LSU running back Spencer Ware pulls away from Auburn defensive back Jermaine Whitehead during the first half Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Second-ranked LSU (4-0) held on to edge Auburn 12-10. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:36 AM
AUBURN, Ala. — One way or another, some Tigers were going to beat some Tigers Saturday night.
But, LSU spent most of its stay in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium seemingly bent on being responsible for both ends of it.
Amid shooting itself in the foot and going to great lengths to keep Auburn in the game and poised for a mega-upset, LSU managed to nurse a perilous two-point lead through most of the second half and escape the site of so many heartbreaks with a 12-10 victory.
“This was a traditional LSU-Auburn game,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “Nothing usual about it.”
There were brief stretches when it resembled football — even if it hardly ever looked like the No. 2-ranked football team in the nation.
LSU, which spent the night seemingly coming up a half yard shy of continuing drives, complicated things with four personal fouls among its nine penalties for 80 yards. Also, two costly turnovers by quarterback Zach Mettenberger ignited the stadium into the cauldron the Tigers have come to expect over the years.
“I think a lot of guys know we haven’t played our best game yet,” said Mettenberger, who struggled after his second turnover and finished 15 of 27 for 169 yards. “I made a couple of mistakes early, but the win really showed the character of this team. We were able to come out with a win.”
LSU got a safety and its lone touchdown drive in the first half, and Drew Alleman’s 30-yard field goal at 5:26 of the third quarter provided the barest margin of victory. But, Alleman could have taken a lot of the mystery out of the final 40 seconds if he hadn’t misfired on a relative chip shot from 33 yards out.
Instead, the 20-point underdog War Eagles had hope until the final play of the game when Tharold Simon intercepted a desperation pass by Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier.
“Not perfect,” Miles said. “We have a lot of work to do. But we’ll take an SEC victory on the road at Auburn.”
LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) surely did nothing to scare crossstate No. 1 Alabama. But the Tigers’ defense, though contributing to the steady stream of penalty flags, had 14 tackles for losses, including four sacks on Frazier.
“It had it’s ups and downs,” LSU linebacker Luke Muncie said. “We showed everyone we can pull through at the end and come together as a team.
“But it also shows us that we need to be humble and continue to improve. We’re not going to be good enough to go to the national championship until that time comes.”
Auburn never really threatened to score in the second half, barely crossing midfield once and running three plays in LSU territory.
“We stuck our backs up,” said defensive end Sam Montgomery, who had the safety among his 3 1/2 tackles for loss and also delivered a good talking-to to his teammates when they unexpectedly trailed 10-9 at the half despite doubling Auburn’s offensive output.
“I believe that during time of adversity, the older, veteran players need to get everybody’s heads on straight to lead and go and play for victory,” he said. “I’m glad this happened. This gives us a lot of film to go back and make corrections.”
But where to start?
“It’s interesting,” Miles said. “We practice the ability not to have penalties. But, what happens is guys lose their poise. This is tremendous lesson for us.”
For the second consecutive week, a Mettenberger turnover deterred LSU from a chance to settle things early.
LSU survived his lost fumbled snap at the Auburn 3-yard line on its opening possession when Montgomery hammered Tra Mason for a safety on the next play. The Tigers used the free kick to rectify to the missed opportunity and drove for Michael Ford’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 9-0 lead.
The Tigers had all of the momentum and a quiet house after stuffing Auburn again and looked prime to start rolling — until Mettenberger fumbled again on a sack at the LSU 26-yard line.
Auburn responded with its first first-down of the game and quickly scored on the final play of the first quarter. It was game on with the Auburn crowd, which came expecting the worst, suddenly very much in the game and smelling upset.
“Suddenly, instead of having a different score, we’re in a dogfight from start to finish,” Miles said.
“Oh, yeah, it was a shock to our system,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes you have to deal with whatever comes to you. This was a rough time that really tested us.”
LSU’s drive and play of the game netted no points, but Mettenberger and the Tigers — one big Auburn play from an unthinkable upset — did manage to use up most of the game clock after taking over at their own 27 with 4:17 remaining.
The highlight was also the scariest play for LSU when, on third-and-4 from the its 33, Mettenberger rolled right then abruptly pulled up and tossed a throwback pass all the way across the field.
The ball seemed to stay in the air forever with Auburn defenders close enough that Spencer Ware had to break a tackle almost the second he caught it.
“I knew it had the potential to be a big play for us,” said Mettenberger.
But as the ball floated cross-field it also looked like a 50-50 proposition to be either a big LSU gain or an Auburn pick-six before Ware turned it into a 33-yard gain that allowed the Tigers to all but salt the game away.
“The way he threw it, he made a real decision to put some heat on that ball,” Miles said. “That really was the reason Ware had the ability to advance it like he did.”
And LSU got out of town with an ugly victory.