Everything was set up for LSU to struggle Saturday.
Everything was there for the top-ranked Tigers to have fight and claw for the first time in a while to stay on top in the polls and the SEC West and stay unbeaten this late in the season for the first time since 1973.
Yep, this was supposed to be the real test for LSU, the game when it got pressed to the edge heading into a huge showdown in two weeks.
What transpired, though, was just another SEC romp for an LSU team that seems oblivious to controversy and distraction this season.
It almost doesn’t look right: LSU 45, Auburn 10.
Three LSU starters were suspended, starting defensive end Ken Adams was out of action with a bum knee and starting center PJ Lonergan was watching from the sideline against a 19th-ranked Auburn team riding some momentum after beating Florida the week before.
So all the ingredients were there for a real dogfight between these two old West Division rivals, whose games have often featured the weird and unexpected.
Instead, none of that mattered and it was just another day at the office for LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC), another double-digit victory (that’s eight in a row) and the fifth win this season by 30 points or more.
“A team is never about a single player,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It’s never about the injury that you miss or the coach. It’s about the strength and the abilities of the sum. This is a quality team. This is a great group of young kids. They fight like hell. They’re tough and they enjoy playing. Do you realize how much fun we had (Saturday)?”
Indeed, there was plenty of fun to go around.
Sparked by big plays, the offense churned out 393 yards and scored on five consecutive series in the second and third quarters.
The defense registered a season-high six sacks and fed off senior Ron Brooks’ interception return for a touchdown that sparked a shuffled secondary.
Special teams also dominated with a forced fumble that set up a TD and several bone-jarring hits.
The end result of arguably LSU’s best game this season was the most points it had ever produced against Auburn (5-3, 3-2), which led to the most lopsided victory in the 46-game series and was also LSU’s third consecutive SEC win by 30 points or more – a program first.
“This was a pretty fun game for all of us,” center T-Bob Hebert said. “We really played well.”
Lee finished 14-of-20 for 165 yards. Hilliard rushed 10 times for 65 yards and Michael Ford led LSU’s rushing attack with 82 yards. Randle finished with 106 yards on five grabs – TDs of 42 yards from Jefferson and 46 from Lee.
“We have a great team,” Randle said matter-of-factly.” If we go out and execute what we have to do, I don’t see anybody that can stay on the field with us. As long as we keep playing like this, it’s going to be easy for us.”
It sure looked that way on the first series of the game.
LSU took the opening kickoff and churned downfield without much resistance and Hilliard punched into the end zone on a 9-yard run – his first career TD – to cap a 76-yard tone-setting drive.
“It’s just about time for another young runner to emerge and grow,” Miles said of Hilliard, the state’s all-time leading rusher, who had carried only five times all season before Saturday. “Kenny makes a run in the Tennessee game that tells everybody that ‘Wow, he’s ready.’ ”
Auburn closed to within 7-3 on Cody Parkey’s 42-yard field goal late in the opening quarter, but most of the rest of the day belonged to LSU.
Following a lull when the teams exchanged a handful of punts, Jefferson and Randle revived the crowd of 93,098 with a picture-perfect 42-yard hookup as Jefferson delivered a perfect pass with the pressure on.
Moments later Lee uncorked an equally flawless throw to Randle who ran down the right sideline through a double team and snared the ball in stride for a 46-yard score.
Just like that, a precarious 7-3 cushion was 21-3.
“As long as they keep placing the ball like that, we’re going to make a lot of big plays,” Randle said.
Said Lee of Randall, who has seven touchdown catches this season and has at least one in six of eight games, “He makes those kinds of plays. Right now he’s separating really well. He’s getting open and we’ve got to get the ball in his hands. He’s a special player for us.”
LSU’s offense wasn’t done being special and the defense kicked in as well in a 21-point eruption in a 2:24 span.
That 21-3 advantage quickly ballooned when Lee swung a 10-yard TD pass to Russell Shepard on LSU’s opening series of the third quarter.
Any hope Auburn had of snatching momentum back evaporated when it punted to start the third quarter and LSU mowed down the field for another touchdown.
Lee rifled a 27-yard pass to Chase Clement, Michael Ford blazed 23 yards to flip the field and four plays later Lee floated a pass to Shepard on the right flat. Shepard shimmied past two defenders and dove toward the pylon, making contact.
Officials at first ruled Shepard down inches from the goal line, but an official review reversed that for a touchdown that swelled the lead to 28-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, Eric Reid drilled AU’s Tre Mason and jarred the ball loose. Tahj Jones recovered at the 22 and three Hilliard runs after a holding penalty on LSU gobbled up 31 yards – culminating with his 1-yard plunge.
Auburn got the ball back but held it for only two snaps. Clint Moseley tried to zip a quick pass to DeAngelo Benton on a quick out route, but Brooks jumped in front, shrugged off Benton’s tackle attempt and raced 28 yards for another TD.
He finished with four tackles and the spirit-breaking pick-six.
“We try to make sure everybody is ready whether you’re a starter or backup,” Brooks said. “When your number is called, you have to be ready to step up and make plays.”
There was plenty of that on both sides of the ball for LSU.
While the offense stole the spotlight, the defense limited Auburn to 248 total yards – 113 in the first half and 162 until an 86-yard TD drive in the closing minutes.
Moseley showed some grit, passing for 145 yards in his first career start, but he was also sacked six times for -56 yards.
“Offensively when you give up six sacks and you can’t run the football, you have a hard time winning,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after the worst loss of his three-year tenure.
“They did a lot of whatever they wanted. They blitzed, they four-man rushed and they disrupted us.”
Yep, LSU did most anything it wanted and that’s something that’s becoming a common refrain.
No matter what storms might brew during the week or which players are available.
Miles was asked about the suspensions of Simon, Mathieu and tailback Spencer Ware and sidestepped an answer, at least for now.
Seems he was more interested in letting another huge win soak in instead.
“I probably know the answer to that but I don’t want to talk about it,” he said when asked if the suspended players would be back for a mammoth road trip to No. 2-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) on Nov. 4. “This team in several times in this year has really gone beyond distraction and beyond what could be perimeter noise to focus and play. This team does that. I’m thrilled. We’ll talk about those other three guys pretty quick.
“There’s a point where you have to enjoy the position that you’re in. We’ve achieved significantly to this point.”
Defense doesn't miss a beat Recruiting notebook SCORING RECAP: LSU 45, Auburn 10 Click here for the statistics on LSU's 45-10 victory
Recruiting notebook SCORING RECAP: LSU 45, Auburn 10 Click here for the statistics on LSU's 45-10 victory
SCORING RECAP: LSU 45, Auburn 10 Click here for the statistics on LSU's 45-10 victory
Click here for the statistics on LSU's 45-10 victory