LSU Auburn Football

LSU wide receiver Koy Moore catches a pass during the second half against Auburn on Saturday in Auburn, Ala.

The appropriately named Tank Bigsby sliced off left guard for a touchdown — untouched, naturally — to put Auburn up 42-3. In the third quarter.

After he went past, rolling into the end zone like one of the Sherman tanks from General Patton’s Third Army speeding across Germany, defensive tackle Neil Farrell threw up his hands in frustration.

Or, perhaps, in surrender.

That’s what Saturday’s game devolved into for LSU. What was at first a back-and-forth grapple between two teams not at their historical best but on pretty much the same plain turned into a massacre on the plains for the visiting team by a 48-11 count.

Loveliest village on the plains? It looked like a fortress to LSU on Saturday, a citadel on the hill the visiting Tigers could have besieged for a month of Saturday's and not broken.

“We got punched in the face,” center Liam Shanahan said frankly. “We got absolutely killed. We got embarrassed on a national stage.”

Everyone associated with LSU football in 2019 should be proud of what they accomplished last season. And that can never be taken away. But everyone associated with LSU football should be embarrassed by what has happened so far this season.

Spin the lowlights:

  • LSU in the opener got run out of Tiger Stadium 44-34, surrendering a Southeastern Conference record 623 yards passing, by a Mississippi State team that has devolved into even more of a dumpster fire than LSU is.
  • LSU lost 45-41 on the road at Missouri to a team that averaged 15.5 points in its first two losses to Alabama and Tennessee.
  • And now this. LSU’s worst loss since a 56-13 drubbing at Florida in 1996, its worst loss ever to Auburn and LSU’s worst loss as a reigning national champion, eclipsing a 51-21 blitz at Florida in 2008.

That 1996 Florida team went on to win the national championship. This Auburn team got two controversial breaks on calls against Arkansas and Ole Miss or it probably would have faced LSU in total disarray with a 1-4 record.

As it turned out for Auburn, as it was for Mississippi State and Mizzou, the cure for what ailed the blue and orange Tigers was a game against LSU.

Excuses? Yes, LSU can certainly make a few.

Starting with the loss of a record-tying 14 players going to the NFL, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to the head coaching job at Baylor and passing-game coordinator Joe Brady to the offensive coordinator job with the Carolina Panthers. Plus at least five players have opted out of the season because of coronavirus concerns or decided to transfer. Saturday, BJ Ojulari became the 18th first-time starter for LSU this season, a rate of change that would make it difficult for any program to sustain success at a high level.

But when you are coming off a national title and want to be regarded as a national player among a handful of tip-top programs like Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, you don’t get to make excuses. Clemson was without Heisman-contending quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Saturday because he has COVID. It had to find a way from 18 down at home to Boston College with a freshman quarterback at the controls and pull out a 34-28 victory.

When LSU got down 21 points after a scoop-and-score off LSU freshman quarterback TJ Finley and a Bo Nix touchdown pass after a tipped Finley interception, the game was practically over. In the second quarter.

It is hard to find fault with Finley, who predictably made more mistakes in his first SEC road start than he did in last Saturday’s 52-24 win at home against South Carolina when he shined in place of injured Myles Brennan. But he certainly didn’t get much help. His offensive line didn’t block well for him, and they didn’t open up holes for the running game, which netted only 32 yards compared to Auburn’s 206. Asking LSU to win without a complementary running game and without Brennan (who deserved to be 3-0 as a starter before he got hurt, not 1-2) is asking the impossible.

But, again, the most egregious failings were on defense. LSU gave up 41 points on defense Saturday subtracting the Finley scoop-and-score and is allowing 32.2 defensive points per game this season.

LSU played well defensively for a while but eventually it was more of the same: linebackers caught inside while opposing players swept around the ends, receivers running free down the field against a defense that CBS analyst Gary Danielson didn’t recognize.

“I don’t know if they’re playing zone. I don't know if they're playing man-to-man," Danielson said. "LSU doesn't, either."

A withering amount of criticism will be directed at defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, and rightly so. It seems implausible to shake up the defensive staff up at this point for a lot of reasons, most of them financial with the athletic department laying people off and facing an $80 million shortfall. But coach Ed Orgeron has to do something at some point, right?

“We’ve got to go through the season," Orgeron said. "Give everyone a chance. At the end of the season we will evaluate everything.”

Terrace Marshall falls 1 game shy of breaking this LSU record in scoreless day vs. Auburn

It seems like the end is nigh, even though it isn't. After the dark fortnight of an open date, Alabama is next.

Joy.

“You’ve got to figure out something fast, fast, fast, fast,” Danielson said with the score 42-3 in the third.

How about when Bama rings, the doorbell don’t answer? Pretend the Crimson Tide is a gaggle of unwelcomed trick-or-treaters. Leave full-sized candy bars — and a white flag — on the doorstep and send them on their way.

LSU did get a win over Alabama early on Saturday when Lafayette Christian Academy safety Sage Ryan, the nation’s No. 1 safety prospect, committed to the Tigers over the Crimson Tide. And on Nick Saban’s birthday, no less.

That had to vex un-jolly ol’ Nick. Of course, once he looks at the game film he has to figure he’ll get his present on Nov. 14.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com