theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Tommy Tuberville’

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

Auburn players celebrate the win in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

In College Football, History on October 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Since this is a bye week for LSU, I thought I’d reminisce a little. Ed Orgeron’s return to Ole Miss reminded me that he was one of the victims of Sylvester Croom. I don’t just mean his team lost to Mississippi St.’s, but he apparently lost his job in large part because of the 2007 game (the 2005 game didn’t help either).

Sylvester Croom after winning the Egg Bowl in a dramatic comeback in Starkville in 2007.

Losses to Sylvester Croom also factored heavily into Florida’s firing of Ron Zook, Alabama’s firing of Mike Shula, and arguably Auburn’s firing of Tommy Tuberville.

I think part of it was the perception of Mississippi St. up until then. Overall from 2001 to 2003, the Bulldogs went 8-27 and only 3-21 in the SEC. So with how competitive the SEC was, that just wasn’t a team you entertained losing to, especially since they were given heavy sanctions stemming from the Jackie Sherrill era.

In fact I remember a Florida fan (ironically) complaining that the SEC West teams got to play “the Mississippis” ever year.

So I’m not even saying it was altogether fair for Croom that losses to his teams were met with such hostility since he did improve the situation from how he found it.

Ron Zook was the only head coach to defeat Nick Saban’s Tigers in 2003; but that didn’t help him much after the loss to the Bulldogs in 2004.

The Bulldogs’ win against Florida in 2004 (Croom’s first year) was only the second SEC win in three seasons. It didn’t seem to help Zook that Mississippi St. won the next week against Kentucky. The damage had been done, and the fans wanted blood. Without Zook’s firing, who knows how Urban Meyer’s career would have developed?

Mississippi St. would only go 4-20 in SEC play from 2004 to 2006, but all but one of those wins (the one over Kentucky) resulted in a firing. Orgeron wasn’t fired until 2007, but maybe that loss would have been less fatal had he beaten the Bulldogs in his first season in 2005.

Orgeron’s one win over the Bulldogs came in 2006, but Croom did beat Mike Shula’s Tide. The fact that it was in Tuscaloosa couldn’t have helped matters. No only was it the only SEC win for the Bulldogs that year, it was the only win over a I-A (now FBS) opponent in regulation. Alabama lost six games in that regular season, but one of them was by one point in overtime at Arkansas, and the other four (apart from Mississippi St.) were against teams that were in the top 15 at the time of the game. Without that loss, there is a good chance Nick Saban never coaches Alabama. Even if he started a year later, does the Tide win the West in 2008? Do they win the national championship in 2009? Probably doubtful in both cases.

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

In 2007, the Bulldogs went a respectable 4-4 in conference and won the Liberty Bowl to finish 8-5 overall. (The non-conference loss was to West Virginia, who won the Big East and nearly played for the national championship that year.)

Nonetheless, rivalry games can be funny things (as that same West Virginia team found out against Pitt), and Orgeron was seen as responsible for giving up a late lead (see the link in the first sentence for more details).

Had Ole Miss won, it’s possible that the administration could have held out for that fourth year, which was when Croom finally had a decent year.

It’s arguable that there was another victim, and that was Tommy Tuberville. Had Auburn beaten the Bulldogs in 2007, that would have been four consecutive seasons of two conference losses or fewer after Tuberville had only accomplished the feat once in his first five seasons on the Plains.

Tuberville recently took credit for Shula’s firing (and indirectly for Saban’s hiring) as a result of beating Shula every year, but Croom likely also played a role in his own demise.

Also, one of the two SEC wins in Tuberville’s (and Croom’s) final season of 2008 was a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs. I know that in the minds of some fans, that didn’t count as a win, at least not for the football team. Especially since the offense was under fire at that time, that score was an easy one to recall and complain about. The other SEC win was 14-12, and there were SEC losses of 14-13, 17-7, and 17-13.

It’s hard to argue the decision in hindsight (I don’t think anyone would argue that Dan Mullen hasn’t proven himself better-suited to the position), but I wasn’t that fond of Croom’s firing at the time. He did take a step back in his final season in only going 4-8, but that was still better than any team there between 2001 and 2006. The loss to Auburn was one of two one-point losses that year (the other to Kentucky). Had they won both, they would have been bowl-eligible. They also played fairly close road games against Louisiana Tech (a loss by 8) and then-#5 LSU (a loss by 10). Louisiana Tech had one of its better seasons going 8-5 and winning a bowl game under head coach Derek Dooley, so that was not an embarrassing loss by any means.

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

If you were curious, Croom went back to being an NFL running backs coach, a position he still occupies today with the Tennessee Titans. Apart from his stint at Mississippi St. and a four-year term as Offensive Coordinator of the Detroit Lions, Croom has been an NFL running backs coach since 1987. Before that, he coached linebackers at Alabama, his alma mater, under Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins. Alabama and Mississippi St. were his only two college coaching stops.

Coach O Makes the Right Decisions, Confuses Media Narrative

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 17, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Setting of the Game and Media Commentary

This season the Tigers lost at home to a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2000, Nick Saban’s first season, and lost at Mississippi St. for the first time since 1999. I was bracing for another such loss being that 1999 was the last time they lost at home to Auburn, but somehow they escaped.

That was known as the Cigar Game, by the way. Tommy Tuberville and company smoked cigars after the game even though LSU was pathetic that year. Tuberville beat basically the same LSU team when he was at Ole Miss the year before (and his predecessor Terry Bowden had won in Baton Rouge in 1997), but he wanted to act like he accomplished something special. Maybe we can call it the Cigar Curse if this keeps up. Maybe Auburn can hire Tubs back and he can defeat his own curse. Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Terry Bowden can be his assistants.

