AUBURN, Ala. — On the scoreboard, this looked like a classic Auburn-LSU game — low scoring and decided by a slim margin.
While the 18-13 final score wasn’t a product of two elite defenses, it showed that Auburn could win a big one again with its defense and kicking game.
Auburn’s defense kept Leonard Fournette from running wild just one year after a highlight-reel loss in Baton Rouge, and the always-clutch Daniel Carlson tied an Auburn all-time record with 6 field goals.
In a matchup that was billed as a “something’s got to give” game between two struggling offenses, Auburn’s altered attack did just enough to help its much-improved teammates on defense.
Daniel Carlson continued to be automatic Saturday night, tacking on 6 field goals from a wide range of distances and angles. While his ability to hit a 51-yarder and LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye’s miss from the same distance might be the actual difference on the scoreboard, Carlson’s biggest kick came late in the game.
The Auburn offense moved got enough forward momentum with a 15-13 edge to set up Carlson with another short field goal. At times in his Auburn career, Carlson has struggled with the close-range ones. This year is different, though, as he hit a nerve-wracking 29-yarder to make it a 5-point game.
With that lead, Auburn’s defense could go out and deliver one more stop — and this time, its “do not cross” line was across the end zone. Thanks to some good pressure, a penalty and a clock management mishap by LSU (Etling’s walk-off touchdown pass was reversed because he didn’t get it snapped on time), Auburn kept LSU from scoring a touchdown.
Carlson’s 6 field goals tied an all-time Auburn record for a single game set by Al Del Greco in 1982. If Carlson is not the front-runner for the 2016 Groza Award — which is given to the nation’s best kicker — something is seriously wrong.
Could Auburn stop Leonard Fournette from having another huge performance?
Last year, Auburn’s defense allowed LSU star running back Leonard Fournette to take total control of the Heisman Trophy race with 228 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on just 19 carries.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night. Fournette looked more like a standard college running back than one of the best players in the country. He had 101 yards on just 16 carries, breaking just two runs longer than 15 yards.
LSU’s rushing attack carried the visitors and it led to some desperate situations late in the game with Etling. Auburn’s Tigers stiffened near their territory all night and forced Etling to beat them with his arm.
He almost did. But Auburn escaped with a memorable home win.
Does Rhett Lashlee stay as the primary offensive play-caller for Auburn?
Auburn’s offense didn’t light up LSU by any means, especially when the ball reached the red zone. But it’s worth noting that with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee calling plays instead of Malzahn, Auburn averaged 5.2 yards per play — the most against a Power 5 opponent since the Tigers’ 2015 Halloween loss to Ole Miss.
Lashlee’s offense changed things up early, focusing on more downfield passes and spreading the ball around more with Sean White. A powerful-looking Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway traded carries until the latter got “banged up,” as Malzahn put it. That scenario wasn’t always the case against Texas A&M.
I like what Rhett Lashllee is doing calling plays. Limited by system. Turnover determines winner
— Jack Crowe (@CoachJackCrowe) September 25, 2016
Malzahn took Lashlee’s job of staying near the opponent’s secondary and diagnosing what he saw. Lashlee, much like he did against Texas A&M a season ago, got Auburn moving enough with his calls to deliver an SEC West win. The crucial late drive that put the Tigers up by 5 featured several great strategic decisions.
Moving forward, Malzahn needs to determine if this arrangement is successful enough to try again. The Tigers get an underwhelming Sun Belt foe in Louisiana-Monroe next week before their first road trip of the season to Mississippi State. It might be enough time to sharpen the offense.
4.9. Auburn’s average distance to go on third downs against LSU was 4.9, which was almost half of what it had in the loss to Texas A&M in Week 3. Those more manageable situations for the Auburn offense paved the way for six different scoring drives, even though all of them turned into field goals. That, combined with the absolute epitome of a bend-don’t-break defense gave Auburn enough to pick up its first home SEC win since October 2014.