AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener with Auburn was certainly a mixed bag for the LSU defense.
No. 12 LSU made some miscues on that side of the ball — but conversely, the defense made enough good plays to do its part in taking down No. 7 Auburn with a thrilling 22-21 upset in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
LSU suffered a handful of injuries. LSU had a blown coverage that led to an Auburn touchdown in the third quarter. LSU had a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-and-8 in the second quarter led to another Auburn touchdown.
And a blistering-hot day on The Plains, where it was 93 degrees with a feel-like temperature of 101 just minutes before kickoff, also played a part when Auburn came back from a 10-0 second-quarter deficit to grab a 21-10 lead with early in the third quarter.
At that point, LSU’s defense looked cooked.
But it was really just the beginning for Dave Aranda’s group, which dug deep and shut out Auburn’s up-tempo offense over the final 25½ minutes.
LSU’s valiant efforts were rewarded in the final quarter when the offense, which also struggled for the better part of two quarters, scored nine points in the final 8:18 — the last three on Cole Tracy’s 42-yard field goal on the final play — to steal a huge road win.
While the offense scored the points LSU needed late, the defense did its part.
“Coach Aranda told the defense we had to bow up and make plays,” said cornerback Greedy Williams, who had one of LSU’s two interceptions off Jarrett Stidham.
They did, despite the heat and some crucial injuries.
LSU was already missing Buck linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, who is out for the season. On Saturday, outside linebackers Ray Thornton and Michael Divinity, defensive end Glen Logan, nose tackle Breiden Fehoko, and cornerbacks Kary Vincent and Kristian Fulton left the game with injuries.
Only Logan and Thornton did not return.
LSU also lost free safety John Battle, who was ejected for targeting with 14:37 left in the third quarter — making the defensive backfield even thinner in the heat.
“We talked to the team about that, that there was going to be adversity,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “In all SEC games, there’s going to be adversity and we had to fight through it.
“We didn’t panic. Obviously, we made some plays (on offense) when we needed and the defense made some stops when we needed to.”
In addition to the injuries and Battle’s ejection, outside linebacker Andre Anthony had a roughing-the-passer penalty to extend a drive — which led to an Auburn touchdown that produced its first lead just before halftime.
But not even a touchdown on Auburn’s first possession of the second half — its third consecutive score on a meaningful drive — could keep LSU down.
At that point, Auburn had piled up 196 yards on its previous 26 plays.
It managed just 132 yards on its 40 snaps before and after its three-touchdown barrage and finished with 328 total yards.
“We made a lot of stops to give us our offense enough time to go down there and make a play and win the game,” Williams said.
Strong safety Grant Delpit also had an interception, picking off Stidham on Auburn’s second play of the game. That takeaway led to Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Despite being on the field for 10 minutes in the second quarter and giving up another touchdown on Auburn’s first possession of the second half, thanks to a blown coverage on 33-yard pass from Stidham to Asa Martin that set up the score LSU bowed up.
Auburn looked like it was going to add to the lead on its next possession when middle linebacker Jacob Phillips broke up a third-down pass over the middle to force a punt.
“They kept on playing," Orgeron said, "they really kept on playing.”
That big three-and-out stop led to Tracy’s second field goal, a 27-yarder that trimmed the deficit to 21-13 with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
Battle’s ejection came on a drive on which Anders Carlson missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt and LSU’s offense crept within two points on a lightning-quick 71-yard TD from Joe Burrow to Derrick Dillon.
LSU then got the ball back one final time for its offense, which drained the final 5:38 off the clock to set up Tracy’s 42-yard game-winner.
“Give (strength and conditioning coach) Tommy Moffitt credit. Our team is in outstanding condition,” Orgeron said. “We started hydrating on Monday. We said we will not let the elements be a (negative) factor for us. … We will use that as an advantage for us.”
“Every guy on defense and offense really did their job,” Fehoko said, “and they did it to the best of their ability.”