The Auburn-LSU series is known for being crazy. In truth it hasn't been for several years. The last really strange occurrence was Les Miles deciding to throw a pass into the end zone with less than 10 seconds left when he was in field goal range and only needed 3 points to win*. Since 2007, it's been your normal, run-of-the-mill, SEC West rivalry game.
But there is a reason beat writers rehash that "This game gets CRAZY" article every year when Auburn and LSU meet. For twenty years, it seemed something goofy would happen every game. Unfortunately, Auburn seems to come up on the short end of most of those** (The "Earthquake" Game***, The Barn Burner, "Bring Back the Magic", etc). But Auburn won the game that might just be the craziest, at least for the action on the field****.
Auburn came into the 1994 game riding a 13-game winning streak. LSU was just starting what would be the last season of the Curly Hallman Era. I don't know how many games Hallman would have had to have won to balance out this one, but "losing to Southern Miss at home on Senior Day" didn't help either. For a real peak at the carnage, just look at the box score:
LSU held an Auburn offense that averaged 408.6 yards per game to 165. If you take this game out of Auburn's season total altogether, the average yards per game jumps all the way to 433. LSU forced 8 punts. Auburn's offense looked so awful that Patrick Nix was pulled for a redshirt freshman Dameyune Craig just to attempt to provide a spark. There's really only three stats that provide any way for Auburn to win this game.
8 turnovers. 6 Interceptions. 151 interception return yards.
Those numbers alone let you know this game got a little wacko, but then you look at the play-by-play log for the 4th quarter. To be honest, this might have been the craziest 4th quarter in Jordan-Hare Stadium prior to November 2013.
How in the world did LSU fall apart like this. What in blazes was Jamie Howard doing? Well, let's take a look.
I'm including the relevant portions of the 4th quarter, because you can't just break down one play here
By this point, Howard has thrown 1 interception to Auburn CB Chris Shelling, and LSU's starting running back Sharp had fumbled twice, the first of which was recovered in the end zone by Shelling. The video feed says it was 2nd and 9, but the game log has this as 3rd and 9. Either way, LSU sets up with trips left. The outside receiver, Bech, is going to run a classic deep square-in. The inside receivers, Kennison and Burks, are going to run a switch concept. Kennison should rub Burks's defender and should leave him wide open on a wheel route. Auburn rushes 4 and appears to be in man coverage with 2 deep safeties. Ken Alvis is the safety responsible for the wide side of the field.
Auburn's 4 man rush can't really get to Howard. He has a good pocket, and he maneuvers himself for an open throwing window. Let's look what he has to the left.
Exactly how they drew it up. Nickel corner Fred Smith and linebacker Anthony Harris have both taken Kennison. Bech is well covered by Dell McGee. There's no way McGee or Alvis, who is out of the picture, should be able to get to Burks before Howard can hit him and get LSU a first down and more. This is an absolute coverage bust by Auburn. Given Auburn's offensive performance to this point, LSU could more-or-less win the game as Howard nails Burks, who had several big catches already, for a big gain.
Oh boy. Howard never looks off Alvis. He stares Bech down the entire way. Even then, McGee has Bech blanketed. It would take a perfect throw and a great catch to convert this into a first down. Then there's Burks, running free, wondering what in the world Howard saw.
Alvis does a great job returning this one. This was the most difficult of the 3 returns, and he did a great job to get it into the end zone. There were plenty of Auburn fans who recognized that if Alvis had been ruled down at the 1, and his knee may have gone down, Auburn may not have been able to punch it in for the touchdown. Since he got in, the extra point was good and Auburn cut LSU's lead to 23-16.
After good kickoff coverage, a run for no gain, and an incomplete pass, LSU faces 3rd and 10 at the 14. They line up with an I-formation and 2 WRs to the left, 1 to the right. The receivers to the left appear to be running a post-dig combo. Howard will play-fake to his tailback, who will then check for a blitz pickup and filter out to the left as a checkdown. The fullback is an extra pass protector.
Auburn shows blitz with Jason Miska, but rushes only 4. Once again, Howard has a great pocket. Given the way his defense has played, if no one is open, take the checkdown or throw the ball away. Don't give Auburn a chance to make another big play on defense.
Bech may have been open enough to take that chance. The video feed doesn't show us how well Shelling had him covered when Howard threw the ball. Considering that Bech is throwing his hands in the air, I know he thinks he was open. Even if Shelling was on him, both safeties are between the hashes. This is "middle of the field closed" if I've ever seen it. Howard didn't have a lot of great choices here (the checkdown was picked up by Anthony Harris), but he made the absolute worst choice possible.
Auburn actually catches a break here that Robinson misses the diving interception, which would have ended the play with Auburn ball at the 31. Instead, Smith catches it in stride, races towards the end zone, and crashes over an LSU lineman as he crosses the goal line. Matt Hawkins tied the game with the extra point.
Here's where I give Howard some credit. He'd just made two absolutely terrible decisions that, in the span of 4 plays, blew a 14-point lead without Auburn's offense actually taking a snap. Howard bounces back to lead a 13 play, 70 yard drive, completing 4 of 5 passes for 46 yards and 3 first downs. The drive takes 5:42 off of the clock, but stalls at the Auburn 5. A field goal gives LSU the lead back, 26-23, with 5:26 to go in the game. LSU's defense stands tall again, and Auburn's last meaningful offensive snap of the game is an incomplete pass that forces a punt to LSU with 3:42 to go in the game.
