AUBURN, Ala. — LSU kicker Cole Tracy drilled a 42-yard field goal as time expired to lift No. 12 LSU to a 22-21 win over No. 7 Auburn Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. The kick capped a 14-play, 52-yard drive that drained the final 5:38 of the game to send the visitors into the locker room as victorious.
Quarterback Joe Burrow — in his first SEC road start with LSU — completed a third-and-7 and a fourth-and-7 on the final drive of the game to lead LSU into field goal range in front of the hostile orange and blue clad crowd. The LSU comeback was courtesy of Burrow’s cool hand, as the offense scored on three of its final five drives of the game while Auburn remained stuck at 21 on the scoreboard for the 25 minutes of the game.
Both defenses played up to their reputations of being among the best in the SEC. LSU picked off Jarrett Stidham twice and kept Auburn’s second-half drives short, giving the ball back to the offense and keeping Gus Malzahn from his intention of bleeding out the clock to hold on for a win.
Let’s look at three things to know about what might have been the most impressive road win the SEC since Johnny Manziel took down Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
1. The SEC title race runs through Baton Rouge: It’s very, very hard to win on the road in the SEC West. By not only showing up but pulling off the win, this LSU team has proven that it is very much capable of competing for and winning an SEC Championship in 2018. A quick glance down the schedule will make a college football fan salivate, because not only is LSU back in SEC title contention, but the SEC title race is going to run through Death Valley — where, as Les Miles once said, “dreams go to die.”
Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama all visit Baton Rouge this year, meaning LSU is sure to have a key figure not only in the SEC West race but also will have a chance to play a role in the SEC East race with its matchups against both the Bulldogs and its annual rivalry with Florida. LSU winning at Auburn was not the massive upset that the double-digit betting line might suggest, but this was an announcement to the rest of the league that the Tigers is for real.
2. LSU won with elite talent at wide receiver: Auburn limited LSU to just 2.9 yards per rushing attempt for the game but it had no answers for the matchup on the outside. Ed Orgeron and the LSU offensive staff seemed to know that, and that’s why we saw Joe Burrow continue to pick on those cornerbacks from the moment the game started.
Burrow only completed 15 of 34 passes, but none of those incompletions were interceptions (while Stidham had two picks), and that continued a concentrated effort to find advantageous matchups. This represented both the best LSU’s offense had to offer and likely played a role in the pass interference penalty that kept the game-winning drive alive.
3. Auburn has found its primary back: The three-headed running back rotation of Kam Martin, JarTarvious Whitlow and Shaun Shivers was always going to be fluid, but if Saturday’s game showed anything, it’s that Whitlow has the highest ceiling of the bunch. Kerryon Johnson carried an enormous load for Auburn in 2017, largely as a result of injuries, and when Gus Malzahn has had full health at that position, he’s found ways to use multiple backs in the flow of his offense. Martin — the junior and most experienced of the bunch — was the listed starter on Saturday but had just two carries for four yards going into the fourth quarter.
Whitlow, on the other hand, was the team’s leading rusher and showed a great burst in special teams. He and Shivers — also a freshman — were thrown into the fire through three weeks of the season, going up against two of the better defenses in the country in Washington and LSU. The Auburn ground game still has a lot of improvement left to reach championship caliber, but its youth movement at the running back position has proven to be an encouraging sign of what this team can be at the end of the year.
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