By Wil Crews
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY AU ATHLETICS
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix helped the Tigers snap a 10-game losing streak in Baton Rouge on Saturday, leading his team to its first SEC win of the season, squashing all claims of a quarterback controversy and producing highlight after highlight in the process.
“There’s obviously a lot of history with this game and being here,” said Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin after his first SEC win. “But the most important thing tonight was what we had to do with this team in order to be successful and find a way to win and those guys did that and we finished, which I’m proud of our team for that.”
For much of the game, it appeared the LSU defense was determined to take away the rushing element of Auburn’s offense. So, instead of fighting it, the Tigers took what the defense was giving them and placed the onus of winning the game on Nix’s arm — and legs.
“Bo is a weapon with his legs,” Harsin said. “So I thought the offensive staff had a good plan for him to utilize him in the run game and to utilize some movement. But also for him to stand back there and really be a good thrower. He showed that. Bo scrambled and guys got open and were able to finish.”
With his team trailing 24-19 in the final minutes of the game, Nix led No. 23 ranked Auburn on an 11-play, 92-yard drive to accomplish something no Auburn quarterback has done since 1999 — defeat the Bayou Bengals in Death Valley.
The final drive was the culmination of an impressive performance for Nix — who repeatedly bailed out the Tigers with Houdini-like scramble acts and situationally big throws.
The game began in all-too-familiar fashion for the visiting Tigers, with the hometown orange and purple gashing its opposition for a 55-yard pass to Kayshon Boutte on the first play of the game. LSU quarterback Max Johnson then delivered a peach of a 31-yard touchdown throw to Boutte to give LSU the early 7-0 lead. The ensuing Auburn drive ended in a missed 51-yard field goal from Anders Carlson and the Tigers had their backs against the wall early.
With key defensive playmakers Owen Pappoe and T.D. Moultry inactive for the game, the thinned-out Auburn defense overcame a failed onside kick attempt and buckled down to prevent the LSU offense from reaching the end zone for the remainder of the game.
“That was a huge opportunity for the defense to really step up and they did that,” Harsin said of the LSU drive following the failed onside kick. “I thought the defensive staff, the defensive players all did a really good job on the sideline making those adjustments.”
Auburn’s first score of the game came at the 5:14 mark in the second quarter when Nix improvised, ran the span of 40 yards laterally across the field, evaded six LSU pass rushers like a professional dancer quick-stepping through a line of hot coals and delivered a striking 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Fromm. The Nix drop back, scramble-for-his-life and find an open receiver on a broken play formula was something that proved fruitful for Auburn throughout the rest of the game and left disbelieving fans with only one jocular comment to make — “just how we drew it up.”
The momentum would complete its swing back to the orange and blue Tigers when Carlson nailed a 49-yard field goal half to cut LSU’s lead to 13-10 with 14 seconds remaining in the half.
The second-half battle of attrition then continued as both offense moved the ball well but Nix and the Auburn defense made the necessary plays to give Auburn the win.
LSU was held to a field goal again on its first drive of the second half as the Auburn defense made its stand on the six-yard line. A field goal attempt by Carlson was then blocked by the LSU special teams before Cade York buried his fourth field goal of the game to help LSU geaux up 19-10 with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter.
The ensuing drive saw Auburn move the ball into LSU territory quickly with a precise back-shoulder throw to receiver Kobi Hudson and a first-down scramble by Nix.
Nix then executed a five-yard keeper and dove into the end zone to bring the score to 19-17 with 14:16 remaining in the game.
The rest of the fourth quarter was dominated by Auburn’s defense — which emptied the box and dared LSU to throw it — holding Ed Orgeron’s Tigers to just 54 yards of total offense, 2.8 yards per play, 2-for-6 on third downs (0-for-1 on fourth downs) and intercepting Johnson on the final drive of the game.
The heroics of Nix and the confidence-building Auburn defense proved to be the difference as the Tigers from the Plains escaped Death Valley with a win just before the clock struck midnight.
“Ultimately, tonight was about this football team,” Harsin said. “Certainly, about the fans and the people that have been a part of this program for a long time. We’re very happy for them. That was something that our guys are very proud of — they were able to accomplish that. And, I felt it in the locker room, just something that is really important that we have to have on this team is that comradery and that belief in each other and guys supporting their teammates when they’re on the field. And then going out there like I said — we made some plays tonight, LSU made plays and it was just a back and forth, it was a tight ball game. But at the end of it, we were able to finish.”