BY WIL CREWS
PHOTOS BY TODD VAN EMST / AU ATHLETICS
Another second-half collapse doomed Auburn Saturday.
The Tigers dropped their second game of the season, falling 21-17 to LSU inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After opening up a three-score late in the second quarter, Auburn’s downfall began just before the break, in fact.
A fumble by quarterback Robby Ashford that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown made it 17-7; and a series of questionable timeouts from the Auburn coaching staff — and a third-down penalty that negated the end of LSU’s drive — gave the Bayou Bengals just enough time to score again before the halftime break, making it 17-14.
Auburn would fail to register any more points in the contest, and a third quarter touchdown from LSU — after a turnover on downs from Auburn — proved to be enough to secure the contest.
The story of the second-half collapse is all-too familiar to Auburn fans at this point. In their last eight second halves against Power 5 opponents, the Tigers have failed to score more than six points, and failed to score any points on four occasions.
The overall stats pertaining to Saturday’s contest make this loss all the more egregious.
For starters, the Auburn offense may have played its best game of the season against LSU. Ashford definitely did. The sophomore quarterback did put the ball on the ground multiple times, but only lost the one fumble and threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 19 rushing yards.
In total yards, Auburn outgained LSU on the night, 438 to 270. The Auburn defense stepped up in a big way, holding LSU’s quarterbacks to just 85 passing yards.
Additionally, Auburn created 11 “explosive plays” that accounted for 328 of the team’s total yardage. However, therein lies the problem … Auburn was dominated in the margins Saturday night.
The Tigers’ struggles in the run game continued Saturday against LSU. Eight of running back Tank Bigsby’s 12 carries went for two yards or less, and 30% of Auburn’s rushes went for zero or negative yards on the night.
The players did make a few costly mistakes: Kicker Anders Carlson missed a field goal in the second quarter, Ashford threw an interception late in the game and receiver Koy Moore threw an interception of his own on a trick play halfway through the final quarter.
The blame for Satuday’s loss however, mostly resides on the coaching staff.
The decision by head coach Bryan Harsin to go for a fourth-and-10 on LSU’s 37-yard line with 2:44 remaining in the third quarter was questionable at best. Over its first five games, Auburn has shown little-to-no ability to convert in pressure-filled moments. With Auburn’s defense performing well up to that point, playing for field position — in hindsight — would have been the correct move.
Harsin had a chance to correct his mistakes on the next drive, when Auburn was in a similar spot on the field facing another fourth-and-long. Leading 17-14 still, the Tigers went for it again, only to be bailed out of an incomplete pass via a LSU defensive holding penalty. Auburn looked to be taking advantage of the call until seven plays later receiver Koy Moore took a jet sweep on second-and-goal and, with the intention of throwing it to another Auburn receiver, ran out of room before throwing it right into the hands of a LSU defender. The decision to take the ball out of Rashford’s hands — when he had practically been Auburns entire offense on the night —was baffling.
The Auburn defense gave the offense one more opportunity to win the game, however, Ashford’s throw across the middle was ripped from the hands of Moore into the hands of LSU’s Greg Brooks, effectively ending the game. In a post-game interview, Brooks said Auburn ran the same play six times before his interception, leaving little blame for Ashford or Moore on the turnover.
Running the same play six times in a row might work against high school competition, or even in the Mountain West while Harsin was at Boise State, but the SEC is college football’s highest level of competition. Put plainly, Harsin and his staff have continuously let the Auburn faithful down in terms of game management and play calling. It appears Saturday’s game could be something to build off of, although there is plenty still holding this team back. The Tigers will have to correct their many mistakes quickly as the schedule doesn’t get any easier going forward. Up next is a road test against the No.2- ranked Georgia Bulldogs.