AUBURN, Ala. – Leave it to the guy with the Harvard degree to succinctly capture the essence of LSU’s Saturday afternoon Jordan-Hare Stadium implosion, a 48-11 loss to Auburn that left the visiting Tigers season in tatters.
“We just got punched in the face, we got absolutely killed,” said LSU starting center Liam Shanahan, a graduate transfer from Harvard. “It stings a lot. We just got embarrassed on a national stage.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron used the `E’ word after Mississippi State handled the Tigers 44-34 in the season opener in what is clearly MSU’s season highlight to date.
To his credit, he didn’t trot it out again after his 2-3 team got cracked by a 4-2 Auburn crew that lost 30-28 to South Carolina, which LSU blasted 52-24 just last weekend.
In his six-minute Zoom postgame presser, Orgeron’s go-to-line trying to explain the various facets of a 37-point loss was, “We’ve got to go look at the film.”
The film should show a mostly young team that isn’t very good and probably has many more lumps to take in a season in which LSU will be fortunate to finish .500. just a year after it won the national championship.
The win over South Carolina apparently was an aberration. True freshman quarterback TJ Finley threw for 265 yards and two TDs, the O-line was an angry force allowing no sacks and the running game produced 276 yards.
None of those things apparently got on the team plane for the trip here.
Finley looked like a freshman QB playing his second college game. His two interceptions and fumble handed Auburn 21 points and gave the home team the confidence it needed to score on an LSU defense that gave up more than 500 yards for the third time this year.
“We got out-physicaled,” Orgeron said.
LSU-Auburn games are always won on the line of scrimmage. And they rarely get out of hand as it did Saturday when Auburn scored its most points ever against LSU.
LSU had nothing in its arsenal preventing the game slipping from its grasp after a 0-0 first quarter.
Usually a strong run game can bail out freshmen quarterbacks, but LSU had 32 yards rushing on 27 attempts, 1.2 yards per game.
“We tried, we couldn’t block those guys,” Orgeron said. “I saw other people block their fronts, I was really surprised we couldn’t run the football.”
It’s obvious LSU’s offensive package for Finley is designed for safe, quick throws. He was 13-of-24 for 143 yards, but once Auburn collapsed the pocket he didn’t have the footspeed to escape.
“We came into this game ready to stop the run and ready to rattle him (Finley) ,” said Auburn defensive Christian Tutt, who scooped a Finley fumble and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
Auburn’s defense forced LSU freshman backup QB Max Johnson, who completed 15 of 24 for 172 yards and 1 TD in relief, into the same scrambling scenarios.
“The two young freshmen are going to be inconsistent because they are freshmen,” Orgeron said. “I can’t expect them to perform well if we can’t block. These (Auburn) defensive linemen were all over these guys and they were running for their lives and it starts with protection.”
Auburn put up 506 yards total offense, including 381 from sophomore quarterback Bo Nix (300 passing and two TDs, 81 rushing and a TD).
But this was a different type of defensive beatdown LSU absorbed, not filled from start to finish allowing big plays as was the case in earlier losses to Mississippi State and Missouri.
This was a methodical, gradual grind-you-down attack. Yes, it still had some huge chunk plays, none bigger than Nix’s 91-yard TD to Anthony Schwartz early in the fourth quarter for Auburn’s final points.
“With a freshman quarterback, we knew they were going to come in here running,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “On defense, we had four sacks, a fumble for a touchdown and an interception that went down to the five-yard line. I’m really proud of our offensive line for running the football 200-plus yards against a national champion.”
Yet, this game was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. What happened?
“We just can’t have one quarter of good defense,” LSU linebacker Jabril Cox said. “Early on, we tried to stick to stopping the run. We knew they were a heavy run team, so tried to contain the QB run. But as the game continued to progress, we kind of let go of what got us there at the beginning and they started to run all over us. They did certain things we weren’t ready for.”
Orgeron noted how well LSU’s defense played early. He even said Tigers’ defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had a good plan.
Well, as the old saying goes, everybody has a plan until as Shanahan said “gets punched in the mouth.”
Auburn scored TDs on six straight possessions, including a 99-yard drive in its last possession of the first half and a 75-yard march to open the second half.
“Our defense really came to play today,” Nix said. “They caused a lot of turnovers, had the fumble for a touchdown, gave us great field position. They just were excited, and they were running around hitting people today. They set us up for success, and that was because we all came to play and we played together.”
Orgeron was asked after the game if there would be any re-assignments on his defensive coaching staff.
“I’m always evaluating, but you’ve got to go through a season and give everybody a chance and look at what we’re doing,” Oregron said. “At the end of the season, we’ll evaluate everything.”
At this point, Orgeron has a team that’s just trying to hang on and not go in the tank, especially after an upcoming open date followed by playing angry No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide haven’t forgotten about LSU’s postgame bravado following last year’s Tigers’ win in Tuscaloosa.
“We have a lot of young guys learning how to play, this is a new team,” Orgeron said. “But you’ve got to learn if you’re going to play Auburn on the road in the SEC, you better be ready to play.”
And again LSU wasn’t, which leads you to believe the worst is still ahead against five opponents seeking revenge for being hammered by last season’s national champs.