LSU ‘fight, scratch, claw like Tigers’ in comeback upset of No. 10 Auburn
Ed Orgeron and his players took a page from Les Miles’ playbook Saturday on an steamy afternoon on which the former coach and his 2007 national championship team were honored at halftime.
“Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Miles joked two years ago after a hospital trip he later attributed to over-caffeination.
The Tigers (5-2, 2-1) showed little signs of life for the first nearly 20 minutes Saturday en route to a 20-0 deficit to visiting No. 10 Auburn (5-2, 3-1).
But a team many critics all but left for dead rallied together and scored 27 of the contest’s final 30 points to clinch their biggest comeback against an SEC opponent since 1977 and a second straight conference victory, 27-23.
“Gut check,” Orgeron said. “Gut check. We realized that, No. 1, I had to coach better, our staff had to coach better, our players had to practice better, and we had to have some leadership on our football team. But we were gonna be resilient. We weren’t gonna give up. We were gonna block out the noise. We were gonna fix the things that were fixable, and we’ve continued to do that.”
At one point early in the second quarter, Auburn had tallied 144 passing yards, 86 rushing yards and 17 points on 24 plays.
LSU, by comparison, had managed 67 yards on 12 scoreless plays.
Orgeron’s team had few answers on offensive third downs, on either line of scrimmage, for star running back Kerryon Johnson and his 123 first-half yards (5.9 yards per carry) or for quarterback Jarrett Stidham and his 7-for-13, 159-yard first half (12.2 yards per attempt).
But something began to click.
“You can see guys becoming leaders, making plays,” Orgeron said. “Guys like Rashard Lawrence, Devin White. (D.J. Chark) had a great game. Danny (Etling) hung in there like he’s supposed to. When you start two freshman offensive linemen, we’re just becoming a football team. Our whole staff has galvanized. Our whole football team has galvanized. It’s what we want to be — ‘One Team, One Heartbeat’ — and we showed it today.”
Russell Gage took a jet sweep 70 yards to set up a must-have Stephen Sullivan 1-yard, fourth-down touchdown run a few plays later.
And the defense suddenly became lock-down.
“It was a great team win — bend, but didn’t break,” senior defensive lineman Christian LaCouture said. “We made some adjustments at halftime, and I really feel like we came out there — no points allowed and a lot of three-and-outs and sometimes they tried to move the ball a little bit, but we stopped ’em. And give credit to our offense, they went out there and they did their thing.”
LaCouture, like his coach and teammates, focused on the Tigers’ resilience, but declined to reveal any specific adjustments.
“I’m not gonna get into it,” he smiled. “We’ve got a lot of cameras over here. I don’t want Ole Miss to find out.”
Auburn saw an initially promising second-quarter drive stall into its third field goal for a 23-7 lead and was completely shut out the rest of the contest.
Those visiting Tigers managed just 58 of their 189 rushing yards after halftime — including 33 yards on 10 Johnson attempts (3.3 yards per carry) — and Stidham completed just two of his remaining 13 passes for just six yards (0.5 yards per attempt).
“I would say execute, execute the defensive calls that (defensive coordinator Dave) Aranda gave us,” junior defensive back Kevin Toliver II said. “We really just executed, and he put us in the right position. We just made the plays that we had to make.”
Gage made a diving touchdown reception from Etling with 32 seconds remaining in the first half to cut Auburn’s lead to 23-14, and senior wide receiver Chark finally housed a 75-yard punt return in the opening moments of the fourth quarter to draw even closer at 23-21.
The Tigers’ defense continued to stand tall and ultimately set the stage for Connor Culp field goals of 42 and 36 yards with 2:36 and 0:38 remaining, respectively.
“Ever since I got here, I’ve tried to stay off of Twitter, social media, that kind of stuff, so I never really knew that that was going on,” Culp said of the pessimism directed toward the kicking game in particular. “Every day we have a routine, and we do the same thing every day over and over again. That really helps us with our preparation.”
LSU remains imperfect, but the criticism and hot seat of just two weeks ago seem oddly distant.
The Tigers had lost two of their past three games in differing embarrassing fashions — a 37-7 rout at Mississippi State and a 24-21 stumble to Sun Belt conference Troy — to teams that have faced their own issues in the weeks that followed.
A slew of meetings of various parties followed, and positive momentum has been rolling ever since.
“Guys have just been focused,” junior tight end Foster Moreau said. “We made a mistake. We lost a game that we felt like we probably shouldn’t have lost. And credit to Troy — they played a great game. But we should’ve played a much better one, and we didn’t.
“And my mom always said, ‘The worst thing about a mistake is not learning from it.’ And I think this team learned from it. And I think we do have a lot of resolve, a lot of heart and a lot of mental toughness to be able to overcome a 20-point deficit in the first half.
LSU’s 17-16 survival of a flawed Florida in Gainesville, Fla., last week didn’t necessarily silence the questions.
But Saturday’s second half against a highly regarded, ranked Auburn in front of the Tigers’ resilient 2007 predecessors that at times appeared unlikely to claim their eventual national championship may go much farther to that end.
Multiple of those former players referenced how impressive they the fight the current group showed and their excitement to see how far they can carry the momentum.
LSU heads next to Ole Miss, before a bye week, then a trip to No. 1 Alabama.
“We’ve won two big games in a row,” Orgeron said. “We’re gonna treat every opponent with respect and treat every game as something that’s very valuable to us — as we didn’t in the beginning of the season. (We’re gonna) fight, scratch and claw like Tigers, like we know how to.
“We’re gonna enjoy this win. We’ve got a lot of recruits that were here. It’s gonna be a tremendous recruiting weekend for us. And we’re gonna go ahead and watch the film and get ready for our next opponent, just like we’ve been getting ready the last two weeks. Nothing’s gonna change.”
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.