DJ Chark got off to a miserable start. So, too, did his team.
On LSU's third offensive play in Saturday's stunning 27-23 comeback victory over Auburn in Tiger Stadium, quarterback Danny Etling hit Chark in stride down the right sideline for a 39-yard gain to the LSU 25. But as Auburn safety Stephen Roberts swung his arm downward on the tackle, he wrestled the ball loose.
Instead of putting his team in position to take an early lead, Chark faltered — and LSU was on a fast track to digging itself into a 20-0 hole.
For a brief moment, Chark was upset.
Then he decided to do something about it.
Fifty-six minutes later, LSU celebrated its biggest against an SEC opponent in Tiger Stadium history. And LSU did it on the best day in Chark’s career.
Chark finished with 233 yards from scrimmage, including 150 receiving yards on five catches, both career highs.
“I was upset, but I knew it was still just the first quarter,” Chark said of his fumble. “Auburn continued to score and I knew I had to do something for my team. I wanted to fight back and be a leader for the other guys. If they see me mess up and go back and continue to mess up, they won’t have any hope.”
Chark certainly did something for his team — something big. It was about 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Picking up several key blocks from teammates, Chark returned an Auburn punt 75 yards for a touchdown, putting LSU within two points.
A few minutes later, kicker Connor Culp did just that.
Move over, Earthquake Game. Bury all those Auburn pick sixes in 1994 next to the ashes of Th…
It was Chark’s second punt-return touchdown of the season. He assumed the role just days before LSU opened the season against BYU.
Saturday's game showed why that was a prudent move.
“He just gets better and better,” Moreau said. “He was on the cover of the program today. ... Played a great game. I’m really proud of that guy.”
Chark's early fumble brought back memories of a similar play Sept. 30 when LSU faced Troy. Running back Nick Brosette fumbled on the first play of that game, setting in motion the first nonconference home loss for the Tigers in almost 20 years.
At the time, LSU crumbled under the pressure and let the Trojans take advantage.
But this time, LSU rallied behind Chark.
It didn’t take Gus Malzahn long to get to the heart of his team’s epic collapse Saturday afternoon.
When Chark made it back to the sideline, coach Ed Orgeron told him: “We’ve got your back.”
Etling told him he would go back to him next chance he had.
The quarterback kept his word, connecting with Chark on four long pass plays — one in each quarter, all of them for 29 or more yards.
Receivers coach Mickey Joseph and consultant Jerry Sullivan told Chark that the team needed a bell cow returning punts.
“He’s gaining confidence,” Orgeron said. “He was charged to be our bell cow ... back there, and he’s done it.”