Observations: LSU 48, Auburn 18
Auburn didn't seem to build upon anything from the UGA game — or the off week — in another massively disappointing loss to a rival.
WR Jay Fair (Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
BATON ROUGE, La. — Earlier in the week, five days before his Auburn team headed to LSU, Hugh Freeze said that the margin for error between winning and losing against more-talented rosters was “so small.”
Against a talent-filled but somewhat flawed LSU, the areas to avoid were obvious.
Auburn’s defense had to play a clean game and create impact plays when it had the opportunities against one of the most lethal offenses in the entire country. Auburn’s offense had to avoid stalling out and needed to take full advantage of one of the least successful defenses in the entire country.
Auburn didn’t do any of that, especially early.
LSU opened the game with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Auburn responded with a false start before its very first play, an incompletion to an open tight end on second down and a way-too-early errant snap on third down that went for a 12-yard loss.
“You can't really do that against good teams if you want to have a chance to win,” tight end Brandon Frazier said of the slow start.
Auburn was down by seven with the ball already out of its hands less than three minutes into the game. Then, after the defense took advantage of a couple of rare LSU miscues to hold the hosts to a field goal, the offense went three-and-out again.
LSU then went on a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Auburn was now down by 17 points, having a grand total of -8 yards to LSU’s 216 before the first quarter was even over.
While the play on the field wouldn’t have shown it, Auburn was the team who was fresh off an off week. LSU was playing its seventh game in seven weeks.
“I felt really good about the (game) plan,” Freeze said. “I felt like we had a chance to maybe get some long drives and keep our defense on the sideline. We just never found any consistency. So it's disappointing, for sure.”
Auburn would have a few positive moments on offense and defense. But the vast majority of the drives were in favor of LSU, which ended the game with 30 more points and 270 more offensive yards.
(It would have been a gap of more than 300 yards, too, if Auburn didn’t go 44 yards on its final, run-the-clock-out possession.)
Some things can be chalked up to a talent gap. Other things can be chalked up to injuries, particularly on defense.
But a lot of what Auburn put out on the field Saturday night in Baton Rouge falls on its own shoulders.
Auburn should be better than averaging 5.7 yards per pass attempt against a defense that was allowing nearly 10 over the last three weeks. Auburn shouldn’t be noticeably worse on offense now than it was last season, even when it was under an interim coaching staff. Auburn shouldn’t be taking so many self-inflicted wounds at this point in the season.
And Auburn should be playing with better effort and energy than it looked like it did Saturday night.
“I didn't think we fought as hard, but that's something I've got to own,” Freeze said. “It's my job to get them to play hard. Maybe I'll watch the film and think differently, I don't know. Maybe it was the fact that they leaned on us and knocked us off the ball a little bit that made me feel that way, I don't know.”
Here’s one thing that everyone should know: Just two weeks after taking the best team in the country down to the wire, Auburn is entering the second half of the season with more questions than answers.
There are several winnable games against teams that don’t recruit at an elite level ahead, but those victories will likely only come with marked improvement from what the Tigers put out Saturday night.
Here are three big Observations from Auburn’s 48-18 loss to LSU, along with some Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
QB Payton Thorne (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
Of course, we need to start with the quarterbacks
Saturday night looked like a perfect opportunity for Auburn to reset its struggling attack, which came into the weekend with the nation’s fourth-worst yards per attempt mark against Power 5 teams.
On the first two drives of the game, Payton Thorne went 3-5 passing — but only for a total of nine yards. His completions weren’t down the field at all. He misfired to Luke Deal on a second-and-8, and his throw to Shane Hooks on third-and-8 on the following drive had no chance of being completed, whether it was a bad ball or a miscommunication with his target.
On the third drive, Thorne hit Camden Brown on back-to-back plays for 27 yards. That prompted a change from LSU’s defense, which started pressing its cornerbacks on the outside receivers. That changed Auburn’s 1-on-1 RPO routes from slants to fades.
And, while Thorne drew a defensive pass interference on one of those fades to Hooks on the outside, he went 0-for-3 on the tries that counted in the game.
“He ran the slants, and that was an easier throw,” Freeze said. “Then we had three of them… They were all on second-and-6 after we got a good run on first down. We're not winning those battles. We were 0-for-3 on them, so we quit throwing them. It sure would be nice to win some of those because that's how that play is designed.”
Still, Thorne scrambled for 16 yards after the DPI against Hooks to get Auburn into the red zone. The offense then turned to Robby Ashford, who converted a third-and-3 with a play-action pass to Frazier before Jarquez Hunter punched in a touchdown out of a Wildcat formation.
Auburn went nowhere on its next two drives with Thorne at the helm. Poor execution and a rash of penalties killed those possessions. When Auburn got the ball back with 2:50 left and only trailing by 13 points, Ashford started the drive.
Ashford would get Auburn near midfield before the staff opted to put Thorne back in with less than a minute left in the half. Auburn needed to throw the ball. But Thorne threw back-to-back incompletions before a third-down sack through an Auburn holding call. The Tigers’ chance to put points on the board and own the Middle Eight ended swiftly.
Auburn went back to Ashford to start the third quarter, and he got the offense back into the red zone before an unblocked Harold Perkins got a sack to force a field goal.
“Well, his package worked really well in the first half,” Freeze said when asked about Ashford starting the second half. “We were only two scores down to start the second half, so you want to start with the good stuff. I felt like that was our best option.”
It seemed like Ashford was going to stay in the game for good. But, on the ensuing drive, Ashford would hand the ball off to Hunter for two fruitless plays before Throne checked back in for a short swing pass on third-and-long.
Thorne would get a couple of first-down passes late in the third quarter and convert a fourth down in the red zone before Ashford returned, once again, to help punch in the touchdown with a short pass to Frazier.
Thorne would finish the game with the final two drives, including one that ended with him running out of bounds short of the sticks on fourth down.
So what should we make of the results of Auburn’s two-quarterback system this week? Two things stuck out to me in particular:
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