Auburn players celebrate after the Cigar Game in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

Back to the present, I’m annoyed that no matter what LSU does they’re going to be insulted the rest of the year. They could win out, and people like Paul Feinbaum will still say, “same old LSU, win the games they’re not supposed to and lose the games they should have won.”

There were a lot of ups and downs in terms of talent and whatnot between 2005 and 2016, when Les Miles was the head coach. Whatever happens this season, you can’t say this is some kind of permanent condition going forward. Miles had especially difficult years in 2008 and 2014. Whether it was Miles or Orgeron, this would be another year like those two in terms of experience (although there is a bit more experience at the QB position), but we may not end up with five or even four losses. (Technically, finishing with two losses is possible; but that would require not only winning the rest of the games on the schedule but also winning at least the SEC Championship and a bowl game.)

I’m not worried though, keep up the low expectations. I don’t think the 2003 team was nearly as good as the 2007 and 2011 teams, but no one saw the 2003 performance coming. I think that was preferable.

Auburn and Florida Rivalries

I didn’t realize this going in, but this was actually the first competitive LSU-Auburn game in Tiger Stadium since 2007. That was when LSU only needed a field goal to win, but Matt Flynn threw a touchdown to Demetrius Byrd that was caught with about 3 seconds left (although the ensuing kickoff was with 1 second left). Appropriately enough, the 2007 team was in attendance on Saturday. The 2007 game came two years after an overtime win by LSU which resulted from multiple missed field goals by Auburn.

It was nice to get another close win against Auburn in light of the 4-point loss in 1994 (the disaster on the plains), the 1-point loss in 2004 (the extra point game), the 4-point loss in 2006 (Refgate), the 7-point loss in 2010 (I don’t think it had a nickname; it was just a good close game on the way to Auburn’s national championship), and the 5-point loss last season (I guess we can call it the end of an era since it was Les Miles’ last game). The other games mentioned in this paragraph were all at Auburn, where LSU has only won twice since 1998.

This was the first year since 1980 in which LSU beat Auburn and Florida with at least one of those wins coming on the road. Just like this year, there were also wins at Florida and at home against Auburn that season. That year was the last of four consecutive LSU wins against Florida, which has not been repeated since then. LSU has won 6 of 8 against the Gators and 3 of the last 4 in Gainesville though. All three of those wins in Gainesville were decided in the final moments, and this was the ninth LSU-Florida game since (and including) 2004 that was decided by one possession.

Before the loss to LSU, Florida had won 14 of 15 home games and 10 of the last 11 decided by 8 points or fewer (with the previous close loss coming to LSU in 2015). Now both LSU and Texas A&M have won close games in the Swamp (by 1 and 2 points respectively) in consecutive weeks. The Gators’ remaining home games this season are against UAB and Florida St.

For more on these series, see the Auburn and Florida rivalry blogs.

LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis

So I’ve talked about pundits and I’ve talked about historical significance. I’d like to talk a little more about Saturday’s game and what I think brought about the result.

I’ve mentioned this is still a young inexperienced team, but let’s recap a couple of things they have seen in recent weeks. As we have been reminded dozens of times now, yes, they lost to Troy, but let’s look at that.. Troy was up 17-0 in the second half. Had it been 17-0 at halftime, maybe LSU wins. Had the coaching staff not panicked a bit by calling an onsides kick only halfway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers may have completed the comeback. Also, after the Tigers’ initial touchdown, Troy scored again and still led by 17 well into the fourth quarter.

There was another home game where it was the opposite situation. It was LSU who seemed to have the game in control and what was an 18-point LSU lead with 20 minutes left in the game became a 28-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. So if Syracuse can reduce a lead by 16 points in 15 minutes on the road and LSU can reduce a lead by 14 points in 6 minutes in a nearly-empty stadium, 42 ½ minutes (especially with a nearly-full stadium) should have seemed like plenty of time to close a 20-point gap. Nine points in 30 minutes? Easy.

Florida isn’t exactly analogous, but there were two things to take from that as well. The first is LSU had the lead and despite an anemic offense, the defense realized (according to Orgeron anyway) that if Florida didn’t score over the last 17 minutes they couldn’t win. The other point was that it only took 6 minutes to close the gap from 17-3 to 17-16.

I think having Syracuse, Troy, and Florida in consecutive weeks was more than enough for this team to know there was no reason to give up hope.

I don’t agree with many commentators that the turning point was the punt return. That is what made it a 2-point game. What about the plays that made it only a 9-point lead before that?

The first important thing was the LSU defense drawing the line at the 20-yardline so Auburn didn’t go ahead 24-0.

I’ve been a critic, including in this blog, of some of Orgeron’s decisions, but like when Les Miles called 5 fourth-down attempts against Florida in the 2007 season, he made (in hindsight anyway) the right call time after time.

Russell Gage’s 70-yard run helped set up the Tigers’ first score.

When LSU got the ball back, some would have said to just take the field goal “to get some points on the board” facing a fourth and goal down 20-0, but he went for it. I doubt he called the play, but he certainly didn’t object when the jet sweep was called even though Auburn had been covering that particular play.

It’s hard to narrow it down to one decision before the half, but the Tigers played for the touchdown (not for a field goal as some recent offensive coordinators would have done), but they did it in such a way that the touchdown (or perhaps short field goal had it been necessary) was scored with less than a minute left. I’m not going to pretend I knew we had a win at that point, but I had resigned myself to being down 13 or 14 at the half (after the first touchdown; I was of course more pessimistic before that). I was honestly excited that we only ended up down 9.

