Observations: LSU 21, Auburn 17
Once again, Auburn led an SEC team by double-digits. Once again, Auburn couldn't put up points in the second half. And, once again, Auburn lost a very winnable game.
QB Robby Ashford (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Even though the path to get there was so unpredictable, the result — in hindsight — should have been predictable.
For its fifth straight SEC game, Auburn led by double-digit points. And for the fifth straight time, that lead evaporated. If it wasn’t for Missouri missing a chip-shot field goal and fumbling the ball just outside the goal line last week, Auburn would be 0-5 in those games.
There were no lucky, game-winning breaks that went Auburn’s way on Saturday night. Instead, Bryan Harsin’s Tigers were shut out in the second half and lost 21-17 to an LSU team it had beaten in back-to-back years.
Several of the worst trends currently plaguing Auburn continued. But Saturday night, in true Auburn vs. LSU fashion, felt like the most extreme examples of said trends. Auburn’s offense was better than LSU’s by 2.7 yards per play, with a lot of that coming off an explosive passing game led by Robby Ashford.
On top of that, Auburn’s pass defense had its best per-attempt performance (3.27 yards!) against an SEC team in 14 years and held LSU to less than 4 yards per carry. Auburn’s defense only allowed two touchdowns on 13 LSU drives. Most of the time, that’s more than enough to win.
But this was Harsin’s Auburn against a quality opponent with the sliders maxed out. Auburn has had a major turnover problem this season, and it had four turnovers — while also fumbling four more times — to LSU’s one. LSU’s comeback began with a defensive touchdown. Auburn also had eight penalties for 80 yards, with more than half of those totals coming in a fruitless second half.
“We had that game,” edge rusher Derick Hall said. “There were a couple of opportunities where we gave that game away. We’ve got to take care of the ball better and on defense, we’ve got to get more stops, obviously.”
Even though Auburn showed more signs of life in several areas than it had all season, it still landed at the same result: A blown double-digit lead, a second half with single-digit point production — zero, in this case — and a frustrating SEC loss that could have easily gone the other way.
“That's the name of the game, really — execute for four quarters,” tight end John Samuel Shenker said. “We did really well early, and that has been the tale of our tapes lately. That's something we have to work on.”
Auburn’s last five SEC games have gone that way, with only the Missouri miracle resulting in a win.
The heat on Harsin and his staff continues to rise to new uncomfortable levels each week, and the schedule only gets tougher from here. The home-game streak to start 2022 is over. Auburn faces defending national champion Georgia in Athens, a place of recent horrors for the program, next week. Then it’s a trip to currently undefeated Ole Miss, where the Rebels are rolling under Lane Kiffin.
For now, here are four major Observations from Auburn’s 21-17 loss to LSU, along with some Nerd Stats, No-Huddle Notes and the Quote of the Night from Harsin.
Again: This sport is about finishing your drives
You’ve definitely seen the old “tale of two halves” cliche before. For Auburn and LSU, this one was more of “a tale of the first quarter and a half, then the next two quarters and some change.” (Really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)
After five drives on Saturday night, Auburn had 17 points on three trips past the LSU 40-yard line. The first one came on an explosive play from Ashford to Ja’Varrius Johnson, who got open in 1-on-1 coverage on a scramble drill and found the end zone from 53 yards out.
The next one was a remarkable 99-yard drive that included a third-down conversion to Johnson, a 61-yard catch-and-run from Jarquez Hunter and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Camden Brown.
On the third drive, Auburn got down the field with an explosive play to Koy Moore and had to settle for a field goal in the red zone.
Meanwhile, on its first five drives, LSU punted the ball all five times and never got further than the Auburn 46-yard line. This was complete domination.
And even when the door cracked open for LSU on a defensive touchdown via an Ashford fumble — more on that later — Auburn still had a chance to answer back. A trick play out of the wildcat to Omari Kelly got Auburn down to the LSU 24-yard line… before three unsuccessful plays and a missed 40-yard field goal from a very out-of-form Anders Carlson.
That was the first time Auburn crossed the LSU 40 and came up with zero points. That would happen three more times in the second half — a turnover on downs after a fourth-and-10 in what’s considered “no man’s land” in field position terms, a wide receiver pass from Moore that was intercepted inside the red zone, and an interception at the LSU 25 that killed Auburn’s last chance to pull off the comeback.
“We had our opportunities, and now for us, we got to go back and look at, alright, what is it that we did well?” Harsin said. “What are the things we got to work on? Just, we got to close that cap. We got to find ways to finish and play four quarters. So, all the things that I’ve said before, and the things that really do matter — those are the things that are going to change the game.
“Disappointed for our players and know those guys, they put the effort in. We all have to just do a better job, and that starts with me.”