AUBURN, Ala. — The point spread bled, but No. 2 LSU will take its 12-10 victory against 20-point underdog Auburn with sweat and sighs in front of 86,721 at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.
“It was a shock to our system,” said LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, whose tackle of Auburn tailback Tre Mason in the end zone in the first quarter for a safety provided the winning points. “It was really a shock to our whole program, but we adjusted. But in the end, we don’t care about the point spread. No matter who you play or by how much, you just have to win in the SEC.”
The Tigers, sloppy on offense and drawing personal fouls throughout the night, scored all of three points over the final three quarters, but they held up for a nervous victory against inspired Auburn in the Southeastern Conference opener for LSU.
Drew Alleman’s 30-yard field goal with 5:26 to play in the third quarter gave LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) the winning points and its first points since taking a 9-0 lead in the first quarter. Auburn (1-3, 0-2 SEC) led 10-9 at the half on a 40-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 1:21 to go in the second quarter.
BOX SCORE: LSU 12, Auburn 10
“It was what I expected,” said LSU tailback Spencer Ware, who led the Tigers with 95 yards on 16 carries and caught a key 33-yard pass on third down late to keep the ball away from Auburn. “They were trying to win their first SEC game. We should’ve scored more, but it doesn’t matter now. We won. They played hard. I knew they would. They shot their bullets.”
Just as LSU appeared to be out of ammunition in the third quarter as the momentum surged on Auburn’s side, it received a major break when Auburn returner Quan Bray fumbled an LSU punt that would have given Auburn excellent position near midfield. Instead, LSU’s Jarvis Landry recovered at the Auburn 48.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, whose two first-quarter fumbles almost spelled disaster for the nation’s No. 2 team, found wide receiver Kadron Boone, who made a one-handed catch for a 29-yard gain to the Auburn 22. After a false start by the Tigers, LSU reached a third-and-2 at the Auburn 14 on a 12-yard run by tailback Kenny Hilliard. But Hilliard was held to 1 yard on third down, and on fourth-and-1, LSU coach Les Miles went for the Alleman field goal, the lead and the eventual winning points.
Auburn faced a third-and-12 at its 43-yard line with 4:52 to play in the game, but Coach Gene Chizik chose a conservative run with Mason. He gained six yards, and out came the boos. LSU took over on its 27 after the punt and kept it on the ground for two plays. But on third-and-4 with 3:13 to play in the game, Miles gambled.
Mettenberger rolled to his right, then threw far to his left to Ware. As the ball zipped some 20 yards, an Auburn player broke for the interception, but Ware came back to the ball and made the catch. He avoided a tackler and rambled for 33 yards to the Auburn 34 with 2:39 left.
“My heart stopped for a second when that guy broke for the ball,” LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said. “Then when Spence caught it, it started going again. Zach made a hell of a read. It’s frustrating we didn’t score more points, but right now it doesn’t matter one bit.”
From there, LSU ran most of the clock out before Alleman attempted a 34-yard field goal with 39 seconds left. He missed it, giving Auburn hope.
Auburn could not get past its 37-yard line on four plays, though,and it was over. LSU outgained Auburn 351 yards to 183, but victory was not assured until the final play.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” Chizik said. “And we didn’t come out on the right end of that. They put it out there, and they were all in. So that is where we are.”
LSU dominated Auburn in the statistics in the first half with 181 total yards to 88 and 103 on the ground to 27 but found itself behind 10-9 at halftime because of two costly fumbles by Mettenberger, who finished 15 of 27 for 169 yards. His first one on the Auburn 2-yard line ruined a chance to take a 7-0 lead on the Tigers’ first possession. His second one on the LSU 26 set up Auburn’s first touchdown to cut LSU’s lead to 9-7 as the opening period ended.
LSU looked every bit the 20-point favorite as it drove 56 yards in 11 plays on its first possession of the game after the Tigers’ defense forced a fourth-and-14 punt out of Auburn after three plays on the first series of the night. Tailback Michael Ford gashed Auburn for an 18-yard gain. Mettenberger hit Beckham for a 9-yard gain to the Auburn 14. But on third-and-1 from the Auburn 2-yard line, Mettenberger fumbled an exchange from backup center Elliott Porter, and defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker recovered for Auburn at the 2. Porter was subbing for starter P.J. Lonergan, who was shaken up early in the drive but returned on the next series.
Auburn could do nothing with the turnover, though, and defensive end Sam Montgomery caught Mason in the end zone on a left tackle run for a safety and 2-0 LSU lead with 8:21 to play in the first quarter.
Auburn had to kick off after the safety. Landry returned it 22 yards to the LSU 41, and Mettenberger went right back to work. He found Ware on third-and-3 for 11 yards on a screen pass. Then Ware busted a 28-yard run up the middle to the Auburn 13. Ford scored on a 1-yard run for the 9-0 lead with 4:18 to play in the first quarter, and the Tigers appeared to be on their way, particularly after LSU forced the third consecutive three-and-out punt from Auburn on its next possession.
Left tackle Josh Dworaczyk struggled with Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier throughout the night, though, and Lemonier sacked Mettenberger for a 6-yard loss and caused a fumble on the Tigers’ next series. Defensive tackle Angelo Blackson recovered it at the LSU 26.
After middle linebacker Kevin Minter trapped tailback Onterio McCalebb for a 4-yard loss, Mason found running room this time for 26 yards to the LSU 4. McCalebb took it in from there to get Auburn within 9-7 on the last play of the first quarter.
LSU struggled to string first downs together in the second quarter and punted on its first two possessions. Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, meanwhile, started to find a groove and hit wide receiver Emory Blake for a 22-yard gain to the LSU 29. Four plays later, Parkey kicked the 40-yard field goal to give Auburn its 10-9 lead shortly before halftime.
Montgomery spoke to the team at halftime and kept up his end as Auburn did not score again.
“I believe that during times of adversity, the older, veteran players have to get everybody’s heads on straight to lead and go and play for victory,” he said. “We stuck our backs up. Sometimes you have to deal with whatever comes to you. We’re better than this, but I’m glad this happened. We’ll be better.”