December 3, 2022

LSU Shows Fight, Running Game Comes Alive, Defense Plays Best When It Matters Most, and More Takeaways From Win Against Auburn Heading Into Tennessee

Jay Ward (5) picks up the fumble caused by BJ Ojulari (18) and returns it for a touchdown to put the Tigers on the scoreboard. (Photo taken by Gus Stark of LSU Athletics)

Before the LSU Tigers take on the Tennessee Volunteers in a matchup between two Top 25 teams, let’s take one look back at what was a tough 21-17 SEC road victory against the Auburn Tigers with a few overall takeaways from that game.

1. LSU starts slowly again both offensively and defensively.

LSU fans were excited about how the game ended, but the same could not be said on how the game actually started. Everything that could go wrong for the Tigers did. LSU gave up two touchdowns defensively with two busted coverages resulting in scores. Offensively, LSU had another slow start with only 52 yards in the first quarter, but the Tigers were able to overcome all of it later in the football game.

2. The defense stepped up when it mattered most.

It was not the LSU defense’s best or most efficient performance of the season, especially after giving up 17 early points, but its defense stepped up when it mattered most over the course of the game. In fact, when LSU needed a spark down 17 points, it was one of the team’s defensive captains that made a play in BJ Ojulari, who strip sacked Robby Ashford and was immediately recovered by Jay Ward, who ran the fumble back for the touchdown to give LSU its first points of the football game. When LSU proceeded to take the lead, its defense had to step up time and time again in order to protect that lead. When Auburn ran the gadget play in the red zone with Koy Moore, it was Harold Perkins that got the interception and it was Micah Baskerville that caused the interception to happen on the pressure. Then, finally, after John Emery fumbled the football late in the football game, Greg Brooks put an end to Auburn’s chances of taking the lead late in the football game stealing the ball away from Koy Moore in what was the play of the season for LSU. LSU defensive coordinator Matt House had another phenomenal second half in making adjustments and LSU’s opportunistic defense was the reason why the Tigers came away with a victory on the road in the SEC.

“I told him that was a captain’s play. What I meant by that was that was an effort play, and that was a timely play that gave us the life that we needed at that particular time. We were down 17-0, and we needed something good to happen. A leader like BJ made a play when a play needed to be made. Those things need to happen. You know, players need to make plays, and BJ made a big play in that moment.”

Brian Kelly on BJ Ojulari’s sack fumble

“Someone needed to make a play. Either Auburn was going to make a play and score or we were going to make a stop and Greg did.”

Brian Kelly on Greg Brooks’ game saving play
LSU defensive back Greg Brooks steals the ball away from Koy Moore and makes the game saving play for the Tigers. (Photo taken by Gus Stark of LSU Athletics)

3. LSU’s passing game had an off night.

LSU’s passing offense was certainly not putting up video game numbers, but the passing game proved to be efficient heading into this game as before the Auburn game, quarterback Jayden Daniels was completing 72% of his passes for 835 yards and six touchdowns. The LSU quarterbacks also showed the ability to spread the football around to different playmakers in previous games this season, but in the Auburn game, the passing game took a big step back as Daniels was only eight of 20 for 80 yards in the football game. In the second half of the Auburn game, the LSU offense had only five yards passing and that came when Garrett Nussmeier had to fill in for Daniels after he injured his knee late in the game. It was not just the quarterback’s fault though. There were several dropped passes by usually dependable players as Mason Taylor, Kayshon Boutte, Brian Thomas, and Malik Nabers all had the case of the drops in the win. It was not the performance that the passing game wanted or is capable of, but the good news for this group is that it has the talent to put up better numbers in future games and the good news is that this sloppy performance did come in a win and not a loss.

“I think I would continue to answer the question, and I’m going to be honest with you. Everybody should be asking the same questions, but I will tell you that it starts with putting together a comprehensive plan that can be repeated in the game. The guy that has his hands on the ball is the quarterback, and he is going to get most of the notoriety when we do well, and he is going to get a lot of the blame when it doesn’t go well. So, the quarterback is part of this. The wide receivers have got to be better at attention to detail. Their routes have to be better. We’ve got to throw it better and catch it better. There were probably five or six – and you probably can all remember them – where there needed to be a little bit better of a throw and a little bit better of a catch. So, that also goes to play-calling. We’ve got to be able to look at, are these the plays that we can repeat and are we doing too much? I think we’re looking at it in all of those areas because this is not going to work. We can’t throw for 85 yards with the talent that we have and expect to beat the Top 10 teams in the country.”

Brian Kelly on struggles last week in the passing game

4. LSU’s running game came to life.

The LSU running game had a lot of success against the Auburn Tigers. Excluding Jayden Daniels’ 59 yards rushing, the LSU running backs combined to run for 126 yards on 30 carries with the trio of Josh Williams, John Emery, and Noah Cain settling into their new roles. Despite the late game fumble, John Emery Jr. provided some of the team’s most explosive offensive plays with the 39 yard reception to put the Tigers inside the one yard line prior to their first offensive touchdown of the game and then gave the Tigers the lead on an extraordinary touchdown run late in the third quarter. The best part about this is that the offense ran the ball without arguably its best offensive lineman in Garrett Dellinger and best running back Armoni Goodwin, who were both out. LSU head coach Brian Kelly loves from what he has seen from the running game in its two SEC wins.

 “We’re averaging six yards per rush in the second half. I think we’ve said from the very beginning the ability to run the football in the SEC was going to be a very important part of winning football games. 

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on running game success

“I think what you see is what you get. Josh (Williams) has been kind of the guy for us. He is extremely reliable in all areas of the game. He can pass protect for us. Made a mistake out on a handoff sweep where he blocked below the waist, but he is usually really clean in all those areas and making good choices. He runs hard. He catches the ball out of the back field, so he has been really reliable. Then as we talked about, Emery is coming on. We feel like we can give him a little bit more and more each week. And then (Noah) Cain comes in with fresh legs, and he is a big guy. He kind of gives us a nice change-up when he does get in. We need all three. There’s no doubt.”

Brian Kelly on running back rotation
LSU RB John Emery shows off his explosive ability on this run against Auburn. (Photo taken by Jacob Reeder)

5. LSU continues to show fight in every game.

Five games into the season, the LSU Tigers have shown that they are going to continue to fight and play hard until the final whistle. After trailing 17-0, it would have been easy for LSU to give up and call it a night, but the Fighting Tigers showed plenty of heart and grit on the road to come back and win the football game. This is also not the first time the team fought from behind as the team also came back in their first SEC win against Mississippi State. It is clear that LSU will not bow down from a fight and will finish games with a high note, but they must get off to better starts in order to have success moving forward.

LSU DE Ali Gaye (11) and DB Jay Ward (5) celebrate. (Photo taken by Gus Stark of LSU Athletics)

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