After LSU punted in its first three possessions of the second half and the previous punt couldn’t even be downed before rolling into the end zone, another punt had to be hard to call at the Auburn 36. This was the possession after Malzahn lost his nerve before a 4th and 1 at midfield. LSU didn’t really have a good chance of converting, but some coaches might have tried the long field goal even though it was a likely miss just to say they tried to take the lead. Had LSU lost, that would have been a criticism. Then the special teams came through and downed the ball at the 3.

LSU did have to take the points on the next possession. Despite the field goal woes, 42 yards was close enough that they had to try for the lead even though it was 4th and 1.

Another right decision. Malzahn had to be the one to answer questions about his fourth-down decisions after the game. Why go on 4th and 10 but not on 4th and 1? Did you not believe your defense could stop LSU all the same without giving them the ball in field goal position?

On the final drive though, LSU finally did play for a field goal. It’s like a sacrifice in baseball. They give you an out at first base, throw it to first base. Don’t do anything crazy. Orgeron could have tried for a touchdown Mad-Hatter-style; but even though LSU had been down most of the day, when you have the lead you act like you can keep the lead.

Of course it make it easier to come back without penalties and turnovers that continued to haunt the Tigers in the second half against Troy, but those coaching decisions were key in this game.

The Future

A new pet peeve after the game is that Gus Malzahn said multiple times that Auburn controls its own destiny, and this was accepted without question by the media. Actually, someone at Auburn might have heard it during the game broadcast. If LSU and Auburn each finish with one loss, what happens? Spoiler alert: Auburn doesn’t represent the West. I don’t know how that many people who get paid to do so don’t bother to think for themselves.

I’m not saying LSU is going to beat Alabama, but it would be less strange than losing to Troy or beating Auburn after being down 20 points. It would be less strange than Syracuse beating Clemson.

LSU is given a 65% chance or greater (in ESPN’s FPI formula anyway) to win each of their remaining games except against Alabama. Auburn is given a 52% chance to beat Georgia and a 75% chance to beat A&M, but I’m not buying either one. If I put $100 on A&M to beat Auburn at home, you’re really going to give me $300 back if they do so? I also don’t think Auburn is 5 times as likely to beat Alabama as LSU is.

Anyway, another big rivalry game next week. After these last few games, I’m looking forward to the bye week though.

Rumors of Miles’ Demise Greatly Exaggerated

In College Football, General LSU on November 20, 2015 at 9:38 PM

I know it’s late, but I had to get this out there. Before I forget, here is the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog again. I also recently uncovered a blog I wrote about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt before his last game against LSU. I’ll talk about him a bit below.

Les Miles is the most successful coach in LSU history.

Charles McClendon won more games, but let’s look at what it took to push him out. LSU lost four games or more in McClendon’s final six seasons. In 1973, his last year in which the Tigers only lost three games, LSU got out to a 9-0 start before dropping the final three. Tulane was one of the three teams to bear the Tigers that season.

So all of a sudden Miles is coaching for his job after a 7-game winning streak (should have been 9 games considering the Norte Dame debacle) turns into 7-2 record? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Yes, the 1970s were a different era, but we aren’t suddenly in an age where a coach who wins 78% of his games over 10 years is on the hot seat because of two games, one of which was played against the #4 team in the country.

Let’s look at what had to happen to other coaches to get fired.

I’ll just stay in the SEC because some fans will claim anything else is apples to oranges.

Will Muschamp was only 18-8 in his first two seasons, yet he survived a 4-8 year before finally being fired after a 5-5 start the following year. Florida is pretty similar to LSU being that they won BCS titles in 2006 and 2008 under urban Meyer. 2008 of course was just one year after LSU last won. We’re not talking about a patient group of fans and boosters since the Spurrier years.

Spurrier’s successor Ron Zook was only allowed two 5-loss seasons, the most LSU can possibly lose this year, but that was out of only three.

Auburn-LSU was THE GAME in the SEC West before Saban first won the division with the Tide in 2008.

Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired after an 8-5 season in 2003, but Tuberville’s best mark up to that point was only 9-4, a record he had reached twice in five seasons. Of course, he redeemed himself with an undefeated year. I’ll go into why that might be relevant for Miles below. What actually got Tuberville fired was a 14-11 mark over two years in 2007 and 2008. The worst Miles will do is 15-10 over two seasons, but Tuberville only had two seasons with double-digit wins in 10 seasons. Miles has had six.

Staying with Auburn, Gene Chizik was of course fired a couple of years ago despite having won the national championship in 2010. Chizik only went 11-14 over his final two seasons. The team had apparently given up on him in the final season during a five game losing streak and finished only 3-9.

At Alabama, Mike Shula was fired after going exactly .500 over two consecutive regular seasons.

That takes care of the other relevant national-championship-level programs in the SEC being that of course Urban Meyer left voluntarily.

Georgia came close to the national title game in 2012, so maybe you could argue that’s a similar program, but of course Richt has been at Georgia for years longer than Miles has been at LSU and still has his job. Richt survived a 14-12 stretch in 2009 and 2010, by the way.

Is Miles the new Houston Nutt?

So nothing like firing Les Miles has happened.

There is some precedent for firing a generally successful coach after a 5-loss season, and that was when Houston Nutt was fired at Arkansas. Nutt of course was never a national-championship-level coach, although the Hogs were briefly in the conversation in 2006. However, his tenure in Fayetteville was a significant step forward from the years prior to his arrival.

Arkansas went from one winning season between 1990 and 1997 to seven in Nutt’s 10 seasons there.

There are two good reasons for this though. 2007 was the last year of Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, so not only was that season disappointing, but Arkansas was not looking at a good 2008. Bobby Petrino is not without his personal issues, but I don’t think many coaches including Nutt would have done better than his 5-7 mark in 2008.

