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September 23, 2008

Auburn missed key opportunity against LSU

LSU 26, Auburn 21: Box score | Recap

AUBURN, Ala. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville tried to smile in the aftermath of Saturday's 26-21 loss to LSU.

Tuberville knew his Tigers could have won this game. He knows they let a golden opportunity slip away. He also has to know deep down that he lost to a better team a LSU team that looks like the best in the ultra-competitive SEC West.

"We had the lead, lost it, had the lead again, lost it and we have a disappointed bunch of guys because we thought with the way we played at times, we should have won," Tuberville said. "Again, when you play good football teams, you have to play every play. They made a few more plays than we did."

Tuberville is wrong. LSU made a lot more plays than Auburn. The Bayou Bengals had a 31-yard run by Charles Scott, a 33-yard reception by Brandon LaFell, a 39-yard grab by Chris Mitchell and a 22-yard catch by Demetrius Byrd. LSU also made some gutsy play calls, recovering an onside kick and calling a halfback pass that resulted in a touchdown. What tricks/gambles did Tuberville take to spark his team? None.

Yes, Auburn's new spread attack showed signs of life. Quarterback Chris Todd was 17 of 32 for 250 yards, but he was intercepted twice and threw one touchdown pass.

Auburn's running game was stuffed. Ben Tate tried, pacing the team with 45 yards on 19 carries. But there was little room to run for Tuberville's bunch. LSU yielded just 70 yards on 36 attempts (1.9 ypc). As a result, Auburn often found itself in uncompromising down-and-distance situations, which allowed LSU to come after Todd. He was sacked only two times, but time and again Todd felt pressure.

"I thought we did some good things, especially in this atmosphere and this type of game," Todd said. "We are still getting better and I think we will continue to do that. Every game, we should get better."

Todd is trying, but he isn't physically equipped to make new coordinator Tony Franklin's attack work at maximum potential. Todd possesses an average arm and lacks ideal mobility. Kodi Burns? Forget it. He can run, but he's a raw passer who lacks a feel for this offense. As a result, Burns has played sparingly since the opener and didn't play at all against LSU.

"We felt like at times we would need Kodi to run the football," Tuberville said. "But we felt like we kept them off-balance pretty good with Chris."

Tuberville also said that Auburn was moving the football, had a 14-3 lead and "you don't just change it to change it."

Another drawback for the offense is that none of Auburn wide receivers are true playmakers.

Thus, if you have average quarterback play and a pedestrian set of receivers, you get a group that isn't suited to run this offense at its highest level. It showed against LSU's defense. Auburn's offense ranks 73rd in the nation (355.3 ypg). Even worse, the Tigers are averaging only 21.3 points, 87th in the country. It should improve, considering Auburn won't face many more defenses this good the rest of the season. Still, there are reasons to be concerned.

The bottom line is that a Todd-led offense accounted for just two of Auburn's three touchdowns. The Tigers' other score came on a 24-yard interception return by defensive end Gabe McKenzie late in the first half. Auburn scored just one second-half touchdown as it watched a 14-3 halftime lead vanish. Conversely, LSU's offense found life and a quarterback in Jarrett Lee, tallying 23 points in the last two quarters.

Auburn had 13 possessions, seven of which ended with punts. Two others ended on interceptions, while another ended on downs. Leading 14-10 early in the second half with a chance to push its lead, Auburn went on its best drive came of the game. But the eight-play, 55-yard march that consumed 3:28 ended with an interception. LSU proceeded to score a touchdown on a halfback pass from Keiland Williams to Demetrius Byrd to claim its first lead of the game, 17-14. You could feel momentum swing, and Auburn never really got it back.

The division now is LSU's to lose. Auburn will have to sit and wait, taking care of its business while waiting for LSU and Alabama to slip. Auburn has a good chance to win its next six games, which would give the Tigers a 9-1 record as they enter two season-ending and season-defining games: Georgia at home and a trip to Alabama.

"We took a major step forward," Tuberville said. "We played much better than we did last week. I was proud of the offense."

At least someone was.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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