Auburn shut out in first half
By ANDY BITTER
BATON ROUGE, La. — Auburn and LSU have produced some thrilling games in recent years, instant classics that always seemed to come down to the final minute.
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Saturday’s meeting will not fall under that classification.
No. 9 LSU dominated from beginning to end in a 31-10 victory at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, sending a reeling Auburn to its third straight loss and making Gene Chizik’s 5-0 start seem like nothing more than a distant memory.
“I’d say they beat us in about every phase of the football game, from beginning to the end and probably everywhere in between,” Chizik said. “We obviously have a lot of room for improvement.”
Things don’t get easier for Auburn (5-3, 2-3 SEC), which has conference games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama remaining.
“(We’ve) just (got) to keep the guys focused and not let it go downhill like last year,” Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and a short time to do it.”
“There are no short cuts,” Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “If there were, we’d give it to them.”
Unlike the previous five meetings in the series, which were all decided by a touchdown or less, LSU (6-1, 4-1 SEC) ran away with this year’s version from the start.
Auburn’s defense proved to be just the remedy LSU’s struggling offense needed. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson jump-started an anemic LSU group that ranked 112th nationally entering the game, completing 21 of 31 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns and adding another score on the ground.
“They have a lot of great players,” Coleman said. “We couldn’t stop them.”
On the other side of the ball, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s once unstoppable group hit the wall for a third straight game, finishing with season lows in yards (193) and points (10) for the second straight week.
“We got exposed in some areas,” Chizik said. “I think that was evident.”
Auburn’s offensive ineffectiveness was across the board. The Tigers averaged only 2.7 yards per carry against LSU’s stout defensive front. Running back Ben Tate finished with 67 yards, just over half of his 122.3-yard average.
Quarterback Chris Todd struggled mightily, going 8-for-14 for 47 yards. He was sacked four times and turned the ball over twice, once on a fumble and once on an interception, before giving way to backup Neil Caudle when the game was out of hand late in the fourth quarter.
Only Caudle’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen with three seconds remaining prevented Malzahn’s offense from failing to get into the end zone for the first time in his 3 1/2 years as a college coordinator.
Afterward, Chizik danced around a question about whether he’ll re-evaluate his quarterback situation.
“We’ll look at everything,” he said. “Of course that’s the natural question that everybody’s going to raise, but it was protection, running the football, throwing the football — we got beat tonight. … The whole offense right now is unproductive. You have 42 yards at halftime. You can’t pin that on one guy. Not the last time I checked.”
LSU had no such problems moving the ball. Jefferson had a hand in both of LSU’s first-half touchdowns, completing a 14-yard fade pattern to Terrance Toliver to start the scoring. After linebacker Harry Coleman forced a fumble on a blind side sack of Todd, Jefferson scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown run with 1:10 left in the first.
Auburn had no response. The Tigers finished with 42 yards and five first downs in the first half, getting shut out in the game’s first 30 minutes for the first time this season.
Still, Auburn had its chances to get back in the game, forcing LSU into a three-and-out with just under two minutes remaining in the half, ready for a shot at putting a dent in the 14-point deficit. But returner Philip Pierre-Louis muffed the punt, giving LSU possession at the Auburn 36. A 32-yard field goal by Josh Jasper sent LSU into the break up 17-0.
Things quickly got out of hand in the second half. LSU marched 45 yards in four plays on the opening drive of the second half, going up 24-0 on Jefferson’s jump ball to Brandon LaFell for a 17-yard touchdown.
Wes Byrum got Auburn on the board with a 24-yard field goal after the Tigers put together their first sustained drive of the night.
The moment was fleeting. With 1:09 remaining in the third quarter, true freshman Russell Shepard took an inside handoff and burst through the line practically untouched, out-racing Auburn defenders 69 yards up the sideline for a touchdown and a commanding 31-3 lead.