It is finally a game that matters for No. 2 LSU, a game that will keep Tiger fans’ interest for all four quarters after three non-conference blowouts that had much of Tiger Stadium cleared out by the fourth quarter.
At least that’s what should be the case when LSU opens SEC play this weekend at Auburn.
The truth is that given LSU’s expected dominance this Saturday, it should be Auburn fans filing out of the stadium early in this one. Unless they have memories of and hopes for another 1994, when their team was involved in one of the most improbable comebacks in college football history.
A LOOK BACK: THE NIGHTMARE AT JORDAN-HARE
It was September 17, 1994 and the LSU Tigers, under Head Coach Curley Hallman, traveled to the Plains to take on an Auburn team ranked No. 11 in the nation and riding a 14-game winning streak.
Over the next couple of hours, the LSU team proceeded to systematically dismantle powerful Auburn in front of a packed house at Jordan-Hare Stadium. LSU outgained Auburn 407-165 in total yards, had 21 first downs to Auburn’s eight, held the advantage in time of possession 37:50-22:50, and kept the Auburn offense out of the endzone.
That bears repeating. Auburn’s offense didn’t score any touchdowns all afternoon long.
With a little over 12 minutes left in the game, LSU led 23-9. LSU had no shot of losing. Auburn had no shot of winning.
Except one, and Hallman and offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee inexplicably provided the bullet.
Instead of running the ball with a backfield that had amassed 127 yards on the afternoon and trusting a defense that had given up just 16 total yards and a single first down in the second half, the coaching staff put the icing of the game in the hands of quarterback Jamie Howard, who would end the afternoon an ice-cold 18-of-41.
Howard would proceed to throw five interceptions over the next 12 minutes of play, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
Final score: Auburn 30. LSU 26.
After the game when the coaches came down from the booth, LSU Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett had to be held back from going after Amedee. Hallman had to be held back as a fan was yelling at Howard while the team exited the field.
The next week a Baton Rouge radio personality was ripping Howard on the air and the Tiger quarterback called in threatening to kick the guy’s ass.
A NEW DAY AT LSU
It’s a slightly different culture around the LSU program these days. It would take a lot for Coach Les Miles to get after someone in the stands.
It is doubtful that Miles makes his decisions based on a remote September afternoon from 18 years ago. But given the improbability of what transpired that day on the Plains, it is all well and good that Miles employs the philosophy of running the football and the clock when the Tigers are leading in the second half.
The comedy that was the Curley Hallman era is encapsulated in that ’94 game at Auburn. Eighteen years and three head coaches later, times and fortunes have definitely changed. LSU is at the top of the college football world chasing yet another national title, while Auburn is a team scuffling to find an identity two years removed from the Cam Newton year of 2010.
Outside of another “Barn Burner” like the two teams played in 1996, the most unexpected outcome of this game would be for the home team to come within three touchdowns of heavily favored LSU. Expect Mettenberger to not do his best Jamie Howard impression, especially in the second half. The Tiger offense will be balanced with Mettenberger leading the way in the first half, but with a big lead in the second Miles will do what Hallman should have done 18 years years ago: tuck it and run.
Some will see the intrinsic beauty in that approach. Even fewer will realize it may keep the Chief from attacking Coach Stud after the game.
Prediction: LSU 38, Auburn 7