Close win over Auburn is No. 3 LSU's reality check
Zach Mettenberger smartly qualified his attempt to place perspective on LSU's narrow win over Auburn.
The junior quarterback, in his first year as a starter, called Saturday night's 12-10 win ''the biggest game of my life so far.''
The key words in Mettenberger's appraisal were ''so far.'' Much bigger games are coming soon for the Tigers, who are 4-0 but dropped a spot to No. 3 Sunday in The Associated Press Top 25.
LSU plays Towson this week before starting an imposing string of Southeastern Conference games on Oct. 6 at Florida. The Tigers then play South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State.
Coach Les Miles says LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) must improve after struggling offensively against Auburn, which has an overtime victory over Louisiana-Monroe as its only win.
''We were sloppy,'' Miles said. ''It's interesting, we practice the ability not to have penalties, but what happens is guys lose their poise. This is a tremendous lesson for us which is something that we'll certainly be able to teach from in a very aggressive manner.''
Miles said his defense ''played extremely well,'' especially in the second half. The offense was flat as Mettenberger lost two fumbles.
LSU's powerful running game was held to 182 yards - good for most teams but almost 100 yards below the Tigers' league-leading average.
Perhaps the most encouraging drive for LSU's offense didn't produce any points.
The Tigers took possession with 4:17 remaining. LSU needed first downs to run down the clock and prevent Auburn from having the opportunity to attempt a game-winning field goal.
On third-and-4, Mettenberger rolled right and then threw back to Spencer Ware for a 33-yard gain to the Auburn 34. Kenny Hilliard added an 11-yard run for another first down.
Drew Alleman missed a 34-yard field goal, but the first downs left Auburn with only 39 seconds for a drive which started at the Auburn 20 and ended with Kiehl Frazier's second interception.
The throwback pass was the highlight of the game for Mettenberger, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 169 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
''I knew that could potentially be a big play for us,'' Mettenberger said. ''I'm glad it happened. If they had stopped it, the game probably would have been a little different.''
Ware said he didn't expect the play would be called in the crucial situation.
''I was actually surprised when we ran it,'' Ware said.
''I'm the last option. I was kind of the last resort on that play. You just have to keep your composure and make big plays.''
Mettenberger appeared indecisive at times when holding the ball. He was sacked twice by Auburn's Corey Lemonier.
''I made a couple of mistakes early on, but I think this win really showed the character of this team,'' Mettenberger said.
''I think I handled the pressure well.''
Auburn (1-3, 0-2 SEC) trailed 9-0 in the first quarter before leading 10-9 at halftime. Auburn was shut out in the second half but surprised experts who listed LSU as a favorite by almost three touchdowns.
''I'm very proud of the effort they made, the improvement they made,'' said coach Gene Chizik.
Defensive end Dee Ford said the Auburn players expected a close game.
''We came into this game confident, and we knew it was going to come down to the wire,'' Ford said. ''We just didn't finish. That's the thing we have to work on. We just have to work on finishing. We had a top-two team in the nation down to the wire, and we did not finish.''
There are no moral victories for Auburn, which is only two years removed from its 2010 national championship.
''We had a lot of positive things, but we're not happy about losing,'' Ford said. ''We expected to win. We did not want to play this close.''
LSU scored more than 40 points in its first three games. Auburn's defense provided the reminder that SEC games are different.
Lemonier showed he deserves to be included in discussions of top SEC defensive linemen. He forced a fumble on his second sack of Mettenberger.
''Again, I am very proud of the defensive strides we made,'' Chizik said. ''Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely.''