AUBURN, Ala. – It seems like every few years, LSU does just enough to save Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s job, which always seems to be in peril.
The 2016 game here at Jordan-Hare Stadium was billed as loser-leave-town match with the job security of both Malzahn and LSU’s Les Miles on the line.
LSU had a game-winning TD pass nullified because it was snapped after the final second ticked off the clock, Auburn won 18-13 and Miles was fired the next day.
There was such suspense on Saturday. LSU made Malzahn, who was 8-8 in the SEC the last two years, look like an offensive mastermind in a 48-11 pounding of the hapless visiting Tigers.
Malzahn’s offense cashed in 21 points off three turnovers by LSU true freshman quarterback TJ Finley and scored TDs on six straight possessions.
In the end, the 37-point loss was LSU’s worst defeat margin since Steve Spurrier-coached Florida destroyed the Tigers 56-13 in 1996.
Sophomore quarterback Bo Nix enjoyed the finest day of his Auburn (4-2 overall and in SEC West) career, throwing for 300 yards and 2 TDs and rushing for 81 yards and a TD.
And Nix sat out all but one play in the fourth quarter, but that snap was his 91-yard TD strike to Anthony Schwartz.,
Auburn chewed up and spit out LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s unit, totaling 506 yards. It was the third time this season LSU has allowed more than 500 yards total offense.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense was dialed in on LSU, which finished with 347 yards but many of them after the fact. LSU was held without a touchdown until 8:43 in the game when true freshman backup quarterback Max Johnson fired a 43-yard TD pass to Kayshon Boutte.
Johnson threw for 172 yards and that TD in relief of Finley, who passed for 143 yards including two interceptions.
Finley got no help from LSU’s rushing attack, which gained just 32 yards on 27 carries.
LSU navigated through a scoreless first quarter, its defense giving up a pair of 30-plus yard drives but eventually forcing punts.
A 44-yard LSU drive positioned Cade York for a 54-yard field goal attempt for the game’s first points, except he sailed it wide right.
And that’s when trouble started.
LSU dodged Auburn’s first bullet when cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. ripped loose an 18-yard completion to Seth Williams at the LSU 1 and the fumble rolled out-of-bounds for a touchback.
It took three plays for LSU to give the ball back to the home team. Finley sailed a pass over Terrace Marshall into the waiting hands of Auburn cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett, who had a clear path to the end zone before Finley forced him out at the LSU 4.
Two plays later, Nix threw a 9-yard TD to Eli Stove on a well-executed misdirection screen pass for a 7-0 lead with 12:13 left in the second quarter.
Two LSU series later on third and 6 at the LSU 29, Auburn defensive linemen Colby Wood and Derick Hall collapsed Finley’s passing pocket. Instead of taking the sack, Finley tried to wriggle free, had the ball ripped from his grasp by Hall and linebacker Christian Tutt collected the fumble and ran 20 yards for a 14-0 Auburn advantage 5:27 before halftime.
LSU was forced to punt on its ensuing series but it appeared to flip field position when a 54-yard Zach Von Rosenberg punt was downed at the Auburn 1.
Starting with a 26-yard Tank Bigsby run on Auburn’s first snap, it drove 99 yards with Nix flipped a 89-yard TD pass to Ze’Vian Capers with 40 seconds left in the half.
Though LSU avoided a first-half shutout on York’s 50-yard field goal as time expired, it didn’t matter.
Because when play resumed after halftime, Auburn’s offense kept pounding LSU and Finley kept setting the table for AU.
Right after Nix scored on a 5-yard run to end Auburn’s 75-yard second half opening drive for a 28-3 advantage with 11:35 left in the third quarter, Finley had a pass batted in the air on LSU’s first snap which Auburn end Big Kat Bryant intercepted at the LSU 21.
Five plays later, Bigsby banged in for a 2-yard TD and a 35-3 Auburn lead with 8:55 left in the third quarter.
That was Orgeron’s cue to pull Finley and insert Johnson, who did his best to save face for his team.