AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.
Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters’ advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn’t control.
Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling’s apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.
Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.
“I was pretty confident time had expired,” Malzahn said. “It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it.”
Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever come as close to winning a game and finishing second as today,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
LSU center Ethan Pocic said he it was “unbelievable” to briefly believe his team won.
“One second you do but then one second you don’t, but that’s college football,” Pocic said.
The celebration shifted to the Auburn sideline and the similarly dramatic turn in emotions.
“It was terrifying, just knowing as an athlete, there’s nothing you can do about it,” said running back Kerryon Johnson, who led Auburn with 93 yards rushing. “… Just to see the clock run out and know it’s over officially made me feel great.”
It was an important for Auburn (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) and Malzahn, who faced increased criticism following losses to Top 25 teams Clemson and Texas A&M.
“I think it will give us some momentum moving forward,” Malzahn said.
Malzahn gave play-calling responsibility to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and said Lashlee will retain the role even after Auburn was held without a touchdown.
An illegal shift penalty against LSU (2-2, 1-1) left the Tigers with a fourth-down play from the 15. There was only 1 second on the clock before officials huddled. Miles said officials said they were adding 3 seconds to the clock.
“We knew the referee was not going to blow a whistle,” Miles said. “He was going to raise a hand and drop it and the clock was going to start. We were trying to get off the play as fast as we could.”
LSU star running back Leonard Fournette had 16 carries for 101 yards.
LSU: The LSU offense must improve if the Tigers are to realize their preseason expectations. LSU was held to 338 yards, including 118 yards passing by Etling.
Auburn: Defense continues to be Auburn’s strength, but struggles by the offense drew sporadic boos from impatient fans throughout the game. Improvements will be needed; it will be difficult to pull off more SEC wins without reaching the end zone.
With the loss to unranked Auburn, LSU could fall out of the Top 25 with its second loss in four games. The Tigers began the season No. 5 before falling to Wisconsin in their opener.
WAR BALD EAGLE
Malzahn switched to a white Auburn baseball cap after advice from his concerned daughters. “My daughters said something about me wearing a visor and I need to put on a hat because I’m getting bald,” he said. “I saw a replay and it looked pretty bad so that’s the reason I’m going to wear a hat.”
Auburn linebacker Tre Williams was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. There was no flag after Williams’ helmet-to-helmet hit knocked Etling out of the game for a play. A review by the officials determined Williams led with the crown of his helmet on the hit.
LSU: The Tigers will face another SEC Western Division rival when they play Missouri in a home game next Saturday night. It will be only the second meeting between the teams and the first as SEC rivals. In the only other meeting, Missouri won 20-15 in the 1978 Liberty Bowl.
Auburn: Auburn will take a break from its SEC schedule when it plays Louisiana-Monroe in its last of five straight home games.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org