LSU-Auburn rivalry has no nickname; doesn't need one
BATON ROUGE – Funny how the LSU-Auburn college football rivalry does not have a nickname, which sometimes are overly packaged and marketed and a little forced because such games are not real rivalries. See the Golden Boot (LSU vs. Arkansas) or the Magnolia Bowl (LSU-Ole Miss).
LSU-Auburn does not have or need a permanent nickname because basically one is forged out of what actually happens in the game every so often and is not packaged, marketed and forced.
"This is kind of an historic rivalry," LSU coach Les Miles deadpanned Monday as his No. 13 Tigers (1-0 overall, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) prepared to host No. 18 Auburn (2-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
"Auburn is a very, very quality team with a deep-rooted SEC history with LSU," Miles said.
Deep into the earth's surface as it turns out.
-There is "The Earthquake Game" because the crowd noise in Tiger Stadium the moment LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson hit Leesville tailback Eddie Fuller with a touchdown pass for a 7-6 lead with 1:41 to go on Oct. 8, 1988, registered on a seismograph at LSU's Geology Department, as LSU held on for the win. This stuff can't be made up in a staff meeting.
-There is "The Interception Game" because Auburn – after trailing 23-9 early in the fourth quarter - intercepted an incredible five passes in the fourth quarter from LSU quarterback Jamie Howard of Lafayette, including three that were returned for touchdowns, for a 30-26 win on Sept. 17, 1994, at Auburn. That many pick sixes in such a short time just doesn't happen.
-There is "The Barn Burner," which LSU won 19-15 at Auburn on Sept. 21, 1996, as the Auburn Sports Arena, a rickety basketball gym built in 1946 next door to Jordan-Hare Stadium, burned down in flaming color on ESPN. Auburn officials said at the time that the fire started because LSU tailgaters did not properly extinguish a barbecue grill and left it too close to the building before the game. Depending on the angle, it looked like the stadium was on fire. Had winds been blowing differently, the stadium would have caught on fire. The cinematic inferno was not set to keep viewers from flipping channels.
-Auburn won the "Extra, Extra Point Game" by 10-9 on Sept. 18, 2004, when a new rule gave Auburn a second chance at the conversion kick after a touchdown with 1:14 to go. Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed his first extra point try after the TD, but Shreveport cornerback Ronnie Prude was whistled for a personal foul because he accidentally fell on an Auburn player after a running jump to try to block the extra point. Vaughn made the second extra point. "It was a cheap way to lose," said then-LSU coach Nick Saban, who was on the rules committee that came up with this new rule.
-LSU got kickers' revenge a year later on Oct. 22, 2005, in the "Every Which Way But Good Game" as Vaughn couldn't find his spot in Tiger Stadium and missed five field goals as "V" meant victory for LSU this time - 20-17 in overtime.
-And on Oct. 5, 2014, there was "The Blowout Game," which was unique in its own right. No. 5 Auburn's 41-7 victory over No. 15 LSU at Jordan-Hare shook and burned LSU like no other in LSU-Auburn history. The game marked just the second time in 49 meetings that 30 points or more separated the two teams. Auburn also won 41-7 in 1999 in Tiger Stadium, but little was expected of that LSU team as it was coming off a losing season, was not ranked and Coach Gerry DiNardo was on the way out. A year ago at Auburn, LSU was 0-for-13 on third down, which was the worst in the Miles' era. With a loss to Mississippi State the week before, LSU was also 0-2 in the SEC for the first time since 2001. And LSU had given up 1,136 yards in those two games – another Miles low.
LSU recovered to finish 8-5 and 4-4 in the league and ended up leading the SEC in total defense, but this was the bottom for LSU's current players and where their Auburn history begins.
"It was bad," said LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, who was part of a unit that allowed 298 yards rushing and 566 yards in all. "We were not a good defense yet. I think we came a long way after that."
The Tigers allowed Mississippi State just 43 yards rushing with 1.6 yards an attempt in a 21-19 win last week. LSU also sacked quarterback Dak Prescott three times and hurried him another eight times. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was sacked once while rushing 16 times for 119 yards with two touchdowns and hitting 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.
"We're rushing the passer much better and keeping him in the pocket now," LaCouture said. "We struggled there early last year."
LSU quarterback Brandon Harris' history at Auburn is one so haunted he never got through the first chapter. After a trilogy of three-and-outs by Harris' offense in his first career start, Auburn led 17-0 in the first quarter. Harris was just 3-of-12 passing by halftime, and Auburn led 31-7. It was over, and so was Harris. He finished 3 of 14 for 58 yards, was replaced by Anthony Jennings and never heard from again until winning the job this summer. He was 9 of 14 for 71 yards last week but looked much more competent and comfortable in the win at State.
"Coach Miles and everybody else, they helped me get through that," Harris said. "It was an eye opener at Auburn. I was forcing things, and we just can't have that. We didn't execute on first and second downs, and 100 percent of the time, it was on me. But we're past it, and I'm looking forward to this weekend."
Miles would not compare Harris now to Harris then, though statistics from Auburn 2014 and Mississippi State 2015 are eerily similar.
"I don't know that that's a necessity for me in any way because it's a completely different guy," Miles said. "He's just a much different player than the one player who took the field at Auburn."
Miles and company hope the LSU team that takes the field Saturday afternoon is vastly different as well.
"You ask any player around here," Harris said. "We were really embarrassed about what happened last year. It's just a game we look forward to playing again."