By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
AUBURN, Ala. — For the second time in as many weeks, D.J. Chark displayed impeccable footwork to get his feet down in bounds after hauling in a pass from Danny Etling in the end zone.
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Only this time it didn’t count.
An official review concluded the final second had evaporated off the game clock before Etling could take the snap and deliver the dramatic, game-winning, season-saving score.
LSU’s wild celebration proved premature as Auburn was declared the winner by 18-13 decision Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I thought we won the game,” Etling said. “I thought the game was over.”
Just one more mistake on a night chocked full of them for the LSU offense. Etling’s comeback bid was valiant and came one clock tick away from being successful, but it’s the offense that’s again to blame as LSU lost to a struggling Auburn team that didn’t score a touchdown all night.
LSU totaled 338 yards of offense on 59 plays compared to 388 yards on 75 plays for Auburn. The Plainsmen out possessed the visitors by a margin of 32:11 to 27:49. Both relevant factors on a night where the temperature on the field exceeded 100 degrees for much of the game.
By all accounts, the final tally would have been more lopsided has LSU’s defense not forced Auburn to settle for six Daniel Carlson field goal and mounted a goal-line stand to keep the game at 9-7 heading into halftime.
“I think our defense was on the field too long,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We made some early drives, but couldn’t score many points on offense. If we could do that, then our defense would be fine.”
The clock mismanagement at the end of the game will be the miscue everyone talks about, but the game may not have hung so precariously in the balance if it weren’t for the litany of mistakes that preceded it.
Trailing 15-13 in the fourth quarter, LSU drove into Auburn territory only to turn the ball over on an inexplicable dropped handoff by Etling. Chark dropped a sure-fire touchdown when he got behind the defense in the first half. Colby Delahoussaye hooked a 51-yard field goal after Etling took one of three sacks allowed by an offensive line
missing right tackle Toby Weathersby.
The failure to convert Arden Key’s fourth-quarter strip sack of Sean White looms largest of the missed chances. Leonard Fournette (16 carries, 101 yards) got stopped short on third-and-three, forcing LSU to settle for a field goal. LSU finished 4-for-13 converting third downs.
Etling looked like he’d gone 12 rounds inside a boxing ring as he spoke with the media afterward. The quarterback took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Tre’ Matthews in the first half. Matthews was ejected for targeting after a video review.
After a quick examination, Etling returned to the game one play later showing no signs of concussion symptoms, according to both Miles and Etling’s own account. He played valiantly on the final drive, diving ahead for a first down despite the obvious beating he’s taken from Auburn’s defense.
“I know that we completed a drive that gave us an opportunity to win the game,” Miles said. “I thought (Etling) played tough, hard-nosed football the way he scrambled and extended plays. I think we as a team can play better.”
Etling accounted for LSU’s only touchdown with an ad lib scramble. He eventually shovel passed the ball to Foster Moreau, who dove forward and reached the ball across the goal line for a three-yard score. He finished the game 15-for-27 for 118 yards. Plenty of that blame rests with an offensive line that couldn’t protect and a receiving corps that failed to create much separation.
Such meager yardage totals through the air have been more the norm than the exception under Miles in recent years. But normally, on a night when LSU rushes for 220 and doesn’t yield a single touchdown, it’s still enough to result in victory.
It wasn’t Saturday, and the Bayou Bengals have nobody but themselves to blame for it.