The other good reason was the fact that Nutt had already survived a bad stretch and was given the benefit of the doubt. Arkansas had gone a total of 9-13 in 2004 and 2005 before surprising everyone with a 10-game winning streak in 2006.

What does 78% as a coach mean?

I also wanted to take a moment to consider how good 78% is as compared to others.

At LSU, Nick Saban only won 75%. Joe Paterno’s overall winning percentage at Penn St. was almost identical depending on how you count ties.

Lou Holtz won 76.5% at Notre Dame and 78.6% at Arkansas.

Woody Hayes only won just over 76% at Ohio St.

Miles does fall a bit short of Hayes’ rival (and Miles’ mentor) Bo Schembechler though. Schembechler won 79.6%.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught only won 74.6%.

At Texas, Darrel Royal won 77.4%.

At USC, John McKay won 74.9%.

At Florida St., Bobby Bowden won 75.6%

At Army, Red Blaik won 76.8%.

There are coaches with better records, such as Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. Of course, factoring in Alabama puts Saban higher. Are any of them coming (back in Saban’s case) to LSU? I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe if LSU offers $10 million a year or something ridiculous like that.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

Here are some others that Miles doesn’t quite live up to: Spurrier, Parseghian, Byrant, Osborne, Devaney, Wilkinson, Switzer, Neyland.

So if you’re not of those, you don’t get a job at LSU? Those are absurd standards to live up to.

Young players represent an opportunity, not an “excuse”

There was one other thing I wanted to mention. I made some reference to it above. This is not Leonard Fournette’s last season with next season being some abyss we’re staring into. Brandon Harris is also a sophomore.

I’m not just selectively picking two examples. Look at this depth chart.

Three of the top four receivers are underclassmen. There is only one guard who is older than a sophomore. There is one junior and one senior tackle on the depth chart, the rest are underclassmen. Actually, that’s true on both offense and defense. The #2 tight end right now is a true freshman. Two junior defensive ends, the rest underclassmen. Both strong safeties are sophomores.

I think anyone looking at this team and saying it’s a failure and we need to give up and start over next year with a new head coach is just insane.

Few people expected this to be the year for LSU until they surpassed expectations by starting 7-0. Of course, it almost certainly would have been 8-0 had the first game not been cancelled. Why are the problems that have emerged since then insurmountable because we have some younger players in key positions and it looks like the national semifinals are off the table? That could very well jeopoardize a great year like the one Auburn had in 2004.

Even if some other coach comes in and wins a national championship next year, maybe that same coach leads us to a 3-9 season a few years later like Chizik did. `There is no guarantee of being able to replace and develop talent as well as Miles has even though we can probably find a coach better at calling plays (which I don’t think Miles actually does that often). You might remember a coach named Larry Coker. He went undefeated at U. Miami in 2001 and nearly went undefeated in 2002 before a controversial overtime loss to Ohio St. The ‘Canes have been mediocre for 10 years now.

That said, if we go 8-5 next year with a healthy Fournette in what would almost certainly be his last season, I might see their point.

Edit: Given the third loss in a row which came after this was written, I might see their point with a fourth loss in a row.

The Mad Hatter and the Nutt

In College Football, General LSU on November 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM

LSU finishes its regularly-scheduled season with games against Ole Miss and Arkansas, so naturally I thought about one Houston Dale Nutt, Jr., who presumably the SEC will be without next year for the first time since the 1997 season.

Feel free to check out the Arkansas and Ole Miss editions to my rivalry series, but this is going to be a little bit different.

The first thing I noticed when looking up information for this was that Houston Nutt makes $2.5 million per year. No wonder they fired him. I have more respect for him than most do, but I’m not sure he ever earned that kind of salary.

But he did do a pretty good job against LSU, in recent years especially. His teams have beaten LSU in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

LSU was heavily favored from 2003 to 2005, but in 2005 (the first time Les and Houston squared off), Arkansas (who would finish 4-7) nearly beat an LSU team that won the SEC West and finished 11-2 (one of the two losses being in the SEC championship). It was only 19-17, and the game was played at Tiger Stadium. LSU also barely beat the Hogs in 2006 (31-26), a win which would give the Tigers a Sugar Bowl berth.

Those two games set up Arkansas’s win over the #1 Tigers in 2007, at which point Houston was on his way out the door for not doing more with Felix Jones and Darren McFadden that season. I don’t know if it was Bo Pelini or what the situation was, but LSU could not handle those guys. It was a miracle the Tigers had won in 2006, when Jones and McFadden each averaged over 8 ½ yards per carry. LSU gave up over 300 yards rushing before sack yardage was subtracted, and the Tigers also gave up 33 passing yards to McFadden in two attempts (more yards than the Hogs got in Casey Dick’s 17 attempts). In the 2007 game, Arkansas gained 385 yards on the ground, albeit with the aid of three overtimes to pad its numbers. Dick did better as well, which forced LSU to pay more attention to the pass. Given this, the final score was surprising again.

So since 2000 (Saban’s first year with the Tigers), LSU only had easy wins against Nutt’s teams in 2003 (when LSU won the national championship and Arkansas went 9-4, which included a 55-24 loss to LSU) and in 2004, when Arkansas went 5-6 to LSU’s 9-3 and the Hogs lost, 43-14. So despite that finish, Saban was only 3-2 against Houston when he was at LSU. The only Saban-era win not covered was when LSU beat Arkansas, 41-38, in a fairly evenly matched game. With the win, LSU won the SEC West and would win the SEC and the Sugar Bowl. Saban has not lost to a Nutt team since taking over at Alabama, although he did have close calls in 2007 (41-38) and 2008 (24-20).

