It's about time the haunted LSU-Auburn series has a game on Halloween
AUBURN, Ala. - The LSU-Ole Miss game will forever be associated with Halloween at LSU because of Billy Cannon's 89-yard punt return on the night of Oct. 31, 1959, to give the No. 1 Tigers a 7-3 win over No. 3 Ole Miss in a Game of the Century at Tiger Stadium.
It was a misty, muggy night, and Cannon may as well have been the headless horseman slaying Ole Miss forever more. Every Halloween night for decades thereafter, local sportscasters around Louisiana would show the punt return during the 6 o'clock news. Dads in Louisiana would make their kids watch, then go trick or treating.
LSU ended up not winning the national championship that year as it lost the next week at Tennessee, 14-13, though Cannon still won the school's first and only Heisman Trophy until quarterback Joe Burrow got it last season.
But as far as a haunted series that has been routinely more befitting of All Hallows' Eve, it is the earth moving, fiery, and hexed LSU-Auburn rivalry that should have been played on Halloween all these years. The first one ever on that day since a 10-2 LSU win at Auburn in 1908 will be today at 2:30 p.m. on CBS in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It will not be a game of the century by any means. Neither is ranked entering the game for the first time since 1999 when Auburn destroyed LSU, 41-7, in its last win at Tiger Stadium. LSU is 2-2 and Auburn is 3-2. But something gothic, weird or supernatural will likely happen anyway. And this Turn Of The Screw goes both ways.
Auburn is haunted by LSU, and LSU is haunted by Auburn. And both are haunted and tortured by their shared big brother - Alabama, particularly since Nick Saban (aka Satan) - born on this day in 1951 - took over in 2007. He has been the Crimson coach from Hell for basically every soul in college football with a scary 6 (Satan's jersey number) national championships. He is a combined 18-9 vs. LSU and Auburn.
The Conjuring in the LSU-Auburn series all started with the Oct. 8, 1988, game in Tiger Stadium. This one cost Auburn, which came in at No. 4 and undefeated, a national championship. Auburn took a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter, but there was that number again. With 1:41 left on fourth down, LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson found tailback Eddie Fuller in the heart of the end zone with for an 11-yard touchdown and a 7-6 win after David Browndyke's extra point and critical hold by Chris Moock on shaky ground.
Eerily, Fuller had just dropped the ball on the same play on third down. The crowd noise at the moment Fuller caught the touchdown registered as a small earthquake on a seismograph in LSU's geology building, spawning the permanent nickname - "The Earthquake Game."
Funny, Tiger Stadium's capacity was only 80,150 at the time and had 79,341 that night. So, if LSU checked the seismograph for games now with a 102,321 capacity and if others did same at other stadia, wouldn't more earthquakes register everywhere?
But that's LSU's legend, and they're sticking to it.
The voodoo was definitely on legendary boil on Oct. 8, 1988, though, a date that lives in infamy at Auburn. LSU was just 2-2 and not ranked, while Auburn came in averaging 40 points a game. But it managed just two field goals in Tiger Stadium, and went on to average 27 over its next six to finish 10-1 and at No. 7 in the regular season. It was one of Coach Pat Dye's best teams, but with the LSU loss, he had to settle for a shared SEC title and No. 4 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, where he lost 13-7.
Had Auburn finished 11-0, it likely would have played No. 1 Notre Dame (11-0) in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. Instead, the Irish beat No. 3 West Virginia (11-0) by 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl to win its last national crown.
Auburn got a measure of revenge six (that number again) years later as it remained undefeated at 3-0 and 14-0, counting the previous season, with a 30-26 win at Auburn despite being outplayed by 1-1 LSU team. Auburn won because it intercepted LSU quarterback Jamie Howard of Lafayette - egad - six times, including five in the fourth quarter and returned three for touchdowns.
LSU led 23-9 early in the fourth before Howard apparently became possessed by an evil Plainsman. Howard was 18 of 41 for 280 yards with the six interceptions that day. Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix was just 8 of 19 for 86. His son Bo is now Auburn's quarterback. Jamie Howard's son Walker is committed to LSU for 2022.
LSU outgained Auburn 407 yards to 165 and had 21 first downs to eight. But LSU coach Curley Hallman and offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee must have been possessed, too, or had bet against LSU, as they just kept passing with a lead late. Auburn coach Terry Bowden continued on to a 9-0 start in 1994 and 20-0 overall before finishing 9-1-1 and 20-1-1 while on probation from the previous Dye era.
Howard recovered to throw 98 straight passes without a pick to open his senior season in 1995, and he led the unranked Tigers to a vengeful, 12-6 upset of No. 5 Auburn in game three. He finished with only five interceptions in seven games in an injury-plagued season and ended his career as LSU's No. 3 passer with 6,158 yards.
LSU literally burned Auburn in 1996 with a 19-15 win as the fires of Hell seemingly burned just beyond Jordan-Hare in the aged Auburn Sports Arena known as "The Barn," where the basketball team played from 1946-69. What's Halloween without a barn burning? But this was on Sept. 21.
Watching from the press box or on ESPN that night, it looked like the southeast corner of the stadium was on fire and fans in that area were in danger. But the inferno was safely a street away, though very close. Had the wind been blowing toward the stadium, it could have been disastrous. Howard did not start the fire, but a group of LSU fans did by accident as they did not fully extinguish a barbecue and located it too close to the building under an overhang.
