AUBURN, Ala. — This was your classic LSU-Auburn game, the kind with bizarre decisions, wacky turnovers and tense final minutes as the outcome hung in the balance. LSU did not take the lead until the third quarter and finished with its backup quarterback. And yet, it hung on for a 21-17 win Saturday night.
LSU, which entered as more than a touchdown favorite, trailed 17-0 early inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford gutted the secondary on multiple long passes, and the offense flailed against a program many expect to fire its head coach in the middle of the season, punting on seven of its first eight possessions.
But for the second straight Southeastern Conference game, LSU (4-1, 2-0 SEC) made enough plays when it mattered. There was a clutch touchdown run and three turnovers, including two interceptions, in the second half.
Trailing 17-14 midway through the third quarter, quarterback Jayden Daniels guided LSU into the red zone on a series of runs. Then running back John Emery took a handoff, broke multiple tackles and high-stepped into the end zone for LSU’s first lead.
Auburn (3-2, 1-1 SEC) marched deep into LSU territory on the next possession after coach Bryan Harsin went for it on fourth-and-11. Ashford’s pass was intercepted, but redshirt freshman defensive back Sage Ryan got called for holding.
With the ball soon at LSU’s 10-yard line, Auburn called a reverse trick pass. Koy Moore, a former LSU wide receiver who said this week he transferred because he was the best player at the position, threw a wobbly pass. Freshman linebacker Harold Perkins grabbed the ball to protect the lead.
The defense continued to protect the lead, a necessity with LSU’s ineffective passing game hindering the offense. Plus, Daniels left in the fourth quarter after hurting his knee on an awkward slide. Daniels tried to work out the knee, but LSU had to turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier with a four-point lead.
It seemed like LSU might put away the game multiple times. Auburn muffed a punt and LSU recovered, but Emery gave the ball right back on a fumble.
Auburn took over with five minutes left and drove into LSU territory. But senior safety Greg Brooks ripped the ball out of Moore’s hands. LSU ran out the clock after the game-sealing interception to finally capture the wild win.
The ending rescued LSU from another messy first half against a Power Five team. LSU’s defense allowed open receivers, had busted coverages and missed tackles. On the other side, Auburn clogged running lanes and LSU finished with 85 yards passing between the two quarterbacks. It only averaged 3.6 yards per play.
The game started as a nightmare for LSU. On the opening kickoff, cornerback Sevyn Banks’ head collided with the right side of Auburn returner Keionte Scott as he made the tackle. Banks dropped to the grass, and medical personnel rushed to his side.
Banks was eventually loaded onto a stretcher. LSU said in a statement Banks had movement in his extremities. He was taken to East Alabama Medical Center for further evaluations and returned to the stadium. He’s expected to travel back home with the team.
While Banks laid motionless on the field, referees reviewed the play for targeting. Officials ruled he led “with the crown of his helmet” and assessed a 15-yard penalty.
Five plays later, Ashford escaped pressure on third down. He rolled to his right, and wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson broke off his route. With Ryan trailing in coverage, Ashford threw a 53-yard touchdown.
Ashford continued to scramble away from pressure. Not long after punter Jay Bramblett pinned Auburn at the 1-yard line, Ashford scrambled and found running back Jarquez Hunter wide open in the middle of the field.
Hunter weaved through LSU’s defense, breaking tackles for a 61-yard gain. On the next play, wide receiver Camden Brown was wide open in the end zone. Without a defender anywhere near the area, Ashford threw an easy touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
Though LSU allowed more chunk passes, it held Auburn to a field goal on its next two trips to the red zone to keep the score at 17-0. And between those drives, junior edge rusher BJ Ojulari chased down Ashford. Ojulari stripped the ball out of his hands, and Jay Ward returned the fumble for a touchdown.
Late in the first half, LSU hadn’t created anything on offense for the third time against a Power Five opponent. It punted five straight times to open the game and averaged 3.1 yards per play on those possessions. The offensive line struggled to open rush lanes, and Auburn got pressure on quarterback Jayden Daniels while containing him within the pocket.
Finally, with less than two minutes left in the first half, Daniels led a touchdown drive. LSU reached the 1-yard line when Emery leaked out of the backfield and gained 39 yards. Two plays later, Daniels scored to somehow make the score 17-14 at halftime.
Then LSU did enough to win in the second half.