In 1998, LSU was in the middle of a 3-15 stretch covering two seasons and they lost to Arkansas, 41-14. LSU had won the previous four games in the series. My absolute favorite win over a Nutt team was in 1999 when LSU ended that run, with an interim head coach on the sidelines, beating a bowl-bound Arkansas team, 35-10. Arkansas finished 8-4, and LSU finished 3-8. The Tigers have not had a losing season (or even lost more more than 5 games in a season) since. I’m guessing Saban would have taken the job anyway, but it meant so much to me as a fan because I knew we had a much better team than that, and it was something to give us hope going forward. By the way, Gerry DiNardo, who was fired as head coach before that 1999 Arkansas game, was once on the same staff with Les Miles in Colorado. Gary Barnett, another big name in coaching in the 1990s, was also on that staff. It’s interesting that Miles took so much longer to get a major head coaching opportunity.

In total, Houston is 6-7 (2-1 at Ole Miss) against LSU going into Saturday. He’s 3-3 against Les Miles.

Let’s compare to some other coaches vs. LSU since 1995:
Jim Donnan, 2-0*
Steve Spurrier, 6-3*
Bob Davie, 2-1*
Bobby Petrino, 2-1
Tommy Tuberville, 7-7 (2-2 at Ole Miss)*
Urban Meyer, 3-3
Mark Richt, 3-3
Hal Mumme, 2-2*
Mike DuBose, 2-2*
Phillip Fullmer, 2-4
Nick Saban, 2-4
(only coaches with two wins or more are included)
*-at least one win was during the 3-15 stretch mentioned above (in the cases of Donnan, Mumme, and DuBose, both wins were during that stretch; Spurrier and Tuberville also got two wins apiece during that period)

Vs. Les Miles (2005 to present):
Joe Paterno, 1-0
Bobby Petrino, 2-1
Mark Richt, 2-1
Urban Meyer, 3-3
Rich Brooks, 1-1
Nick Saban, 2-3
Gene Chizik, 1-2
Phillip Fullmer, 1-2
Tommy Tuberville, 1-3
Steve Spurrier, 0-2
(coaches in the first category or with at least one win are included)

So Nutt and Urban Meyer are the only two coaches that beat a Les Miles team 3 times in the last 6 seasons. You can see why Les compared Nutt to Meyer here. It’s interesting how Les appreciates it when he has trouble with an opponent.

Only Tommy Tuberville has more wins against LSU since 1995 than Nutt does. Steve Spurrier, who is tied with Nutt, is the only other coach who is close. Only Meyer and Richt have even half as many wins over LSU in that time (although of course neither has coached continuously in the SEC since 1998).

Teams against Les Miles with LSU (two games or more)
Georgia 2-1
Arkansas 3-3
Florida 3-4
Ole Miss 2-4
Kentucky 1-2
Alabama 2-5
Auburn 2-5
Tennessee 1-4
Appalachian St. 0-2
UL-Lafayette 0-2
Louisiana Tech 0-2
North Texas 0-2
South Carolina 0-2
West Virginia 0-2
Vanderbilt 0-3
Tulane 0-4
Mississippi St. 0-7

I noted that Les’s Oklahoma St. teams only played one SEC team while he was there, the 2003 Cotton Bowl, which the Cowboys lost to Ole Miss. So the Rebels are actually 3-4 against Les as head coach.

Les was 1-1 against Louisiana Tech while at Oklahoma St. and 1-0 against UL-Lafayette.

And not that this has anything to do with the above, but he was 1-1 against Iowa St., the loss coming in Ames in his first season.

Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Auburn

In College Football, Rivalry on October 21, 2010 at 9:29 PM

(Alternate title, LSU/Auburn: Battle of the Nicknames)

Overall records (Now includes 2019)

LSU leads, 31-22-1
In Baton Rouge, LSU leads, 19-5-1
In the state of Alabama, Auburn leads, 17-12

      In Auburn, Auburn leads, 12-8
      In Birmingham, Auburn leads, 3-2
      In Mobile, Auburn leads, 2-0
      In Montgomery, LSU leads, 2-0

Longest winning/unbeaten streak–6 wins by LSU, 1926-1937

Longest Auburn winning streak–4 wins, 1989-1994

Home/away streaks
LSU won 3 in a row at Auburn, 1926-1936
Auburn won 2 in a row at LSU, 1997 & 1999
LSU has won 10 in a row at home, 2001-present
Auburn won 4 in a row at home, 1981-1994 and 2000-2006

Longest streaks with only one loss (pure winning streaks excluded):
LSU, 6/7, 1969-1988 and 2007-2013
Auburn, 5/6, 1981-1994

Biggest wins:
LSU, 35, 45-10 in 2011
Auburn, 34, 41-7 in 1999 (@ LSU) and 2014 (at home)
LSU’s biggest win at Auburn was 20-6 in 1973. Their largest point total at Auburn was 31, in a 12-point win in 1998.

Highest-scoring games:
@LSU : LSU 45, Auburn 21, 2015
@Auburn: Auburn 30, LSU 28, 1992

The lowest-scoring post-war game was a 7-3 home win for Auburn in 2006. There has not been a shutout in this series since 1935.

Highest scores by either team:
45, LSU in 2011 and 2015
41, Auburn in 1999 and 2014
35, LSU in 1972 and 2013
34, Auburn in 2000
31, LSU in 1998, 2003, and 2009; Auburn in 1997

2016 reaction blog

In 2011, LSU once again tied up Auburn in games since the start of the 1980 season, 12-12. It also tied the teams at 10 since the start of the 1992 season. (Both ties were of course broken by LSU’s win in 2012.) The 1999 Cigar Game (see below for more background) is no longer the record-holder in a couple of aspects, but it remains Auburn’s last win at LSU. It is one of only four Auburn wins at LSU ever. The first happened in 1939, but the last three all happened from 1993 to 1999. The one tie took place in 1941, and then Auburn did not return to LSU until 1969. It is also worth noting that LSU surpassed the 1999 Auburn point total in the first 38 minutes of the 2011 game.

