No. 2 LSU survives scare in Auburn
AUBURN, Ala. -- It shouldn't have been close.
LSU came into Auburn ranked No. 2 in the nation for a reason. The visitors are bigger, stronger, and faster than the Auburn team that hosted them. And they have a defense that should have slammed the door early on the home team.
Instead, Les Miles' squad squeaked out a 12-10 win that could have gone the other way at any moment.
It wasn't pretty. Miles knows it, and said as much afterward.
"Nothing routine about it," Miles said. "It was sloppy. We turned the ball over. And the penalties – it's interesting, we practice the ability not to have penalties, but guys lose their poise. We'll certainly be able to teach from this in a very aggressive manner."
LSU beat Auburn in every statistic, in some cases trouncing the home team. The Bengal Tiger offense had 351 total yards to Auburn's 183. They ran better, passed better, and had a lot more defensive plays for negative yardage. They held the ball longer, kicked it farther, converted three times as many third downs and had more sacks and interceptions.
But the game was one last-minute Auburn completion from going down as the biggest upset of the week. It would have been perplexing if you hadn't seen the penalties and fumbles.
LSU lost two crucial turnovers, both by quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the first quarter. The first came on the 2-yard line when LSU was driving for what appeared to be an easy score. The second came when Mettenberger was sacked for a six-yard loss on his own 26.
"That drives you nuts," Miles said. "Turnovers are just something we cannot have."
They also can't have 80 yards worth of penalties.
"I think this was our guys trying to exert themselves, to show that they weren't going to be pushed around," Mile said. "More than anything, I think it was the fact that it was their first close game, first real test."
And therein lies the real problem this LSU team will face going forward.
This close call came about because the Tigers faced inferior opponents the first three weeks of the season. Auburn was their first real test. And that's not saying much.
Mettenberger had been able to sit back in the pocket and play pitch and catch, looking like a Heisman candidate against cupcake opponents like Idaho and North Texas. Because of that, LSU was simply not ready to play disciplined SEC football.
The quarterback got rattled after a couple of fumbles. And the defenders let their emotions get the best of them when they looked up at the scoreboard and saw that a team they should have beaten by three touchdowns had a pretty good shot at a win.
Georgia and South Carolina would have definitely beaten the LSU team that showed up in Auburn. Mississippi State and Florida probably would have beaten them as well.
Alabama would have embarrassed them.
Instead, Miles got to play an Auburn team that hadn't been able to stop Clemson, Mississippi State or Louisiana Monroe. And while Gene Chizik's squad played a scrappy and hard-nosed game, it still hasn't mounted a cohesive offensive outing.
There were spurts. Tre Mason and Orlando McCalebb broke runs for 26 and 20 yards, respectively, and Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen hauled in a couple of 20-plus-yard passes. But quarterback Kiehl Frazier still looked dazed and confused, standing in the pocket too long, bouncing on his toes in the hopes that someone would break open before his protection collapsed.
Frazier was sacked four times and had minus-five yards rushing – not good for a quarterback who won the starting job because of his mobility.
On the other side of the ball, Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder surprised Miles with some of the stunts and formations.
"I think Auburn's defense is a good front," Mile said. "They're mobile, they're aggressive, and they played physical football. I think we missed some passes. I think we mis-executed. But anytime you line up with this quality an opponent, you're tested."
Not as tested as they will be in the coming weeks.
After one more breezy Saturday against Towson at home, the Tigers travel to Florida to face the Gators. Then they host South Carolina.
Both those teams will spend an inordinate amount of time watching film of this game against Auburn.
"We have a lot of things to work on," Miles said, his back stiffening and his chin jutting out as if his open collar were suddenly too tight. "There will be some corrections. That's for sure."