Auburn Football: Tigers Are A Changed Team Since “Embarrassing” 2013 LSU Loss


Sep 21, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Jeremy Hill (33) runs against the Auburn Tigers during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn remembers the 2013 trip to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge well.

“I’ve still got a bad taste in my mouth from the LSU game last year,” Malzahn said Monday night on the Tiger Talk radio show. “First half, we were embarrassing and they let us have it.”

It was September 21, and the 3-0 Tigers were unranked and yet to make an impact on a national scale. After struggling to do anything offensively against LSU, it didn’t look like they would.

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Things did not start well in the sloppy conditions of a driving rainstorm. On the opening drive of the game, Auburn missed a fourth down attempt at the 41-yard line when quarterback Nick Marshall fumbled and LSU recovered. Three short plays later, Jeremy Hill raced 49 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the home team.

Following a three-and-out on the second Auburn possession, Auburn punter Steven Clark dropped a snap that gave LSU control on the Auburn 9-yard line. Hill needed only one opportunity to score, and waltzed practically untouched into the end zone to push the lead to two touchdowns with roughly ten minutes left in the opening period.

LSU nearly took a 21-0 first quarter lead, but a fumble in the red zone saved Auburn momentarily. Of course, the Bayou Bengals would push their lead to three touchdowns shortly thereafter when Hill again broke off a big run – this time a 54-yarder that ended at the Auburn 1-yard line and JC Copeland found the end zone with 12:34 left in the second quarter. At that point, Hill had carried the football only eight times, but had 140 yards and two touchdowns.

“Our guys came back, they responded like champions in the second half and it gave us momentum the rest of the year,” Malzahn said in his Tuesday press conference. “But that was one of the negative things you remember from last year.”

The second half was far better for Auburn, but it was too little too late. The teams swapped touchdowns through the third quarter and early fourth, and with LSU leading 35-14 with six and a half minutes left, Cameron Artis-Payne scored on a 12-yard run to give the game final margin of 35-21.

Simply put, LSU controlled the game from start to finish. The box score is misleading, as Auburn running back Tre Mason ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns and Sammie Coates had 139 receiving yards on four catches, and the Tigers rolled up 437 yards of total offense. But, sloppy play and turnovers were the story. Nick Marshall was 17-for-33 for 224 yards and two interceptions.

Sep 21, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn against the LSU Tigers during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Auburn 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

However, everything changed for Auburn shortly after that embarrassing loss. It was a definitive turning point.

Malzahn and his coaching staff retooled the offense in the subsequent bye week and made a more conscious effort to run the football first and foremost. Marshall, who had attempted 103 passes in the first four games of the season, threw the ball just 136 times the rest of the year.

Auburn went on to become the first SEC team to lead the nation in rushing with 328.3 yards per game, and Mason became a Heisman Trophy finalist. Most importantly, of course, the Tigers did not lose again in the regular season, and then beat Missouri 59-42 in the SEC Championship Game to claim the conference crown and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

Just over a year later, it is Auburn that enters the Saturday matchup undefeated and ranked No. 5. The Tigers will host a rebuilding opponent at Jordan-Hare Stadium, featuring not only a first-year quarterback in true freshman Brandon Harris, but the youngster will be making his first collegiate start.

LSU won’t sneak up on anyone this season like Auburn did last year, and they certainly will give Auburn everything the Tigers can handle Saturday. But, the Auburn Tigers are motivated to atone for the loss in Death Valley last season and to continue the momentum gained from last year’s game against LSU.

“That was one of the defining moments of our year,” Malzahn said. “The first half, they got after us really good. There was not a whole lot was good on offense, defense or special teams. Our guys decided at halftime they weren’t going to shut her down. They were going to keep fighting. We fought back. It really gave us some momentum for the rest of the season.”