ENGSTER: Auburn game always sets the tone for LSU season

Carl Lawson (55) makes the sack. Auburn vs LSU football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2016 in Auburn, Ala. Dakota Sumpter/Auburn Athletics

Alabama receives top billing when LSU’s monolithic football program faces the dynasty from Tuscaloosa, but the Auburn series is far more consequential than the LSU rivalry with the other Southeastern Conference school in Alabama.

Auburn and LSU are comparable with five national football crowns; the Tigers from Baton Rouge hold a 3-2 edge over Auburn in this department while the Crimson Tide stretches the truth and claims 17 national football championships.

Alabama leads its series with LSU 52-25-5 and has won seven in a row against the Bengals. Nick Saban is the only LSU coach to master the Tide. He was 4-1 vs. his future employer from 2000-2004. Tiger fans have faced the grim realization that beating Bama every third year means success in the Bryant and Saban tenures with the Tide.

The Auburn series carries remarkable significance for LSU, which leads the series against the War Eagles by a 29-22-1 margin.

LSU has never won the SEC football title in a season that included a loss to Auburn. If the Tigers have any hope of capturing division and league crowns in 2018, a victory this Saturday is essential to success for Ed Orgeron and his unit.

For a 26-year period from 1943 to 1968, LSU did not play Auburn despite their common membership in the SEC.  When the series resumed in 1969, the contest at Tiger Stadium was a match for the ages. Since 1969, there have been numerous fantastic finishes about the dueling Tigers.

Here is a rundown of ten of the most memorable LSU-Auburn battles in the last half-century.

1969: LSU 21 Auburn 20, Baton Rouge… LSU opened the game with a halfback pass from Jimmy Gilbert to Andy Hamilton for a 62-yard touchdown. The Tigers preserved victory with a blocked extra point by George Bevan.

1972: LSU 35 Auburn 7, Baton Rouge… LSU overpowered an Auburn team, which went 11-1 and would have challenged USC for the national championship minus the debacle in Baton Rouge. Bert Jones turned in his most brilliant night of his senior All-American season, even better than his more famous Ole Miss performance a few weeks later.

1988: LSU 7 Auburn 6, Baton Rouge… The Earthquake Game prevented Auburn from posting another undefeated season. The Tigers and War Eagles shared the SEC Championship because of Tom Hodson’s fourth-down connection to Eddie Fuller.

1994: Auburn 30 LSU 26, Auburn…. Auburn was riding a 14-game winning streak and trailed 23-9 entering the fourth quarter. Jamie Howard tossed five interceptions in the fourth quarter and set the LSU record with five touchdowns passing in one game, three going to Auburn. The loss was the final blow for Hudson Curley Hallman, who was trying gamely to keep the program from enduring a sixth straight losing season.

1996: LSU 19 Auburn 15, Auburn… During the game, the Auburn Sports Arena, proudly called “The Barn,” burned to the ground across the street from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn tried for a two-point conversion, trailing 17-15. LSU intercepted the pass and returned it for a 19-15 triumph to spark a 10-win season for Gerry DiNardo.

1999: Auburn 41 LSU 7, Baton Rouge…. On Tommy Tuberville’s 45th birthday, Auburn players and coaches smoked cigars on the hallowed ground of Tiger Stadium to celebrate. Auburn has not won in Baton Rouge since. The game provided a death knell to the five-year reign of DiNardo as LSU coach.

2006: Auburn 7 LSU 3, Auburn… The third-ranked War Eagles edged the No. 6 Tigers as JaMarcus Russell closed the game with a completion to Craig Davis, who was stopped at the four-yard line. LSU went 11-2, blew out Notre Dame 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl, and finished at No. 3 in the land in the second year for Les Miles as coach and the seventh for Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator.

2007: LSU 30 Auburn 24, Baton Rouge…. Demetrius Byrd made a last-second catch in the end zone to win for LSU in a game critical to the national championship run for the Tigers. Les Miles defended the play call, insisting there was enough time for a 41-yard field goal attempt had the pass been incomplete. He may have been right, but even Miles backers questioned his sanity at game’s end.

2016: Auburn 18 LSU 13, Auburn… Daniel Carlson booted six field goals as the War Eagles prevailed in the 148th and final game for Miles as LSU coach. His Tigers appeared to score a winning touchdown at the buzzer, but a video review determined that time expired prior to the snap.

2017: LSU 27 Auburn 23, Baton Rouge… Auburn jumped to a 20-0 lead and was poised for its first win at Death Valley in 18 years. The key play in LSU’s comeback was a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by D.J. Chark to start the fourth quarter. LSU won for the ninth straight time in Baton Rouge against its rival, keeping the Tuberville cigar jinx intact.

Nola and Bregman are making MLB look easy

LSU baseball icons Aaron Nola and Alex Bregman are competing for honors at the highest level of the National Pastime. Among all MLB players, Nola is second in Wins above Replacement and Bregman is ranked tenth.

Nola, the 25-year-old ace of the Philadelphia Phillies, has a WAR number of 9.3 in a season in which he has crafted a 16-4 record with a 2.29 ERA and 196 strikeouts. With three weeks remaining in the season, Nola is almost guaranteed to finish in the top three in the National League Cy Young Award balloting.

Nola has established himself as the best pitcher in LSU history. His college record was 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA. Ben McDonald, by contrast, was 29-14 at LSU with a 3.24 ERA.

Nola has already exceeded the most wins compiled by Big Ben in a Major League campaign. McDonald’s highest victory total in nine MLB seasons was 14 in 1994. The Denham Springs right-hander finished his career at 78-70 in 198 starts. Nola, the pride of Catholic High of Baton Rouge, is 40-26 in 89 career starts with the Phillies.

Bregman is in contention to be the American League Most Valuable Player. The 24-year-old infielder, who hit 21 homers in three seasons playing for Paul Mainieri, is batting .299 with a .401 on base percentage for the Houston Astros and has drilled 30 homers and 49 double. Bregman has a WAR score of 7.0.

Bregman’s season is the most productive by an LSU everyday player since Albert Belle slammed 52 doubles and 50 homers in 143 games during a strike-shortened season for the Cleveland Indians in 1995. Belle remains the only player to have 50 doubles and homers in one season. He inexplicably finished second in the MVP balloting to Mo Vaughn of the Boston Red Sox in Belle’s record-shattering year.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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