What is a moral victory? It could be described as giving your best possible effort in a ..."/> What is a moral victory? It could be described as giving your best possible effort in a ..."/>

Auburn Football: Reaction to #2 LSU 12, Auburn 10


What is a moral victory? It could be described as giving your best possible effort in a valiant defeat. It could be described as surprising many by staying with a superior opponent for longer than expected. Whatever a moral victory is, Auburn earned one Saturday night… and it my have indicated that Auburn’s football program is headed in the right direction after all.

With the #2 LSU Tigers coming into Auburn as a 20-point favorite, not many thought Auburn had a chance. This includes yours truly, who picked LSU to win 34-10 in a preview article posted Thursday.

Instead, Gene Chizik’s bunch played toe-to-toe with LSU. Brian VanGorder’s defense showed significant improvement, holding LSU to 3 points in the final three quarters. Of course, Auburn (1-3) couldn’t pull it out in the end, losing a 12-10 heartbreaker to the Bayou Bengals. There are many positives to take away from this game for Auburn fans, but big negatives still remain. Here are some grades for Auburn’s near-upset of LSU:

Offense: C-

The offense showed signs of improvement throughout the game, but at the same time, moving the ball consistently was a big challenge for the Tigers. Kiehl Frazier had moments of brilliance, but he was haunted by the same mistakes: Holding onto the ball too long, not making good decisions and overthrowing open receivers. The Tigers couldn’t get a consistent run game going, as running to the wide side of the field almost never gained positive yards. The playcalling on offense was very inconsistent (I’ll touch on that later). Overall, Auburn gained just 183 yards of total offense and 9 first downs. There were positives, but to upset the #2 team in the country, you need better production than 183 yards, 10 points and a few turnovers.

Defense: A-

Outside of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game against Oregon, this game might have been Auburn’s best defensive performance under Gene Chizik. LSU moved the ball well early, driving to the one on their first drive and scoring a touchdown on their next to take a 9-0 lead. From that point on, Auburn’s defense held LSU to 3 points the rest of the game, and that field goal came after LSU recovered a fumble with great field position. Brian VanGorder coached these guys well and, for the first time, the good recruiting actually showed itself on the field. The defensive line had a solid day. The secondary played pretty well also. The tackling wasn’t particularly bad, either, until Jonathan Evans whiffed on Spencer Ware on 3rd-and-3 late in the game, allowing him to gain 33 yards. Overall, the defense played very well and kept Auburn in the game. LSU averaged 48 points per game coming in and Auburn held them to 36 fewer points than that average. The Brian VanGorder era has arrived at last… we hope.

Special Teams: B-

A made field goal, a forced missed field goal, a big return by Onterio McCalebb that, if he had cut to the outside, would have gone for a potential game-winning touchdown… why a B-? Because McCalebb didn’t make that cut, and also… Quan Bray. That muffed punt allowed LSU to score the winning points in the third quarter. That was a huge mistake that helped LSU avoid a huge upset. Auburn’s special teams, usually the golden unit of the team, had a disappointing, inconsistent night. They didn’t play badly, but they made costly mistakes that contributed to Auburn losing the game.

Coaching: B

Gene Chizik coached well enough to keep Auburn toe-to-toe with the #2 team in the country. Brian VanGorder coached very well, dialing up exotic blitzes, pressuring Zach Mettenberger and stopping LSU’s offense in key situations. However, Scot Loeffler was, once again, inconsistent. There were times he would be on a roll with his playcalling, but for the most part, he was very predictable and… well, let’s face it, his offense gained 183 yards. Sure, LSU’s defense is very good, but the playcalls didn’t make sense at times, especially in the fourth quarter. I mean, where was Sammie Coates on the last drive? 39 seconds to go, down two points, and the best receiver on the team isn’t on the field? It’s insane. This team was well-prepared, but the offensive play-calling must improve if Auburn wants to be above .500 this year.

Overall: B

The Tigers played very well, exceeding most Auburn fans’ expectations. LSU wasn’t exactly sharp, but Auburn’s defense played extremely well for the most part. Gene Chizik got off of whatever kind of hot seat that Finebaum callers had him on (which must represent Auburn’s whole fanbase, according to ESPN). The Tigers showed significant progress. It’s obvious Frazier isn’t the QB of the future, but he’s the QB of 2012 and people will have to live with it. Overall, Auburn put up a valiant effort and played their best game of the season so far, even though it was a loss.

Auburn’s MVP: Jordan-Hare Stadium. I stated in my prediction article that Auburn’s key to winning was to use the home-field advantage to force LSU into making mistakes, and that’s exactly what happened… well, almost. LSU was better than Auburn in every single way, but since the game was at Jordan-Hare, the Tigers were in the game until the very end. Jordan-Hare was absolutely electric Saturday night. Easily the best atmosphere the stadium’s had since 2010.

LSU’s MVP: Spencer Ware. LSU’s running attack was inconsistent all night long, but Ware was LSU’s main workhorse on the night. Of LSU’s 182 rushing yards, Ware accounted for 90 of them on 16 carries. He also caught two passes for 44 yards, including the 33-yarder late in the game that allowed LSU to bleed the clock. Ware had just 38 rushing yards for the season coming in but he ended up being LSU’s most important offensive player with Mettenberger struggling.

Conclusion: After a negative first three weeks, it finally seems that Auburn’s football program is headed in the right direction after all. There are brighter days ahead for Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers. In 2013, VanGorder will get guys like Reuben Foster, Dee Liner and Carl Lawson to use defensively, and if Saturday was any indication, he’ll be able to coach them up well. Loeffler must improve or else he may be on the hot seat by the of the season. In the end, Auburn played well, and despite being 1-3, most Tiger fans feel better about this team than they did a few days ago.