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AUBURN — Second halves have defined the Bryan Harsin Era at Auburn, and not in the way they should. For the second game in a row, the Tigers (3-2) failed to score any points in the second half, and the fourth time in their last five Power Five games.
And unlike Missouri, this time it cost Auburn the win as the Tigers gave up a 17-point lead and fell to LSU (4-1) 21-17.
Auburn outgained LSU 438-270, LSU had more penalty yards, 94, than passing yards, 85 and Kayshon Boutte was held to just one reception, and the Bayou Bengals still found a way to victory.
“Mistakes were made and that cost us some big plays but overall, we played our hearts out that whole entire game,” said senior linebacker and team captain Owen Pappoe. “I am still proud of my guys, even though we did not get the outcome we had wanted.”
The story for Auburn was the one that has dominated the season and the 3-7 stretch since the 6-2 start last year: second-half woes and turnovers.
“I mean, it hurts, and I know what we have to do. We just have to execute,” said starting center Brandon Council. “We have to keep the same momentum we have in the first half and carry it over to the second half. We have to get better at that.”
Council made the switch to center after Tate Johnson’s surgery and was part of an improved offensive line unit in both run blocking and pass protection.
The game started as well as could be for Auburn. The defense shut down the LSU offense, and Robby Ashford and the passing game came alive.
Ashford gave the offense an early spark when he scrambled on 3rd-and-8 and found Ja’Varrius Johnson for a 50-yard touchdown to give Auburn an early 7-0 lead.
Auburn even ended the first quarter with a tough 2nd-and-14 from the LSU 21, still up 7-0, but a huge 61-yard catch-and-run from Jarquez Hunter was followed by an 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Camden Brown and just like that Auburn was up 14-0. The drive covered 99 yards in six plays, with 79 of that coming on two plays. This was the first 99-yard drive for Auburn since the 2020 LSU game.
Another LSU punt gave Auburn another shot and the Tigers took advantage with a 31-yard trick play to Koy Moore got the Tigers near the red zone. Auburn could not punch it in, but Anders Carlson nailed a 29-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
“We did really well early, and that has been the tale of our tapes lately. That's something we have to work on,” said tight end John Samuel Shenker. “That has to be our number one on the offensive, just being consistent.”
Then, the game began to unravel.
A fumble from Robby Ashford was returned for six by LSU and the Tigers did not look back, chipping away at the lead before a turnover on downs by Auburn led to the game-winning touchdown drive, culminating in a 20-yard run from John Emery Jr. late in the third quarter.
Auburn had a number of chances, but three costly fourth-quarter turnovers, combined with an Anders Carlson miss in the first half which led to aggressive play calling, ended any hopes of a comeback.
A Koy Moore interception on a trick play receiver pass halted Auburn’s best drive of the second half and a Keionte Scott muffed punt on the next series almost cost Auburn the game. The defense came up big again with a forced fumble, but Robby Ashford threw a costly pick, his second turnover of the night, and the defense could not stop LSU again.
Auburn almost doubled LSU in yardage in the first half, 283-149, and outgained them in the second half as well, 155-121, but three second-half turnovers and no points were the stories.
Auburn has given up its double-digit lead in five consecutive home games. Auburn has scored seven points or less in the second halves of eight of the 10 SEC games under Bryan Harsin.
“It comes down to execution because really every single play, you know, there's a chance for you to be successful,” Harsin said when asked about second-half issues. “That's really why you focus on the details and why we talk about execution because there's always a chance to be successful in each and every play and it's just how many plays does the other team win?”
The bright spot in the game might’ve been the defense which once again pressured the passer, finishing the game with three sacks and eight tackles for loss. LSU quarterbacks were held to 85 yards and just 10 completions combined, including five yards in all of the second half. They did struggle in the run game some, giving up 185 yards on the ground, including three runners with over 40 yards on the ground.
Robby Ashford had a career day with 337 yards through the air, 19 completions on 38 attempts and two touchdowns, but two costly turnovers. The running game was better, at 101 yards, but Tank Bigsby had two or fewer yards on eight of his twelve carries.
Despite the loss, Auburn will try to turn the page ahead of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry next Saturday.
“We gave that game away. We have to take care of the ball better and on defense and we have to get more stops obviously,” said Hall. “We're going to keep grinding, put in work tomorrow, and get prepared for Georgia.”
Auburn will meet the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the 127th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday, October 8, in Athens with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CST.
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