Tuberville, Tigers dealt harsh blow

Auburn has seen the highs and the lows this season of the topsy-turvey, can't-put-your-finger-on-it Southeastern Conference.

September 29 was the high. The Tigers traveled to then-No. 3-ranked Florida and beat the defending National Champion Gators 20-17 on a field goal by place kicker Wes Byrum that sailed through the goal posts as time expired.

 

Last Saturday night in Tiger Stadium came the low. As the game clock ticked down to one second, LSU's Demetrius Byrd landed in the north end zone of Tiger Stadium holding the winning 22-yard touchdown pass and giving LSU a 30-24 win over the visiting Tigers.

 

"We've made some plays and won some games," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "But it's tough to lose that one in that situation."

 

The loss dropped the up and down Auburn Tigers to 5-3 overall and out of what could have been a first place tie with their bitter in-state foe Alabama at 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division. Instead, Auburn was left reeling with a loss to LSU, who remained tied atop the SEC west with Alabama.

 

Making the loss doubly difficult for Tuberville and his team to stomach was the fact that they led most of the contest against a No. 4-ranked LSU team that was as much as a 10-point favorite.

 

The visiting Tigers did not trail in the contest until the 12:55 mark of the fourth quarter when LSU's Jacob Hester lunged just inside the pylon in the north end zone along the Auburn sideline to give LSU a 20-17 lead.

 

LSU extended that lead to 23-17 with 8:12 to play on a 33-yard field goal by Colt David. But, Auburn did not hang its head. Instead, it drove 83 yards into the heart of an LSU defense that had stiffened in the second half after giving up 17 points in the first half, but was steadily growing weary.

 

Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox completed 4-of-6 passes on a nine-play drive with his team trailing 23-17 late in the game. His last completion was to Rod Smith from three yards out to tie the game 23-23 with 3:21 remaining in the game. Byrum's point after gave Auburn a 24-23 lead.

 

Cox performed admirably, completing 18-of-28 pass attempts for 199 yards and two touchdowns. In the end it was not enough to overcome the 22-of-34, 319 yard, three touchdown performance by LSU quarterback Matt Flynn.

 

"We felt pretty confident (after scoring the go-ahead touchdown)," Cox said. "Our defense usually steps up and shuts them down there late. But, it's been a long time since someone has scored like that against our defense. It's tough to go away like that."

 

LSU's offense amassed 351 yards in the second half more than twice the 137 it gained in the first half. The home-town Tigers needed little help moving the ball in the second half, but Auburn gave it to them anyway.

 

In an effort to keep the ball away from LSU's dangerous kick returners, Auburn squib kicked kickoffs throughout the game, even trying an onsides kick in the second quarter. That strategy seemed to work early as LSU was unable to move the ball effectively in the first half. It backfired after the go-ahead touchdown with 3:21 to play though, as LSU claimed the kickoff at its 42 and needed to gain only about 40 yards to be in effective range for a potential game-winning field goal that it ultimately didn't need.

 

"We just didn't kick it hard enough or get a very good kick," Tuberville said. "We weren't going to kick it to their returner. He's dang good and we gave them about 10 yards more than what we had hoped."

 

Poor kickoff aside, Tuberville said his offense's inability to score in the second half and his defense's inability to stop LSU's passing game lost the contest more than anything else.

 

Auburn's offense has struggled throughout the season, ranking 10th out of 12 teams in the SEC, averaging just 335 yards per game. But, its defense had picked up the slack, ranking second in the league and ninth in the country, allowing just 279 yards per game. The visiting Tiger's offense finished with just 296 yards against LSU's vaunted defense. But, Auburn's defense gave up a whopping 488 yards to LSU, with 169 of those yards coming on the ground, 60 more than its average for the season.

 

Tuberville blamed his defense's second-half lapse on the offense's inability to stay on the field in the second half. After gaining 10 first downs in the first half, Auburn managed just six in the second half.

 

"We came out in the fourth quarter and we might have made one first down and we put our defense in a bind," Tuberville said. "We got tired. We just haven't played four quarters yet offensively and we have to find the reasons why. The defense can't stand out there all day long against a good offense."

 

Tuberville's team is left to regroup and try to push its way into the SEC Championship game despite the two losses. LSU and Alabama, both atop the SEC West, each have one conference loss and will play in two weeks. A win by Alabama over LSU and a win by Auburn over Bama to end the season would possibly give Auburn the crown in the West. But, between now and the traditional Iron Bowl showdown with bitter for Alabama, Auburn must defeat Ole Miss and Georgia.

 

Said Tuberville sarcastically, "we just have to go back to practice."

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