• The Bayou Bengals aren’t perfect, but they are definitively SEC West factors after a last-second 22–21 win over Auburn.
By Joan Niesen
September 15, 2018

With a chance to stretch LSU’s 7–0 lead over to SEC West rival Auburn to 10 late in the first quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium, kicker Cole Tracy teed off for a 53-yard field goal—which he missed. Luckily for Tracy, resiliency was the story of the day for those in purple and gold as LSU rallied for a 22–21 win on a 42-yard field goal curled off Tracy’s right foot as time expired.

After a dismal offensive stretch in which the visiting Tigers gained just 37 yards over a sequence of four possessions sandwiched around halftime, LSU pulled within two points with a 71-yard Derrick Dillon touchdown catch with 8:18 left in the game. Offense had been hard to come by for both teams all afternoon, and after that score, LSU figured to have one possession left to pull ahead. It needed a stop, which it got, and it took the ball back with 5:28 to go. It seemed like plenty of time. It could have been too much time. Instead, it was just enough. With two seconds remaining, Tracy got a chance to right his first-quarter wrong, and on a 42-yard, game-winning field goal, he was perfect.

On the road, LSU went to 3–0 and tallied its second win in 2018 over a top-10 team, after defeating Miami 33–17 on Labor Day weekend. Orgeron’s team is building the résumé of a College Football Playoff contender, or at least a worthy Alabama adversary, while in an SEC West that demands something close to perfection, Auburn saw its chances at the final four dip.

And though Tracy gets all the credit for the heroics at the buzzer, the play of the game for the LSU offense may have come two minutes prior. Quarterback Joe Burrow had completed fewer than 50% of his passes on the day and was in the midst of an inconsistent afternoon, but he delivered when it counted. With two minutes to go, facing fourth-and-seven at the Auburn 48-yard line, Burrow completed a dead-on, nine-yard pass to receiver Stephen Sullivan for a game-saving first down.

Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, won the starting job in camp and has proceeded to give an LSU team that has struggled to find offensive consistency in recent seasons the presence under pressure that has made the difference against top competition. His numbers haven’t been jaw-dropping—he has thrown just three touchdown passes and completed 46.2% of his passes, having finished 15-of-34 through the air on Saturday—but with help from a strong offensive line, he has minimized mistakes and has yet to throw an interception. And when it counted on Saturday, Burrow looked the part. “That’s just practice: trust in my guys, trust in me, trust in my coaching staff,” the quarterback said in his on-field postgame TV interview.

On defense, LSU held a talented Auburn offense to 328 yards. Gus Malzahn’s team converted just four of 12 possible third downs, and LSU came away with two picks of Jarrett Stidham, one of which sophomore cornerback Greedy Williams returned for 20 yards. As usual, LSU’s defense looks loaded with future NFL talent, but if its offense continues to settle in, it might be the most well-rounded team in Baton Rouge in years.

It’s a long road ahead for both Tigers squads. Still, both have a brief reprieve the rest of September; LSU gets Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss to round out its slate this month, while Auburn hosts Arkansas and Southern Miss. It’ll be October before there’s any more clarity at the top of the game’s toughest division.

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