AUBURN, Ala. — LSU went out and got Joe Burrow and Cole Tracy for games like this.
Ed Orgeron and Co. signed the graduate transfer from Ohio State to lead the offense in big games where LSU was going to have to throw the ball — and throw it well — in order to win. It signed a solid kicker to not waste those efforts in the decisive moments of said games.
Both did their jobs on the grand stage at Auburn to deliver the biggest win of the Orgeron Era at LSU.
Burrow led LSU back from an 11-point deficit in the second half, connecting with Derrick Dillon on an improbably 71-yard touchdown to get LSU within two points in the fourth quarter.
Tracy than drilled a game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired to lift No. 12 LSU past No. 7 Auburn 22-21 in shocking fashion at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
For LSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), the come-from-behind victory makes two wins top-10 foes in three weeks, both of which came outside the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium. This one over an Auburn (2-1, 0-1 SEC) team universally picked ahead of LSU in the SEC West.
“I’d qualify it as the big game for now,” Orgeron smiled. “Until the next one.”
It took a stunning turn of events for LSU to get back into a game it seemingly had let get away from it in the second and third quarters.
LSU took a 10-0 lead in the first half only to watch Auburn score 21 unanswered points and cease control of the game amid a mess of blown opportunities, costly penalties and a demoralizing fake punt that led to Auburn extending its lead to 21-10.
“We kept on playing,” Orgeron said. “We came into the game knowing we were going to be very aggressive. We had a fake punt. Foster (Moreau) was wide open, but we didn’t connect. Obviously then went down and scored, so that was a big turning point, but we never stopped fighting.”
That misfire from Zach Von Rosenberg on the fake punt set Auburn up for its third touchdown in four possessions — the other was a simple kneel down going into the half. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham found Darius Slayton in the end zone on third-and-goal for what felt like a back-breaking score.
Auburn has chances to go for the jugular, but a Greedy Williams interception and a missed field goal kept LSU within striking distance. LSU punted on three of its next four possessions, but a defense that looked spent in the first half dug deep and kept them in the game.
Then, seemingly out of thin air, lightning struck the heat-baked Plains.
Trailing 21-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Burrow dropped back and threaded a touch pass over the head of Auburn middle linebacker DeShaun Davis. Derrick Dillon plucked it out of mid-air, turned up-field and outran two defensive backs to the pylon for the 71-yard catch and run.
“That was huge,” Burrow said. “These games are all about momentum. We started off strong, trailed at the end of the half and then they started picking it up. We didn’t get it going again until the fourth quarter, but that play sparked us throughout the rest of the game.”
The ensuing two-point conversion fell incomplete, meaning Auburn once again got the ball with a chance to ice the game. A holding penalty put the Plainsmen behind the chains, and the defense managed to corral a Stidham scramble and force another punt.
Burrow and Co. took over on their own 24-yard line with 5:38 left on the clock. The first of two pass interference calls and a third-and-seven conversion from Burrow to Dee Anderson moved LSU out to midfield.
LSU momentarily stalled, bringing up fourth-and-seven just inside Auburn territory. Burrow calmly read the defense and drilled a strike to Stephen Sullivan on a slant route, and the 6-foot-7 receiver boxed out a smaller defensive back to keep the drive alive.
Burrow then went deep down the left sideline for Justin Jefferson, his go-to receiver all night, and a flag flew in for pass interference. That moved LSU well within Tracy’s range, and Orgeron elected to run the ball into the line and set up the game-winning kick.
“We thought about kicking it on third down,” Orgeron said after the game. “That’s how much confidence we had that he was going to make it.”
Some teammates and coaches had the confidence to watch as Tracy and the field goal unit jogged onto the field. Others, including Burrow, were so nervous that they put their head in their hands and waited for the crowd reaction to tell them if it went through of not.
Tracy’s line drive of a kick sailed through the uprights with relative ease, bringing a stunned silence over the sellout crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tracy isn’t quite sure what happened next, but he was being carried off the field by a mob of teammates and LSU was 3-0.