AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn is 2-0. Yet, after nearly losing to FCS Jacksonville State on Saturday, this no longer looks like a team capable of winning the SEC. They dropped 12 spots in the this week’s AP poll, from No. 6 to No. 18, and some believe that they don’t belong in the poll at all.
After the game, the players were unhappy. The coaches were unhappy. It was clear they needed a performance to right the ship and turn the season around.
What better time than now?
Auburn travels to LSU this weekend, and some of the players believe that this game, which is also the team’s first SEC game, could be that turning point.
“In a championship season, in a long season, there are a lot of turning points,” Auburn linebacker Kris Frost said. “I feel like there are a lot of big moments. LSU obviously, we have an opportunity to beat a really good team and just handle our business. We’re going to do everything we can to accomplish that.”
The only problem is Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999. Death Valley has gotten the best of Auburn over the years.
In 2005, Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals, including one in to overtime, as the Tigers lost to LSU, 20-17. The two teams finished tied atop the West standings, but LSU advanced to the conference championship having beat Auburn during the season.
In 2007, Les Miles put his stamp on the rivalry when he took a shot to the end zone in the final seconds rather than attempt a game-winning field goal. With everybody expecting LSU to set up for the field goal, Matt Flynn connected with Demetrius Byrd in the back of the end zone with one second left, giving LSU a 30-24 victory.
“I thought they were going to run the clock out,” recalled first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who was at Auburn then. “They were coming out of the huddle there, and it was ticking down. I think if we had tipped it, the clock may have run out.”
And then of course, there was the 2013 game. LSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime, but Auburn rallied in the second half, outplaying the home team. Gus Malzahn’s group still lost, 35-21, but that game served as one of those turning points. Auburn won their next nine games and played for a national championship.
The Auburn players who were there in 2013 still remember that second half.
“That second half, that’s how we’ve got to come the first half this next game coming up,” wide receiver Ricardo Louis said. “We’ve got to come with it from the start all the way to the finish. If we do that, they’re not going to be able to compete with us. They’re not going to be able to hang with us.”
“My freshman year, we lost to them boys,” added safety Johnathan Ford. “We’re not looking to lose ever again to them in Baton Rouge. We know we’re going to be locked in ready to go.”
The game might have lost some of its luster after Auburn’s poor showing in Week 2, but both teams are still undefeated and both are still in the mix for a division title. It wouldn’t be any other way with this rivalry.
Muschamp knows that better than anybody. He’s been on both sides of it.
“It’s going to be a great environment,” Muschamp said. “The rivalry of Auburn and LSU, since the 90s, has been as good a rivalry as there in college football as far as the games and what they’ve come to do and how they’ve decided the Western division.
“One game does not make or break your season, this early especially, but our players understand the importance of the game. And certainly, having been on that side, their players understand the importance as well.”