The Tigers will play the Tigers for the SEC Championship on Saturday. But in years past, fans would expect LSU to be involved. Instead Missouri and Auburn, which did not receive a single preseason AP poll vote, will face each other for the chance to become champions of the SEC.
But LSU is the only SEC team to win a battle of the Tigers this season. The "Bayou Bengals" defeated Auburn 35-21 on a damp November night in Tiger Stadium.
LSU has been the only team to top Auburn in 2013. The Tigers from the Plains are now in position to play for a BCS bowl, quite possibly the national championship if they were to beat Missouri on Saturday.
LSU has had an average season based upon its yearly lofty standards. The Tigers have three losses, two to teams lower in the polls. If not for a spectacular 99-yard drive led by a freshman, Les Miles would have lost to the putrid Arkansas Razorbacks last week.
So how and why did LSU beat the SEC West champions by two possessions?
LSU Was At Home
Tiger Stadium was rather desolate when Auburn came to Baton Rouge. It was a rainy day. Fans hit the exits early.
But Death Valley has earned its title for a reason. It is an intimating place to play, especially if it is the first road game in an opponent's season. Auburn learned that the hard way.
Jordan-Hare Stadium has been a magical place for Auburn. The miracle victories over Georgia and Alabama will forever be remembered, but many forget Auburn barely scathed by Mississippi State the week before playing LSU. The magic did not carry over to Baton Rouge.
LSU Started Fast
After the emotional victory against Mississippi State, Auburn struggled to get going against LSU. Reliable Auburn punter Steven Clark muffed a snap deep inside Auburn's territory and allowed LSU to score an easy touchdown. The Tigers jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime.
The most spectacular aspect of Gus Malzahn's first-year success has been his team's youth. Auburn has had underclassmen step up all season long. The slow start to go along with it being the first road game made Auburn over-hyped for the game.
Auburn never trailed by 21 or more for the rest of the season.
Nick Marshall was Average
First-year quarterbacks rarely have success against LSU in Tiger Stadium. Quarterback Nick Marshall was no exception.
Marshall barely completed half of his passes, throwing for two interceptions in the process. He did, however, play better as the game went along, finishing the game with 270 total yards.
Marshall needed to be spectacular for Auburn to win, especially since the defense could not prevent the big play.
Jeremy Hill was Spectacular
Of all the reasons why Auburn lost the game, LSU running back Jeremy Hill's masterful performance was the biggest. Hill made the Auburn defense pay with backbreaking runs of long distance.
Hill rushed for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore had a touchdown run of 49 yards on LSU's opening drive. In the second quarter, Hill broke free for a 54-yard scamper to the Auburn 1-yard-line. On the next play, fullback J.C. Copeland would bang it in from one yard out.
Auburn tackled sloppily against Hill, who is a specialist at breaking tackles in the open field. The LSU offensive line used the aggressiveness of the Auburn defensive line against them, which opened up gaping holes in the running game. Hill and the LSU offense rushed for 154 yards in the first half.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson made the proper adjustments in the second half. Hill would only have one rush of 10 or more yards, which came on his opening carry of the third quarter. Auburn allowed 74 yards on the ground in the final two quarters.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a white-hot start to the season. But of his first six games, Auburn was his worst performance with 229 yards and an interception. The LSU passing game was not as dominant, thus them not being able to put the game completely out of reach.
Malzahn and Johnson made some excellent adjustments. Auburn began to settle down on both sides of the football. But Hill's early explosive runs were too much to overcome in the end.
Without looking at the scoreline, a quick glance at the box score would signify the game would be close.
|LSU vs. Auburn Box Score|
|Total Yards (Rushing, Passing)||Time of Possession||Turnovers||Third-Down Eff.||Penalties|
|LSU||457 (228, 259)||29:11||2||5-for-13||10 (85 yards)|
|Auburn||437 (213, 224)||30:49||3||6-for-17||5 (44 yards)|
But Auburn failed miserably in both departments—explosive plays and special teams.
LSU finished the game with six offensive plays of 20 or more yards. Auburn only had two, both of which were Marshall completions to receiver Sammie Coates. Both plays ultimately set up Auburn's only two touchdowns.
Clark's punting mistake resulted in an easy scoring opportunity for LSU. Hill's hot hand produced a 10-yard touchdown run.
Poor special teams and explosive plays will ultimately cost a team in closely played contests between two even teams. After Auburn's miraculous victories against Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers from the Plains know that better than anybody else.
LSU had no special blueprint to beat Auburn. Malzahn was able to run his offense effectively in the second half. Les Miles' team made fewer mistakes, and Auburn's young players were not playing at their full potential.
Auburn is beatable. Georgia and Alabama probably should have walked away from Jordan-Hare with victories. But that does not mean Auburn is not a good team deserving of being in the SEC Championship Game.
LSU's victory over Auburn did not look as impressive then as it does now. The game will likely finish as Les Miles' highest-ranked opponent the team will beat this season. Miles should be given credit for having his Tigers sharp in LSU's first conference game of the season.
Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.
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