Auburn Proves It Is a Legitimate Force in SEC Again in Loss to LSU

Justin Lee@@byjustinleeContributor ISeptember 22, 2013

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Nick Marshall #14 of the Auburn Tigers looks to throw a pass against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Down 21-0 in Death Valley in the pouring rain, Auburn could have quit.

Gus Malzahn's young Tigers were clearly outmanned, outgunned and mismatched against the No. 6 team in the country, and things were only getting worse.

LSU's monster of a running back in sophomore Jeremy Hill had already powered the homestanding Bengal Tigers to a three-score lead, and across the way, the visiting Tigers were struggling with the slippery conditions.

But Auburn kept playing, and the visitors eventually outscored LSU 21-14 in the second half—on their way to an eventual 35-21 loss—proving they at least belonged in Tiger Stadium when most teams would have been run off the field.

"I think it was obvious at the beginning of the game we didn't respond very well to the elements, to the crowd, and kind of got ourselves in a hole," Malzahn said in his postgame press conference. "Any time you get in a hole against a good team on the road, it's tough enough anyway, and that put us in a hole and we were fighting uphill the rest of the day."

It was an uphill fight for Auburn, but it's one they fared well enough in, especially on the road against a national title contender like LSU.

The Tigers' comeback bid started on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, when cornerback Jermaine Whitehead picked off LSU's Zach Mettenberger at midfield. Six plays and 50 yards later, Auburn was finally on the board after a two-yard touchdown run by running back Tre Mason.

LSU responded, but Auburn showed fight later in the third quarter, when quarterback Nick Marshall connected with Sammie Coates on a 52-yard bomb that led to another Auburn score.

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Peyton Barber #25 of the Auburn Tigers runs the football against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Auburn scored once more with less than seven minutes to play, but the Tigers' comeback hopes were dashed when their ensuing onside kick was overturned, as video revealed kicker Cody Parkey touched the ball just inches before it crossed the required 10 yards before becoming a live ball.

"Anytime that you play a conference opponent and anytime that you play Western division opponents like Auburn, it's going to be a competitive game," LSU head coach Les Miles said in his postgame press conference. "We took such a strong lead initially, but I just didn't like how we finished."

For Auburn, Marshall was a despondent 6-of-16 for just 31 yards through the air in the first half, but as the rain in Baton Rouge calmed in the second half, the first-year starter making his road debut bounced back to finish the game 17-of-33 for 224 yards.

But early mistakes and miscues by the orange-and-blue side, and a strong start by the homestanding Tigers, proved to be too much for Auburn to overcome.

It started on the opening series of the game, when Marshall fumbled the ball away on a poor exchange with his running back, and continued to Auburn's second drive of the game, ending when punter Steven Clark mishandled the deep snap in the rain and fell on the ball for a turnover on downs inside the Auburn red zone. Both miscues gifted LSU an early 14-0 lead.

"We kind of beat ourselves in the beginning—the fumbles, our punter dropping a snap. Putting the ball on the ground on offense cost us," Mason told the Opelika-Auburn News. "Those things will lose a game for you."

Mason proved to be a workhorse for Auburn throughout the night, finishing with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries—the most yards the vaunted LSU rush defense has allowed to an individual all season. LSU entered the game as the 10th-best rush defense nationally in yards per game.

The junior carried the ball nine times for 56 yards in the first half, but as the Tigers made their second-half surge, Mason ran it 17 times for 76 yards, with each of his scores coming in the final two frames of play.

Auburn nearly matched LSU in every statistical category through the game, finishing with 437 yards of total offense compared to LSU's 456. However, Auburn finished with three turnovers as opposed to LSU's two, and LSU forced the Auburn offense into three turnovers on downs.


Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.