Auburn using 'tough to swallow' losses to LSU as motivation
Gus Malzahn isn’t hiding from it, and the Tigers aren’t denying it.
As it prepares for a top-10 showdown with No. 2 LSU this Saturday in Death Valley, No. 9 Auburn is using its past two blown-lead losses in the series as motivation before its biggest test of the season yet.
“I just think about the last game we went down there,” Malzahn said Sunday. “That was a tough, tough one to swallow right there. ... Last year's, too."
After winning two of three against the Bayou Bengals from 2014-16, Auburn has dropped the past two games by a combined five points: 22-21 at home last season and 27-23 in Baton Rouge in 2017.
In both losses, Auburn led late into the fourth quarter. In 2017, Malzahn’s squad jumped out to 20-0 lead in the first half thanks to two touchdowns in a 17-0 first quarter. After that point, the Tigers had 129 yards of offense for the remainder of the contest as an LSU punt-return touchdown in the fourth quarter brought it back before a field goal with 2:36 gave it the lead.
On Auburn’s last 19 plays of the game, it gained one first down.
Last season, Auburn fell behind early before taking a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter. Past that point, the Tigers offense again stalled out as their final five possessions of the game resulted in three punts, a missed field goal and an interception.
Auburn’s win probability, per ESPN, in last season’s matchup was as high as 91.2 percent. In 2017, it boomed to 96.2 percent.
“We had a tough loss the past two years,” Auburn safety Daniel Thomas said. “... I mean, it's been in the back of our minds since last year.”
In preparation this week for one of LSU’s best teams in recent memory, one of Malzahn’s motivating factors is that most of his team has played in this rivalry before, save for key important position.
“There’s nothing like experience in our league,” Malzahn said. “I’d say the difference is our quarterback. That’s the only — that’s probably the most important position.”
The LSU game begins a five-game stanza to close the year for Auburn that includes a game in Death Valley, where it hasn’t won in 20 years, and a pair of home games against a top-10 Georgia team and No. 1 Alabama.
It’s what Malzahn and Auburn look forward to all season.
“That’s exciting,” Malzahn said of the tough schedule to end the regular season. “That’s what you coach for and what you play for. It’s an exciting time of the season, and our guys have worked extremely hard to this point. It’s a great opportunity.
“You know, I think with this schedule we have coming forward, we all — everything needs to take it up another level. You’re playing some of the best teams in the country, specifically this next week on their home field, with one of the best teams in the country playing at a high level. So, it’s every position, you got to raise your level. That’s just part of it.”
The orange and blue Tigers opened as a 12.5-point road underdog for Saturday’s game (2:30 p.m. CST, CBS).
“ As y’all know, I love being the underdog,” Thomas said. “It don’t surprise me. That’s just another chip on our shoulder.”