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Auburn football: Showdown today with LSU for first place in SEC West

Both Tigers have escaped undefeated

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger- enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — LSU coach Les Miles has nicknames aplenty, most deriving from the late-game decisions that, for better or worse, have defined him the past couple years.

He has been dubbed “The Mad Hatter,” a nod to his propped-up hat placement and crazy crunch-time calls. He has been “Lucky Les” lately, after LSU pulled out nail-biters against Tennessee and Florida.

“I prefer to be lucky,” Miles said, not dodging the association. “I think that’s met with some earnest preparation and some hard work. And I think that those guys that get lucky, that maybe they work hard.”

One team’s charmed run will end at Jordan-Hare Stadium this afternoon, when the last two unbeatens in the SEC, No. 4 Auburn and No. 6 LSU, meet with the Western Division’s top spot on the line.

LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC) has twice survived scares this season. Tennessee infamously had 13 men on the field earlier this month, bailing LSU out of a late-game clock management disaster and allowing the Tigers a second chance to score the winning touchdown with no time left.

Two weeks ago, Miles called for a fake field goal in the fourth quarter against Florida, getting a fortuitous bounce when a pitch to the kicker hit the ground and hopped right into his arms on the run for a first down that set up the winning score.

Some call it luck.

“You could say it like that,” Auburn quarterback Cam newton said. “You also could turn that on us and say: What if this wouldn’t have happened in our game?”

True, Auburn (7-0, 4-0) has had some good fortune along the way — Mississippi State’s dropped passes, Clemson’s missed field goal in overtime, a pair of favorable replay rulings against Arkansas — just like LSU.

It’s why the Tigers have a good understanding of where their opponent is coming from.

“That says they must be a close team like we are if they’ve been winning like we have,” Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “They must be as willing to fight for each other as the guys are here. It’s a testament to the guys they have there and the coaches.”

Both teams are OK with outsider perceptions.

“We’re not trying to convince nobody,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. “I really don’t care. We don’t believe in that, to be honest with you. As long as the 150 guys and the coaches in the room believe that we can handle it, that’s all that I really care about.”

“I don’t think either one of us are looking for any greater respect at this point,” Miles said. “I don’t know if a ranking makes a hill of beans right now. It’s all about just winning the game at hand.”

If history is an indicator, today’s game could come down to a lucky play or two.

Eight of the past 15 games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less.

It was the 2007 game that Miles’ reputation as a gambler got a boost, eschewing the field goal for a 22-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd with 1 second left in the game for a 30-24 victory.

It wasn’t the only thrilling recent finish between these two sets of Tigers.

In 2006, Auburn safety Eric Brock made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 4-yard line on the final play to preserve a 7-3 win.

In 2005, Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals as LSU pulled out a 20-17 overtime win.

The year before that, with Hurricane Ivan looming, Auburn’s Courtney Taylor caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to set up a second-chance extra point by Vaughn for a 10-9 win.

“There is great history between the two schools,” Miles said. “It always seems to come down to a very close and competitive game.”

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