LSU decides to be aggressive. After a short gain on first down, Howard hits Burks for 9 yards and a first down. Two runs net 6 yards and leave LSU with a 3rd and 4. Auburn calls their final timeout to give their putrid offense a small chance of winning this game, but they must get a stop. If LSU picks up a first down here, the game and the streak are finished.
Before even watching the play, knowing that it is a pass call makes it a horrible decision on Hallman's part. Your defense has held Auburn to absolutely nothing all day. No one would fault you for putting the game in their hands. If you run the ball and punt, Auburn will have about 90 seconds and zero timeouts on the clock to attempt to tie or win the game. Auburn coach Terry Bowden has to be wracking his brain over who should lead the drive. He's pulled Patrick Nix for ineffectiveness, but Craig hasn't been any better, picking up zero first downs in three possessions. Does he go back to Nix? Does he try to win it with a redshirt freshman? I'm all for trusting a veteran quarterback, but Hallman***** made a losing decision before Howard even took the snap on 3rd and 4.
Okay, so you decided to pass. Well how about setting up in a run look and attempting to catch Auburn off guard with a play-action pass
LSU sets up under center with trips right. The idea here is that the inside receivers, Burks and Kennison, run clearout routes. Bech then runs an in-cut right at the sticks. Auburn shows a 4 man rush again. Howard has a good pocket...and stares at Bech the whole way.
Though Auburn had a man coverage look at first, it appears either Anthony Harris (#53) either read Howard's eyes, or he stayed in a short zone and handed off Burks to Brian Robinson. Howard threw this pass without ever thinking about throwing to anyone else. Bech was never open. He never even thought about being open. Honestly the fact that this pass was deflected instead of intercepted immediately is a minor miracle. But that deflection allows Robinson, an over-aggressive safety who left Auburn early for the pros thinking that they would see his stat line (tons of interceptions) and not his tape, to react to the ball. This ended up being the easiest return of the bunch. Robinson strolls into the end zone, and now Auburn leads LSU. Auburn has outscored LSU 21-6 in the fourth quarter with 2 total yards on offense.
For some reason, Auburn began using a short kickoff after Smith's pick-6. I have no idea why, because the kickoff after Alvis's pick-6 was deep and allowed only a 14 yard return. Maybe the attack of stupid that afflicted Hallman made it's way across the field to Bowden. Whatever the reason, Auburn kicked off short to the 21, and LSU returned it 19 yards. LSU was now only 60 yards away from a winning score with 1 timeout and 1:48 on the clock. The game was far from over.
Howard got to work quickly, hitting Burks for 25 yards and scrambling for another 10. After an incompletion Howard lined up in the shotgun with a true spread look.
The running back runs a bit of a post route to the middle of the field. All I can think of when I look at that pre-play is how open a bubble screen to the wide side of the field would be. If Wilson, the inside receiver, breaks a tackle he could score. With defensive alignments like this, it's no wonder the spread was about to take over college football. However, LSU is not a spread team. Instead LSU runs everyone downfield against this look. Howard tries to hit his RB behind the linebackers.
That should do it. Howard finally finished handing this game to Auburn. His receiver was blanketed by blue jerseys and Robinson's aggressiveness paid off. Now all he has to do is drop to the ground, and the offense can do what it has done all day: gain little to no yardage.
Wait Brian where are you going. Just go down.
Look out for Wilson...
[heavy sigh] Brian Robinson. The original Leroy Jenkins.
Now LSU had the ball back, 1st and 10. Smith made an amazing catch of a high throw by Howard, then somehow hung on after nearly being flipped by Shelling. Howard hustled his team to the line with the clock running under 25 seconds. Auburn finally blitzed and Howard just got a pass away down the sideline to Smith.
Robinson reads Howard the entire way. As soon as Howard lets the pass go, he leaves Burks, who thinks he's wide open for the winning score. Howard had been so burned by throwing down the middle that he completely ignored Burks and threw at the All American corner who had Smith blanketed. Shelling finally, mercifully, put this game to rest.
Auburn would run it's winning streak all the way to 20 games before a tie against Georgia that felt like a loss. A loss in the Iron Bowl a week later would leave Auburn 9-1-1 on the season. In truth, Auburn had no business winning this game, and it acted like a wake-up call.
LSU had a bye week after this game. I can't imagine having to live with that game for two weeks. I honestly think it may have broken them. Prior to this game, they had lost a close game to Texas A&M and had handily beaten a Mississippi State team that would finish 8-4. LSU would finish 4-7, with the aforementioned loss to Hallman's old team, Southern Miss, putting the nail in his coffin.
*-I still can't watch the replay of this play. I keep trying to will Jerraud Powers to turn around. After this happened, I stood up, said goodbye to everyone I was watching the game with, and drove home in silence. I never turned on the TV when I got home.
**-As far as named games, Auburn also won The Re-kick and "whatever LSU fans decided to call Zach Gilbert's correctly waved-off pass interference" in 2006.
***-War Eagle Reader has hit on this before, but the "Earthquake" title is massively overblown. Know what else caused an "crowd noise earthquake"? The Kick Six. I'd be willing to bet Tre Smith's blocked punt touchdown return against Florida in 2006 did as well. It's really not that rare. Guess what? 80,000+ screaming their lungs out makes a lot of noise. Go figure.
*****-I can only imagine what #CFBTwitter would have done to Hallman. The 3rd-and-4 playcall is so off-the-wall that even Les Miles wouldn't do it.