Early mistakes costly in Auburn loss at LSU

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 21, 2013 

BATON ROUGE, La.Jaylon Denson slipped and went down hard on the first drive of Saturday night's game.

Auburn's junior receiver laid prone on the wet grass for an extended period before he was finally taken off the field on a cart.

It was an ominous sign for Auburn's chances at victory.

In large part due to the efforts of running back Jeremy Hill, No. 6 LSU sent Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC) to its first loss of the season, taking a 35-21 win over the visitors.

Hill already had a personal-best rushing tally less than six minutes into the game, running for 140 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. He ended with 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Despite Hill's success, Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy wasn't easily impressed.

"In my opinion, he got all his yards in the first half," McKinzy said. "We had a lot of new stuff, and what we did hurt us in the end."

When the sophomore running back wasn't having his way with Auburn's defense, it was quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his pair of talented receivers, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. The senior signal-caller completed 64 percent (14 of 22) of his passes for 229 yards and a touchdown.

Landry (seven receptions, 118 yards, one touchdown) and Beckham (five receptions, 59 yards) accounted for 12 of Mettenberger's 14 completions.

It was a dominant first half performance that effectively won the game for the hosts.

Following Denson's injury, Auburn decided to go for it on fourth down. Quarterback Nick Marshall mishandled the exchange with running back Cameron Artis-Payne and LSU took over on downs. And it didn't take long for Hill to exact his first pound of flesh from Auburn's defense, as he scored on a 49-yard run just three plays later.

On the ensuing possession, Auburn was forced to punt on fourth-and-one at its own 34-yard line — only the punt never happened. Senior punter Steven Clark bobbled the snap and was tackled at the 10.

LSU (4-0, 1-0) wasted no time turning the turnover into points, as Hill ran it up the middle from 10 yards out to extend the lead to 14-0 with 9:59 remaining in the opening period.

No more scoring was had in the first quarter, but LSU got on the board once more in the second stanza. Hill, not surprisingly, once again played a major part on the scoring drive. He broke loose on a 49-yard run, but came up one yard short of his third touchdown of the game. Instead, the scoring honors went to fullback J.C. Copeland, who punched through the center of Auburn's defense with 12:34 to go before halftime.

It was the final score for either side in the opening 30 minutes of play, as LSU took a 21-0 lead into the locker room.

Auburn was able to avoid a shutout, though, erasing its zero on the scoreboard early in the third quarter.

On the opening possession of the second half, safety Jermaine Whitehead intercepted Mettenberger, giving Auburn the ball at midfield. Seven plays later, junior running back Tre Mason punched it in from the 2-yard line.

But to make sure Auburn didn't grab any momentum, LSU scored a touchdown of its own on the ensuing drive.

It even scored twice on the possession, for good measure.

Landry went 53 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a holding call.

No matter.

LSU came right back with a 45-yard pass to Travis Dickson, and Hill finished the drive with his third touchdown, breaking a pair of tackles on a six-yard score to push LSU's lead back to 28-7.

Auburn once again rallied later in the quarter, going on a 10-play, 94-yard drive after LSU attempted a fake field goal. The lion's share of the yards came on a 52-yard pass from Marshall to Sammie Coates, which took the ball down to the 1-yard line. However, Auburn refused to make it easy on itself.

On first-and-goal, Marshall's touchdown run was called back on a false start penalty by right tackle Patrick Miller; that was followed by an illegal forward pass by Marshall on the next play, which pushed the ball back to the 9-yard line.

Auburn overcame its self-inflicted wounds to score a touchdown, with Mason once again taking it in from the 2-yard line, cutting LSU's advantage to 28-14.

Reprising a role he was familiar with last season, Mason broke the 100-yard barrier in a loss.

That made for little comfort, though.

"I'm not happy with the loss, and I'm pretty sure the team isn't, either," Mason said. "We're just going to try to continue to get better from here on out. We can't look at the past. What's done is done. We just have to continue to get better."

LSU made sure it didn't get any closer after Mason's second touchdown, scoring once again on a 32-yard pass play to Landry on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Auburn pulled itself off the mat once more, going 88 yards in 3:23 for its third touchdown halfway through the final quarter. Artis-Payne capped the 10-play possession with a 12-yard touchdown run, putting Auburn behind 35-21 with 6:33 to play.

Auburn fired another salvo at LSU on the following kickoff, attempting an onside kick that was recovered by senior kicker Cody Parkey. It was not to be, as officials ruled the kick was illegally touched prior to going the required 10 yards.

Though Auburn had two more possessions before the clock ran out, it wasn't able to put it into the end zone either team.

Even in defeat, Malzahn was proud of his team's attitude.

"They came back and battled. They were fighting," he said. "We made some mistakes. We’ve been talking about this team improving each practice and each game and even though it hurts right now, there were some good things out there that I think we can build upon moving forward for the rest of the year."

Despite its willingness to fight until the bitter end, it wasn't enough to prevent Auburn from walking away from Tiger Stadium with a loss for the seventh straight time.

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