though.
  • Love the design of this QB Draw-RPO on Burrow’s next touchdown:

  • LSU’s running a stick concept to the top of the formation, and Burrow’s reading the Mike to see if he bails with inside route. He doesn’t, but he gets deep as a safety, so Burrow takes off.
  • Complete joke of a defensive pass interference penalty on Auburn’s next first down. Stingley and Seth Williams hand fought all game, and got tangled up. But Stingley got a hand on the ball anyway.
  • Luckily it followed up with one of the worst bad snaps in history. (PODKATT - BALL DON’T LIE)
  • Here’s where LSU got run heavier than people liked — I’ll admit I thought so at the time as well. But with some hindsight, and a rewatch, it makes a little more sense, as I’ll explain.
  • For starters, LSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter started inside its own 10, and on first down Edwards-Helaire rips off 26 yards. Although a huge stop by Kenny Britt stones him on third-and-two at the 40.
  • The next drive went three and out, but featured a pair of passes that were both dropped by Chase (one was low and away but he still got his hands on it fairly well).
  • The drive after that started on LSU’s own four-yard line, with 4:26 left to go and a 10-point lead. Could they have maybe been a little more creative to try and create some space for Edwards-Helaire? Sure. Is that a forgivable spot to try and eat as much clock as possible and play to avoid any mistake that might give an opponent life? Yes. Especially when that opponent had been doing next to nothing for more than a quarter now.
  • I would also add that this was the kind of defense LSU was looking at for much of the game:
  • That’a lot of defensive backs trying to make tackles instead of linebackers.
  • This referee crew was noteworthily incompetent. Auburn fans are upset, despite LSU having a season-high (by nearly 35 percent) 12 penalties for 118 yards. There were the issues with blowing plays dead — which came up again later on a third-down pass play, and was still incorrectly ruled on replay. There was also this beauty:

  • Is that ball thrown backwards? I’ll concede for argument’s sake that from this angle it might not be totally clear. But for it to not be reviewed is an unacceptable failure.
  • And of course, there was another joke of a DPI call on a deep throw to Williams on Auburn’s final scoring drive. One play after he skated on a very clear push off. Either let guys play or don’t.
  • Rough day for a special teams unit that’s been top-10 in SP+ for most of the year. Give some credit to Auburn’s Arryn Siposs for controlling the punting game, but you had the Stingley muff, in addition to several crucial penalties. And for the third time LSU’s seen an onside kick, they saw a damn near perfect bounce. Stephen Sullivan catches it, but in a prone spot for the Auburn rush to knock it loose. That’s more just luck of the draw — it was kind of bang-bang even for Sullivan to get down. Luckily, Derrick Dillon was on the spot.
  • Because it came up quite a bit, here’s a thought on faking injuries:

  • Is Big Kat Bryant taking a dive here? Probably. I think that’s a safe assumption. But it’s still just an assumption on our part — and booing an injured player based on an assumption is just not something people should be in the practice of doing. For one, it’s not really that big of a deal. LSU scored shortly thereafter. If an injury timeout ruins an offensive drive, that’s on the offense. For another, just don’t boo injuries. Your momma taught you better. Don’t be tacky.
  • Coming into this game, I had a lot of skepticism about the limits of Auburn’s passing game, but seeing it live really drove it home. Their drop-back game is near non-existent, and without some sort of misdirection or screen — using crack-blocks to get players into the flat, or just having Anthony Schwartz run across the field while the front-side players block to create room — they really don’t make use of a solid receiving corps. And that’s when they keep receivers on the field; fullback/tight ends John Samuel Shenker, Spencer Nigh and Jay Jay Wilson spend a lot of time out wide, where they don’t add much value. Nix has some talent, but I’m not sure what his ceiling will ever be in this offense.

And now we sit two thirds of the way through this season, 8-0, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, with THREE wins over top-10 opponents. Ed Orgeron has done one hell of a job this year, and is bringing in talent that will continue to set this program up for future success. Enjoy this ride, because it doesn’t last long. And we’re about to hit the rockiest part of it.