The whiteboard in LSU’s halftime meeting room got worked.
And so did the training table.
The defensive adjustments LSU coaches made at halftime helped propel the Tigers to a historic 27-23 comeback win over Auburn, and the team’s star defensive player, Rashard Lawrence, sought medical treatment that boosted his final two quarters.
Scribbling on a whiteboard in the team’s halftime gathering area, coaches devised a strategy to combat Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson and the Wildcat formation. Coordinator Dave Aranda and staff shifted a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, evening out the numbers of defenders and blockers near the play.
During this whiteboard session, trainers hooked up Lawrence with intravenous fluids to quickly deliver nutrients into the body of the banged-up, ailing sophomore defensive end. Lawrence is not only battling two bum ankles, but he also spent much of the week overcoming strep throat.
“I’ve been sick all week, but once I got an IV at halftime, I felt different in the second half,” he said. “In the first half, I didn’t play well. You can look at how I played — didn’t play well. Second half, I got an IV and I felt better and I played better.”
So did his defense, sent soaring by those two halftime events — the Xs and Os change and Lawrence’s IV.
They provide an explanation for such a stark turnaround for Aranda’s group. Auburn’s offensive numbers in the first and then second half are baffling: yards (290 in the first half to 64 in the second), average per play (7.6 to 2.0), rushing yards (131 to 58), first downs (13 to 4) and runs of 10 or more yards (5 to 1).
Couple those numbers with kicker Connor Culp’s two field goals and a DJ Chark 75-yard punt return for a touchdown and you get LSU's biggest comeback in an SEC game in Tiger Stadium history.
“Our defense came alive,” coach Ed Orgeron said. "I thought Dave Aranda had ice in his veins tonight. Kept calling it and making adjustments on the sidelines."
Back in the AP poll at No. 24, LSU (5-2, 2-1 SEC) rebounded from a home loss to Troy two weeks ago with consecutive SEC victories over top 25 teams, beating then-No. 21 Florida 17-16 in The Swamp last week and storming back to rally past then-No. 10 Auburn (5-2, 3-1).
The defense did it all without starting safety John Battle, out with injury.
“We were resilient, kept on playing,” Orgeron said. “I think the difference in the football game was the way our defense came out and shut them out.”
This looked so improbable for so much of the first half.
Johnson gouged LSU’s defense in the first quarter for 70 yards on 11 carries, five of those in that Wildcat formation to gain 32 yards.
Halftime arrived, and things changed.
“There was a certain formation (the Wildcat) they were giving us," Orgeron said. "It’s something we had practiced all week, but we just didn’t get it right. We were going to go to something that would have been different. We decided as a staff, ‘Let’s get it fixed.’ We challenged our staff to get it fixed, and it worked.”
Coaches decided against changing LSU’s scheme and play calls, instead just bringing an extra safety into what’s known as “the box,” the imaginary area 7 yards from the football toward the line of scrimmage.
“We ran the same plays,” said linebacker Devin White, who racked up a career-high 15 tackles. “Just needed that extra safety in the box. When they’re playing with all 11 guys (in the Wildcat), we’ve got to have another guy in the box as well.”
Oh, yes, but there was another change — to the health of a player whom Orgeron calls his most consistent defender.
Lawrence missed three of LSU’s first six games battling sprains to each ankle. He entered this one limited, still overcoming some soreness with those injuries.
Kept hidden all week was another ailment entirely: strep throat, a bacterial infection that comes with throat pain and swelling, fever, headaches and nausea. At one point in the second quarter, Lawrence jogged off the field and dropped onto one knee on the sideline, clearly fighting lingering effects of the illness.
A few hours later, Lawrence wrapped both of his arms around his head coach. They hugged for a full five seconds, a lengthy embrace between player and coach after one of the most unbelievable victories LSU has ever seen.
Lawrence saw it coming. He knew at halftime.
First came the adjustments, then his IV.
“We knew,” he said, “we were going to win this game.”
DJ Chark got off to a miserable start. So, too, did his team.
TALE OF TWO HALVES
LSU’s defense stuffed Auburn in the second half, something coach Ed Orgeron said afterward was the “difference” in the game.
Average per play
Average per rush
Runs of 10+ yards