Intro (written before 2010 game)

I called it the battle of nicknames, because they’re both nicknamed, in the simplest sense, “Tigers” but have other monikers. LSU added “Fighting” at some point to their nickname. Supposedly “war eagle” was always just a live mascot/battle cry and never a nickname, but people have called them War Eagles (I fail to see how that’s a bad thing, but far be it from me to judge other fans’ sensitivities). Auburn’s teams have also been referred to as the Plainsmen, and LSU’s teams have also been referred to as the Bayou Bengals, both in reference to the local geography. (Who said sports weren’t educational?) Many of the recent games have nicknames as well.

With the win last season, LSU became the first team to win three in a row in the series since Auburn won four in a row from 1989 to 1994 (obviously non-consecutive seasons…this corresponds to the six consecutive seasons in which LSU finished with a losing record). But even at that time, even though Auburn won 9 games or more in three of those seasons, three of those four games were still decided by 4 points or fewer.

Before 2008, the home team had won for 8 consecutive seasons. This was one reason LSU has never won the SEC West in an even year (which, since SEC expansion in 1992, are the only years that LSU has traveled to Auburn).

LSU’s 21-point win {in 2009} was the largest margin since LSU won 31-7 in 2003, but the 5 games from 2004 to 2008 were decided by a total of 19 points. That’s actually a deceptively high number since the whistle blew after LSU’s go-ahead touchdown in 2007 with only a second left, and LSU won by 6. Also, the games between the two teams are typically defensive struggles. In 1988, LSU won, 7-6. Since 1988, there have also been final scores of 10-6, 12-6, 19-15, 20-17, 10-9, and 7-3. There have only been 3 games since 1972 in which either team scored more than 31 points (all Auburn wins).

This may be quite a different game in light of Auburn’s SEC-record-breaking 65-43 win last week. On the other hand, LSU has played in four games (Vanderbilt, Mississippi St., WVU, and Tennessee) this season with a combined point total under 37. Auburn has played in one, a 17-14 win at Mississippi St.

The series is knotted up at 11 wins apiece since 1980 (inclusive), so I’ll say it could go either way. Both teams were also undefeated in 2008, 2006, 2004, and 2000, but none of those games were after September. Each team had one loss in 2005, the mutually best recent October match-up. Except for 2001 (only due to 9/11), 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007, all of the games since 1992 (inclusive) had been in September.

The following is mostly copied and pasted from a post on TSN on October 17, 2007, so some references are to that time and not to the present…

The rivalry

(In the following, I’ve used “Fighting Tigers” to denote LSU.)

This is different from many of the other LSU series since I actually remember most of the significant games in the series. I think that has helped endear the rivalry to those my age (late 20s) and younger. When people start talking about Bear Bryant or John Vaught (prominent opposing coaches, neither of whom I remember, for rivals Alabama and Ole Miss, respectively), it doesn’t really register as well. LSU and Auburn only played 6 times between 1942 and 1988. Even though this became a yearly event in 1992 and Tulane left the SEC after the 1965 season, Auburn still played Tulane more times in the 20th century than it played LSU.

The flashpoint in the LSU/AU rivalry was the 1988 Earthquake Game, when an earthquake was actually recorded at LSU’s geology department after Tommy Hodson threw the winning touchdown to Eddie Fuller with less than two minutes left in the game. Likely contributing to the earthquake was the fact that the score was the Fighting Tigers’ only in the game, as LSU won 7-6.

Auburn had been ranked #4 in the country and LSU had lost consecutive games, at Ohio St. and at Florida, to fall out of the top 25. The two teams would be co-champions that year, and despite LSU having beaten Auburn, the Tigers went to the Sugar Bowl as a one-loss team. Auburn would lose in the Sugar Bowl to Florida St., and LSU would lose in the Hall of Fame Bowl (now known as the Outback Bowl) to Syracuse to finish with 4 losses. The Fighting Tigers’ only regular-season loss after the Auburn game was to #3 Miami.

The Earthquake Game had been the first meeting between LSU and Auburn in 7 years. It was only the 26th meeting between the two teams, and the first meeting had been in 1901. The two teams met in 1989 then didn’t meet again until 1992, when the SEC split into two divisions, mandating annual meetings between LSU and Auburn.

A long series of games with nicknames followed. They weren’t consecutive, but there are a lot of them.

Close games intensify rivalry

The 1989 and 1992 games did not merit any nicknames that I know of, but they were close as well, with Auburn winning 10-6 and 30-28, respectively. Auburn had hosted both games.

The 1993 meeting (the year of Terry Bowden’s undefeated probation season) does not have a nickname that I know of, but it was the first time Auburn had won @ LSU in 54 years. It also gave Auburn its first three-game winning streak over LSU since 1924. Auburn, of course, would finish undefeated but would not make a bowl game or join any serious national championship discussion because the Tigers were on probation.

The Disaster on the Plains

The 1994 game, the fourth game in the series after the Earthquake game, was hosted by #11 (AP) Auburn, who was still on probation so was unranked in the coaches’ poll, in the third week of the season.

LSU had not qualified for a bowl game since the year of the Earthquake Game but had scored a major victory over then-undefeated Alabama (see Alabama link below) the prior year on the way to finishing 5-6. After starting the previous season 2-5, LSU had won 4 of 6, one of the losses by only five against #15 Texas A&M to start the season.