The screw turned back against LSU in 2004 when Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed the go-ahead extra point wide left after a bad snap with 1:14 to play to leave the game tied, 9-9. But LSU defensive back Ronnie Prude was whistled for jumping on a teammate to try to block the kick. He did not climb on his teammate, which was why the rule was added, so it was a cheap call. Vaughn made his second attempt for a 10-9 win.
Funny, Saban, in his last season at LSU, was on the NCAA committee that put in that rule before the season.
Karma strangled Vaughn a year later as he missed five field goals in a 20-17 loss at LSU, including one from 39 yards in overtime that ended the game as LSU's Chris Jackson made his from 30 yards on the first possession of OT. Vaughn also missed from 37, 41, 54 and 49 at the end of regulation to leave the game tied, 17-17.
And LSU has been getting the treats for the most part ever since. LSU is 11-4 in the series beginning with Vaughn's 0-for-5.
Howard - of all people - has been an exorcist for LSU since his six interceptions led to Auburn's fourth straight win in the series in 1994 - Auburn's longest stretch of dominance ever. Starting with Howard and LSU winning 12-6 in 1995 in Tiger Stadium, LSU leads Auburn, 16-9, in the series.
Since Auburn won at LSU, 41-7, in 1999, Auburn is 0-10 in Tiger Stadium - easily the longest drought by either team at the other's stadium.
Auburn appears to be the cursed team now even without earthquakes or fires in recent years. Auburn led 20-0 at LSU in the second quarter in 2017 only to lose 27-23 after a bayou demon seemingly possessed Coach Gus Malzahn at halftime. Either that, or a Cajun goblin stole his playbook.
After gaining 290 yards with 13 first downs for a 23-14 halftime lead, Malzahn's offense scored zero with four first downs and 64 yards in the second half. Known as an offensive wizard at the time, Malzahn was more brainless horseman as he directed 16 straight runs on first down from the second quarter into the late stages.
Auburn led 21-10 at home in the third quarter in 2018, but was outscored 12-0 the rest of the way for a 22-21 loss. That was the day Joe Burrow hatched as the next Billy Cannon as he threw a 71-yard touchdown to get LSU within 21-19 with 8:18 left, then directed a 52-yard drive to set up a 42-yard field goal by Cole Tracy as time expired.
Auburn came the closest of anyone at beating LSU last season as it was the last team to lead the Tigers in the second half at 13-10 early in the third quarter. But LSU won, 23-20, to improve to 10-3 in the series since 2007.
LSU is also pretty much fright free at Jordan-Hare as it has split six there since 2008.
Here are six - you guessed it - tricks or treats for LSU-Auburn, 2020.
LSU QUARTERBACK TJ FINLEY: LSU's regular starter, junior Myles Brennan, has not practiced all week because of an abdomen tear suffered at Missouri on Oct. 10. The plan was for him to practice this week, but with an open week following Auburn, his target return date now is Alabama on Nov. 14.
And it's not like LSU is in a hurry to hurry him back either with true freshman TJ Finley playing as if he was Burrow in his debut last week. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns with alarming accuracy on Clayton Kershaw-type fastballs. And he had the poise of Burrow.
"I enjoyed the TJ Finley show Saturday night," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "I hope I see it again. I think he's only going to continue to get better."
And Brennan better get better before it's too late.
AUBURN QUARTERBACK BO NIX: The sophomore is low in passing efficiency at No. 12 in the SEC and No. 73 in the nation at 119.6 on 101-of-172 passing for 1,107 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He can run, though, at 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds and has 193 yards on 51 rushes and two touchdowns.
"We consider him a dual threat," Orgeron said. "Sometimes, he's like a big tailback."
LSU PASS RUSH: As bad as LSU's defense has been this year at No. 12 in the SEC and No. 85 nationally in total yards allowed with 472 a game, the Tigers have been pressuring the quarterback expertly. LSU is No. 1 in the SEC and tied for ninth in sacks with 14 for 91 yards and 3.5 a game.
The Tigers will likely not be impacted by the loss of two reserve defensive lineman in recent days. Sophomore Siaki Ika, being a nose tackle, did not fit in new coordinator Bo Pelini's 4-3 front and has entered the transfer portal after playing sparingly this season. Senior defensive end Travez Moore of Bastrop has opted out of the season, but he did not say that was because of COVID-19. He had also not been playing much.
AUBURN TAILBACK TANK BIGSBY: The freshman is third in the SEC in rushing with 432 yards on 74 carries. LSU is a decent fifth in the SEC and 35th nationally against the run with 128 yards allowed a game.
LSU DYNAMIC DUO: Sophomore tailbacks Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery combined for 223 yards and a 5.5-yard average last week in beating South Carolina.
"Either one's first team," Orgeron said. Auburn is No. 12 in the SEC and No. 66 nationally against the run with 180 yards allowed a game.
WHAT, NO RANKINGS?: LSU and Auburn have played 20 consecutive games with at least one team ranked, and both teams have been ranked in 13 pairings. But not now.
GAME PREDICTION: LSU's Finley will not do as well this week at Auburn, which is No. 2 in the SEC against the pass with 220 yards allowed a game. But his run game will save him as Emery gains 102 on 14 rushes with a 75-yard score in the third quarter.
FINAL: LSU 20, Auburn 14.