The last time Auburn and LSU met as unranked teams was in 1999 when Auburn won 41-7 in Baton Rouge. Auburn partied like it was 1999 on Saturday afternoon in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The home-standing Tigers rolled 48-11 in what was the most impressive performance of the year for coach Gus Malzahn’s squad.
Bo Nix hit Eli Stove on a 9-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to get the scoring started, and Christian Tutt took a T.J. Finley fumble back 20 yards for a score later in the second quarter to put LSU down two touchdowns. Nix then hit a wide open Ze’Vian Capers with under one minute to play in the first half to turn this one sideways.
And it got really, really sideways. Nix added another touchdown pass and a 5-yard scoring run in the second half and running back Tank Bigsby punched it in twice as well. The Tigers scored touchdowns on the first four drives of the second half to hand LSU its worst loss in the history of the rivalry.
Simply put, LSU’s offense just couldn’t get going with Finley under center as the freshman started in place of the injured Myles Brennan for the second straight week. Finley tossed two picks (including one to Nehemiah Pritchett to set up the first score of the game) and was benched in the second half in favor of Max Johnson.
The win pushes Auburn to 4-2 on the season, while defending national champion LSU falls to 2-3.
Let’s break down some of the top takeaways from Saturday’s matchup.
Is Nix back? The sophomore quarterback has been up-and-down throughout his brief career, but this felt different. This felt like the Nix that was touted to be a difference-maker in an offense that perfectly suits his skill set. Why? Because he didn’t panic and controlled the game from the outset.
Nix has had happy feet in all five of Auburn’s games in 2020, and for good reason. His offensive line hasn’t exactly done a lot to ease his concerns. But it was so bad at times that he would bail almost immediately after taking snaps. He didn’t do that on Saturday, and it wasn’t due to lack of pressure. LSU made him move — something that he can do. But instead of panicking and tossing up prayers, he went through his progessions and kept the chains moving.
This is what Nix is supposed to be. This is what Auburn’s offense is supposed to be.
Stove is cooking with gas: Nix was great on Saturday, but a big reason why this offense clicked was the work of wide receiver Eli Stove. The speedy senior had 16 catches and two carries coming into the game, but he was much more of a focal point against the Tigers. Stove had five catches for 64 yards and three carries for 21 yards, and was the unquestioned catalyst for the orange-and-blue Tigers.
Malzahn is all about eye candy. Stove’s ability to not only make plays with the ball in his hands, but draw the attention of the defense made Nix’s job much easier than it has been in previous games.
It’s surprising that it has taken so long to make him the centerpiece. Malzahn consistently uses motion before the snap to keep defenses honest, and Stove has been around for five years. Sure, he had a knee injury two years ago. But it’s almost like Malzahn has been timid and reluctant to put him in harm’s way since his return.
Stove is back … and he has made this Auburn offense red hot.
The Bo Pelini experiment isn’t working: The college football world was shocked — in a good way — when LSU coach Ed Orgeron hired former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to coordinate the defense after Dave Aranda left to be the coach at Baylor. It’ll be shocking — in a bad way — if he’s employed by LSU much longer.
I don’t care how many departures there are off of the defense. This is an LSU defense with LSU athletes and LSU strength and conditioning. It should never, under any circumstances, get lit up like a Christmas tree on a consistent basis.
I mean, come on. Derek Stingley, JaCoby Stevens and Todd Harris are still in that secondary. They shouldn’t be confused beyond belief. That’s on Pelini.
It might not be Sunday and it might not be next week. But the chance of Pelini staying employed by LSU in 2021 is about as likely as the year 2020 returning to normalcy.
Win in the trenches: Auburn’s front seven looked average-at-best through the first five games of the season, but it looked like the defense of old on Saturday. It had seven tackles for loss and four sacks — two of which were from linebacker Derick Hall. On top of that, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele did a masterful job of generating pressure in a variety of ways and striking when he smelled blood in the water.
That defense held LSU to 5 of 17 on third down conversions and prevented it from ever reaching the red zone.
That isn’t just great defense … that’s championship-level defense.