Through two games of SEC competition, the numbers for Auburn’s defense are impressive: 17 punts, just a 48% completion rate by opposing quarterbacks, and three forced turnovers, to boot.
Yet the Tigers ae now 1-1 in league play, after four turnovers doomed them in yet another squandered lead in a 21-17 loss to LSU on Saturday evening.
“Obviously things didn’t fall our way in the end,” edge rusher Derick Hall said postgame. “It stings really bad.”
While a more explosive Auburn offense was spotting LSU a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, its defense forced five straight punts to start the game, including a couple of sacks on quarterback Jayden Daniels. The Arizona State transfer entered the game completing 73% of his passes on the year but was just 8-of-20 while flustered by an effective Auburn pass rush. According to Pro Football Focus, seven LSU drops didn’t help the visitors’ cause, either.
When Daniels was injured early in the fourth quarter, giving way to backup Garrett Nussmeier, it was still apparent that LSU wasn’t able to sustain a long drive. Nussmeier went 2-of-6 for 5 yards.
LSU’s combined completion percentage of 38% was the worst by an Auburn opponent in an SEC game since Tennessee went 8-of-24 in 2008. Auburn hadn’t lost an SEC game to a team that completed less than 40% of its passes since Mississippi State in 2007 — until Saturday.
“We felt like we kept him contained,” Hall said of Daniels. “I feel like the mission was accomplished as far as keeping our rush lanes and keeping him in the pocket and keeping him uncomfortable.”
LSU’s two touchdown drives came off missed opportunities by Auburn — a missed field goal right before halftime that gave LSU 1:56 to score before the break, and a failed fourth-and-10 conversion in the third quarter gave LSU its best starting field position to that point in the game.
Even after allowing LSU to creep within a score, 17-14 before halftime, Auburn didn’t blink defensively, immediately forcing a three-and-out, then another punt the next series, too. After LSU went ahead 21-17, Auburn’s defensive series were as follows for the rest of the game: punt, punt, a fumble recovery, end of game.
“Our defense went out and did exactly what they should do,” Bryan Harsin said postgame. “They showed up on the field and tried to get the ball back and create momentum. They gave our offense an opportunity to answer back. At the end of the day, the takeaways just became too much.”
LSU’s 270 yards of offense are the fewest by a Power Five opponent in Harsin’s Auburn tenure — but four turnovers, including a scoop-and-score by LSU in the first half and a trio of giveaways in the fourth quarter — shackled an Auburn offense that showed impressive bounce-back from the ugly outing against Missouri, finishing with 438 yards.
“I think we played lights-out,” linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “We got the stops we needed. Even when adversity hit, a pick or a fumble or whatever, we went out there and we told them, ‘We got y’all. We’re going to get the ball back.’ Create a big turnover. But I’m proud of the guys and how they played.”
In both of Auburn’s losses this season, it’s racked up 400-plus yards of offense but matched it with four turnovers.
It wasn’t a defensive gem by Auburn, but it was still the fewest yards allowed against LSU since 2010. As has been the case all too often in recent memory, though, it was all for naught due to mistakes and second-half regression on the other side of the ball.
“We played our hearts out that whole game,” Pappoe said. “I’m still proud of my guys even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”