When the Fighting Tigers beat a good Mississippi St. team (who would finish 8-4) by 20 in week 2, it seemed that LSU head coach Curley Hallman may have finally been turning the team around in his fourth season. Hallman was starting to be seen as the opposite of his predecessor Mike Archer, who was a good game manager but after his first two seasons seem to waste away the talent that had been recruited by Bill Arnsparger.

Seemingly maintaining this momentum, the Fighting Tigers led the 2-0 Tigers 23-9 with 12 minutes left in the game.

On second down, deep in his own territory, LSU quarterback Jamie Howard inexplicably threw the ball into triple coverage, and it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. LSU got the ball back, and Howard did the same exact thing, but on third down this time. The game was now tied.

The Fighting Tigers responded though, driving down to the Auburn 5 before kicking a field goal. LSU would lead by 3 with 2:14 left in the game.

On third and short at the LSU 30, the Fighting Tigers should have run the ball again, followed by a punt if unsuccessful, to force the hapless Auburn offense into the two-minute drill, which probably would have resulted in no worse than a tie since the Tigers had not had an offensive touchdown all game.

But Howard threw to a crossing wide receiver, once again into triple coverage. That was tipped and a fourth defender caught it and ran for a touchdown as well. Auburn won 30-26.

Auburn fans call it The Comeback Game or The Interception Game. Auburn would finish the season 9-1-1, losing only to Alabama.

It was the third time in four meetings and fourth time in six meetings that the game was decided by 4 or fewer.

It was almost all downhill from there for Hallman, who was fired after LSU lost five of its next six–six of seven including the Auburn game–before relatively meaningless wins over Tulane and Arkansas to end the season. Hallman has not been a college head coach since and briefly (and unsuccessfully) coached a high-school team in Alabama.

More close games

In 1995, after only losing 1 game over the previous two seasons and starting 2-0 again, Auburn was ranked #5 in the AP poll (#6 in the coaches poll), and made a return trip to Baton Rouge to face its benefactor from the previous season, Jamie Howard. LSU had recently hired as head coach Vanderbilt’s Gerry DiNardo, whose most impressive record as head coach had been 5-6.

LSU had again lost to Texas A&M and had beaten Mississippi St.

The Auburn offense had a similar performance to the one in 1994, but their defense was held scoreless this time; the Fighting Tigers won, 12-6. Although that wasn’t exactly an impressive achievement for LSU’s offense, the redeemed Howard was carried off the field as a hero.

LSU would end that long bowl-less streak by beating Nick Saban’s Michigan St. Spartans in the Independence Bowl. Both Auburn and LSU would lose four games on the year.

The Night the Barn Burned

LSU also won the next year (1996) at Auburn, 19-15, on the way to a 10-2 record. During the game, an old gymnasium caught fire on the Auburn campus (this has been blamed on LSU fans, although I’ve never heard of any actual evidence substantiating this), and smoke could be seen from the stadium. This also happened to be LSU’s first win @ Auburn since 1973.

But Auburn took a road game back the next year, winning 31-28.

Back and forth

In the nine years beginning in 1998, LSU won 4 and Auburn won five.

1999 was the last game of the series under DiNardo, who, after beating Auburn on the way to a 3-0 start in 1998, would lose 15 of his last 18 games as head coach.

This didn’t stop Tommy Tuberville from lighting up a cigar after his Tigers’ 41-7 win in Baton Rouge, hence “The Cigar Game.” Auburn has not won a road game in the series since.

In fact, every game in the series since then {no longer true} has been won by the home team. Of possible interest to those other Tiger fans, Auburn was 3-2 against Saban with all three wins coming at home.

Auburn won by 17 in 2000, followed by a 13-point loss in 2001, which, due to Sept. 11, had been postponed to December and acted as a playoff for LSU’s first SEC West Championship. LSU started only 4-3, so the timing may have affected the outcome. In 2001, LSU won its first outright SEC Championship since 1986 and its first Sugar Bowl since the 1967 season. LSU has won 2 Sugar Bowls, 2 SEC West titles {now 3}, and once SEC title {now 2} since.

The two teams then exchanged 31-7 victories, the second of course by LSU on the way to the Fighting Tigers’ first national championship since 1958.

2004 – The Extra Point Game

This set up quite a meeting in 2004, as LSU was ranked #4 and #5 (AP) and visited #13 Auburn, who had gone through a tumultuous off-season that had almost ended Tommy Tuberville’s employment on the Plains.

After an impressive opening drive and a missed extra point, the Fighting Tigers led only 9-3 at halftime. That score stood until Auburn got the ball with about 8 minutes to play. LSU at one point forced Auburn into a 4th and 12 from LSU’s 28-yard line.

Not only did Courtney Taylor catch Jason Campbell’s pass for a first down on that play, but he also later caught his first touchdown pass with 1:14 to play, also on fourth down.

In what seemed apropos, John Vaughn then missed the extra point after a low snap.

Vaughn got another chance though, as Ronnie Prude was whistled for doing something (I still don’t quite understand this rule or why it applied) that involved trying to use another player for support in an effort to block the kick when actually he hit the player coming down from a jump.

Even if it was the correct call, I think it should be like the opposite of roughing the punter. If he successfully blocks the kick, then make it a penalty. If not, why call a penalty? Because he could have hurt himself? So what? It’s football. That seems to be how it’s called in practice—I’ve only seen it called twice at the most since then—but I think it was a rule modification and therefore fresh in the official’s minds. Nick Saban was on the rules committee and claimed not to understand the rule himself.

This game is now known as the “Extra-Point Game.” The winning points are shown on YouTube.

