ENGSTER: Auburn successful in the close ones

The last time Auburn was held to seven points or less at home, the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in America by Sports Illustrated. Tommy Tuberville's troops bowed to eighth ranked USC 23-0 on Aug. 30, 2003. The victory over Auburn was the catalyst for a remarkable season for the Trojans, who notably shared NCAA honors with LSU in 2003.

Saturday, LSU's defense was magnificent in limiting Auburn to 182 yards. But Tuberville's cast played just well enough to win as Auburn eked out a 7-3 decision over the Bengals before a crowd of 87,451.

 

The setback may be the lone L on the ledger for Les Miles in 2006, but it could cost LSU a shot at the national title this year. Defeats within the SEC West have far more impact than any other losses on the schedule.

 

In 2003, LSU rebounded from a 19-7 loss at home to Florida because the Gators compete in the SEC East. Miles and crew must now secure victories in all remaining SEC tilts and hope Auburn loses twice in the league. Otherwise, LSU is facing the prospect of posting an 11-1 mark and attending the SEC Championship Game as spectators.

 

In 1972, LSU ran two plays in four seconds to beat Ole Miss; Saturday, the Tigers needed one more play to cover four yards and escape Auburn as the favorite to capture the SEC crown. Instead, the Tigers will lick their wounds against Tulane and Mississippi State before facing a must-win proposition on Oct. 7 at Florida.

 

Twice in modern times, LSU has spoiled a perfect regular season for Auburn. In 1972, Shug Jordan's crew went 10-1, with a 35-7 loss at LSU being the only blemish. In 1988, Pat Dye's team won 10 of 11 regular season assignments, with a 7-6 defeat at TigerTown spoiling a national title push for Auburn.

 

LSU must snatch victory from a bitter defeat or face pre-Saban mediocrity. If Miles directs the Tigers to the victory lane at Gainesville in a few weeks, an 11-1 season becomes realistic. If the Gators prevail, then 8-4 is more likely.

 

Amazingly, LSU has outpointed its first three foes of '06 by a combined score of 93-13, yet a 31.0 to 4.3 average has resulted in a 2-1 worksheet.

 

The Tigers outscored Arizona State, Tennessee and Mississippi State 99-68 in games one, two and three in 2005. LSU was 2-1 after three outings in which its defense was surrendering 22.7 points per game.

 

Another revolting turn for LSU against Auburn is that the Tigers uncharacteristically dropped a close one. Saban and Miles have together produced a 17-6 mark in games decided by seven points or less.

 

Twenty-seven years have passed since LSU limited a foe to seven points or less and lost. The last time was a 3-0 verdict to national champion Alabama on a rainy night in Death Valley. The date was Nov. 10, 1979, as Bear Bryant beat Charlie McClendon for the last time. It was a great rivalry, but clearly dominated by the Bear, who guided the Tide to a 14-2 mark against Charlie Mac.

 

Tuberville is 7-5 vs. LSU (2-2 at Ole Miss; 5-3 at Auburn). LSU is 12-11 vs. Auburn since 1969, but the Aubies enjoy an 8-4 advantage in the last dozen games when the victor has won by less than seven points.

 

1969…LSU by 1

 

1980…LSU by 4

 

1988…LSU by 1

 

1989…Auburn by 4

 

1992…Auburn by 2

 

1994…Auburn by 4

 

1995…Auburn by 6

 

1996…Auburn by 4

 

1997…Auburn by 3

 

2004…Auburn by 1

 

2005…LSU by 3

 

2006…Auburn by 4

 

The clash of the Tigers has resulted in the most competitive rivalry on the schedule for LSU and Auburn.  What a shame the two Tigers didn't tangle in LSU's national championship season of 1958 when LSU was 11-0 and Auburn was 10-0-1 and coming off a national title campaign in 1957.

 

LSU and Auburn celebrated two Heisman Trophy careers with Billy Cannon and Bo Jackson, yet the schools did not play a football game against each other between 1957-59 when Cannon was running wild through the SEC or in 1982-85 when Bo was blasting his way through the conference.

 

The LSU-Auburn rivalry is as intense as it is competitive and will continue to dominate the early season landscape for both powers. It's hard not to count the days until the 2007 date in Baton Rouge after Saturday's epic battle on the plains.

 

But there may be another 11 games in this season. Miles has the talent to eclipse his rookie total of 11 victories and make 2006 another year to remember.

 

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Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.


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