BATON ROUGE — With rain pouring into Tiger Stadium, Jeremy Hill took his first handoff early in LSU’s game against Auburn and dashed through the line, his eyes set on the one defender between him and the goal line.
The running back took advantage of the weather, making a deft cut to his left, culling Auburn defensive back Jonathon Mincy into slipping on the wet turf. Hill cruised into the end zone for a 49-yard score.
Thanks to Hill and a balanced offense, No. 6 LSU handled its long-time SEC Western division foe Tigers 35-21. Now the Tigers can focus on an even bigger task at hand. LSU (4-1, 1-0 SEC) next plays in Athens, Ga., again No. 9 Georgia.
That’s a week away, however.
Saturday night, LSU’s bevy of skill players on offense wore down Auburn (3-1, 1-1).
Hill finished with a career-high 184 yards, including runs of 49 and 54 yards, and tied a career best with three touchdowns. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw his first interception of the season, but also found a way to hit prime targets Odell Beckham (five catches, 59 yards) and Jarvis Landry (seven catches, 118 yards) when not handing off to Hill.
Still, Auburn tried to make things interesting in the second half answering LSU both times it pushed the lead to three touchdowns.
And when LSU had a chance to put the game away on offense by chewing up the clock, it didn’t, punting the ball back to Auburn with 4:53 to play.
The road Tigers kept the ball on the ground, but using a hurry-up style, began moving down the field on an LSU defense that had spent much of the second half on the field.
Jalen Mills, however, rescued the weary unit, intercepting Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall with 3:15 to play.
The turnover capped a final 30 minutes that saw LSU pushed in ways it didn’t likely expect after racing to a 21-0 lead.
After a failed onside kick by the visiting team, LSU’s Mettenberger threw an interception that led seven plays later to an Auburn touchdown on a two-yard Tre Mason run.
The teams swapped long drives – LSU going 75 yards for a score and Auburn 94 – to keep the game within two touchdowns heading into the final 15 minutes.
But when LSU needed something to happen on third-and-eight to begin the fourth quarter, Mettenberger went to his most sure-handed receiver. The quarterback delivered a strike over the middle to Landry, who turned and sprinted to the near pylon, scoring a 32-yard touchdown that pushed LSU’s lead to 35-14.
The game wasn’t finished.
Auburn drove 88 yards in 10 plays, cutting the Bengal Tigers’ lead to 35-21 on Cameron Artis-Payne’s 12-yard touchdown run.
Auburn recovered the ensuing onside kick, but was deemed to have touched the ball before 10 yards and LSU took over.
That’s when LSU couldn’t run off clock and Mills all but put the game away.
Looks can be deceiving early in football games and it appeared the home Tigers would run away with this SEC showdown in the first 5 minutes, 4 seconds.
An Auburn fumble on fourth-and-two near midfield quickly turned into an LSU lead. Ehret’s Lamin Barrow recovered the poor quarterback exchange at the LSU 43 and three plays later, Jeremy Hill burst through the center of the line, dashing in for a 49-yard touchdown and a 7-0 LSU lead.
And it didn’t take long for LSU to push its lead to 14-0. Auburn’s Steven Clark mishandled the snap as rain poured into Tiger Stadium and LSU’s Corey Thompson and Duke Riley smashed into the punter at the 10-yard line. One play later, Hill had his second touchdown on his second carry of the game.
A Terrence Magee fumble inside the 10-yard line stopped another LSU foray into the red zone, but Auburn did nothing with the turnover.
Hill’s 54-yard run on the ensuing drive put LSU in position for fullback J.C. Copeland’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone and a 21-0 lead.
But while the game seemed over at that point, it was far from it.