You could probably guess that Vaughn’s second try sailed through and Auburn held on for a 10-9 win. That game and the 8-point win over Alabama were the Tigers’ only games decided by fewer than 18 during the regular season that year. Saban’s last LSU team would finish 9-3 after a hail-mary loss to Iowa in the CapitalOne Bowl.

2005 – The Field Goal Game

Maybe it was bad juju from 2004, but Vaughn (same guy) missed field goals from 41, 54, 37, and 49 yards during regulation. He did make one from 26 yards and converted both extra points attempted without any drama. LSU’s two kickers were 1 for 2 in regulation.

Vaughn missed the 49-yarder in the waning seconds of regulation, after LSU had tied it with about 90 seconds left in the game, sending the contest into overtime.

Chris Jackson redeemed himself from a 38-yard miss with a 30-yard successful attempt for his only field goal of the game (Colt David, LSU’s primary kicker {in 2007}, had kicked the first from 44 yards). Auburn, unlike LSU, could not pick up the initial first down when it got the ball. Ronnie Prude (same guy who was flagged for the penalty on the try in 2004) broke up Brandon Cox’s third-and-long throw to Anthony Mix, who had caught Auburn’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Vaughn’s 40-yard attempt at the tie hit the left side of the upright, putting him at 1 for 6 for the game and ending the game.

LSU won despite being out-gained by 112 yards and only converting 4 third downs to Auburn’s 8.

2006

The game is known as Ref Gate–you know which side calls it that since the official final score was 7-3 Auburn. It’s also called “The Play,” and I think I’ve also seen it called “The Call,” since the most pivotal referee decision was to pick up a flag that had been thrown for pass interference. But there were a number of important calls that went against LSU. Also, the Mad Hatter may have played a role in this one (although Jimbo Fisher was the offensive coordinator, and I think Miles deferred more to him at the time), as LSU had many potential field-goal chances that the Fighting Tigers bypassed in an effort to get in the end zone. I don’t want to post the video of calls again, but it can easily be found on Youtube.

Auburn won despite being out-gained 311-182.

More series facts from the 2007 blog

Auburn has not led in the series since it lost in 1934.

The only Auburn opponents that the Plainsmen have played 10 times or more and have a worse winning percentage against are Alabama and, wait for it…

Tulane. It is a compliment to only have losing records against three teams that you’ve played that many times, but I wasn’t expecting one of them to be Tulane. Also in Auburn’s defense, they’ve only played the Green Wave once since playing them every year from 1921-1955.

The largest margin of victory in the series was 34 in the 1999 Cigar Game, surpassing the previous record of 28 (Auburn had won by 28 in 1901, and LSU had won by 28 in 1972). The 31-7 contests are in a 3-way tie with Auburn’s 34-10 win in 1993.

Right now (2010), LSU has won 3 in a row and 8 of the last 11 contests in Baton Rouge, the first of the group being in 1969.

Last year was only the second time in 6 years that the winner of the LSU/Auburn game did not win the SEC West. Along with LSU’s co-championship in 1988, Auburn of course finished with the best record in the SEC in 1993 but was not eligible for the SEC Championship.

Auburn is only LSU’s 10th most-common opponent, and LSU is Auburn’s 8th most-common opponent, but Auburn appears in the list of the top 15 Tiger Stadium crowds three times, for each of the last three games there. Arkansas and Florida, with 2 each, are the only other teams on that list more than once.

The two teams have also done a good job filling Jordan-Hare stadium recently. According to the Auburn CSTV website (I’m not sure when it was last updated, I assume after the 2004 season), the Extra-Point Game was tied for first with only two other contests (Georgia and Arkansas in 2004). LSU also appeared in the top 15 for the 2000 contest won by Auburn, 34-17. LSU’s two appearances were tied for second with Alabama, among others.

The other blogs in this series can be accessed through the LSU Rivalry Series tab above.

Post-2014 Additional info

LSU lost by an identical score when the Fighting Tigers started 0-7 in conference before Gerry DiNardo was relieved of his duties (leading to the hiring of Nick Saban in the following offseason).  LSU won by 35 in 2011, so that’s still the biggest win in the series by either team.  This is the fifth time Auburn has beaten LSU by more than 20 (49 games dating back to 1901), but it is only the third time since 1938.  The closest of the three was by 24 in 1993.

LSU did have five losses of 28 or more since then, but only once was under Les Miles.  They were Florida 2000, Florida 2001, Alabama 2002, Georgia 2004, and Florida 2008.

Since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, LSU has traveled to both Auburn and Florida in every even year.  LSU has never won both games and not coincidentally has never won the SEC West in an even year, so this pretty much assures it won’t happen this year either. This pattern momentarily changed when LSU and Florida traded home games in 2016 and 2017. This allowed LSU to win a road game against Florida in the same year they beat Auburn for the first time since 1980.

I didn’t realize this going into the 2017 game, but this was actually the first competitive LSU-Auburn game in Tiger Stadium since 2007. That was when LSU only needed a field goal to win, but Matt Flynn threw a touchdown to Demetrius Byrd that was caught with about 3 seconds left (although the ensuing kickoff was with 1 second left). Appropriately enough, the 2007 team was in attendance on Saturday. The 2007 game came two years after an overtime win by LSU which resulted from multiple missed field goals by Auburn.

It was nice to get another close win against Auburn in light of the 4-point loss in 1994 (the disaster on the plains), the 1-point loss in 2004 (the extra point game), the 4-point loss in 2006 (Refgate), the 7-point loss in 2010 (I don’t think it had a nickname; it was just a good close game on the way to Auburn’s national championship), and the 5-point loss last season (I guess we can call it the final nail in the Miles coffin game). The other games mentioned in this paragraph were all at Auburn, where LSU has only won twice since 1998.