It was a battle of the Tigers in this weekends matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Auburn Tigers (3-2) played host the LSU Tigers (4-1) in the 57th Tiger Bowl.
Possibly the biggest question mark coming into this game was if Auburn’s unpredictable offensive line could withstand the front-seven of LSU. Coming into this matchup LSU was ranked 38th in the nation while their pass defense was ranked 9th in all of FBS.
The main concern for Auburn is the injury to center Tate Johnson. The junior was called on to fill the roll of injured six-year starting center Nick Brahms. Johnson did a manageable job throughout the first four matchups of the year until suffering an elbow injury that will sideline him for possibly the rest of 2022.
Many thought that Jalil Irvin would slot into the starting center roll, as he had been listed first on the depth chart all week.
However, that was not the case.
Starting left-guard Brandon Council received the nod to take over the starting center roll. The 6’4″ senior has been a staple for the Auburn at the left-guard spot all year, so it comes no surprise to some when moved over to handle the snapping role.
Throughout the first four games Auburns offensive line has been responsible for multiple big hits, including one that injured stater at-the-time, T.J. Finley. With now-starter Robby Ashford being a run dominate player the question was, will the offensive line be able to withstand the power of the LSU front-seven?
Coming out of the gate the expectation was for Robby Ashford to run the ball along with the backfield pairing of Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter.
That prediction could not be more than wrong.
Robby Ashford drove the Tigers down the field on the first drive of the game and capped it off with a 53-yard touchdown to Ja’Varrius Johnson, which erupted Jordan-Hare.
Auburn’s offensive line continued to impressed when Ashford once again led the Tigers offense down the field and finding Camden Brown for the 18-yard touchdown pass.
Later on in the first half Auburn was able to add a field goal to the score sheet courtesy of Anders Carlson to extend the lead to 17-0.
The offensive line for Auburn, highlighted by the switch of Brandon Council to the center spot, impressed in the passing game through the first two quarters. Despite only rushing for 36 yards off of 18 attempts, the offensive line provided much needed protection for Robby Ashford. The quarterback finished the half with 247 passing yards, a season high for any Auburn quarterback, while going 12-20.
“Overall I think Council handled himself well, sure seemed like that early on in the game,” said Auburn Head Coach Bryan Harsin.
LSU fought back before the end of the half and put up two touchdowns to draw the score closer, only letting Auburn go into the half with a 17-14 lead.
Coming out of the second half Auburn could not get anything going. The offensive line was playing not as solid as the first half but the big issue for Auburn was the passes were just not connecting for the Tigers. The run game was more noticeable in the third quarter, despite only five carries. Auburn rushed it for 37 yards which came out to 7.4 yards per carry.
“We did some really good things in that area we just have to be better and more consistent,” said Harsin.
Heading into the fourth quarter Auburn had a combined rush offensive of 64 yards. Despite the lack of rush offensive the focus was still on how Auburn protected Ashford in the pocket and allowed him to throw for 329 yards by the end of the third quarter. The offensive line led by Council was less than ideal, but still manageable in the passing game heading into a crucial fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter Auburn simply could not get anything going. Auburn totaled only 36 yards in the final quarter of play. Breakdown at times caused unnecessary turnovers which ultimately cost Auburn the game.
The LSU Tigers rallied around the lone touchdown scored in the second half to push past the Auburn Tigers and go back to Baton Rouge victories by a score of 21-17.
“He snapped the ball well, and that’s something going into a game and moving him to center and just being able to snap the ball and handle the snap, I thought he did a good job there,” Harsin said after the game on Council. “He seemed really good in the huddle.”
Harsin praised the whole offensive line, but also realized that there is still work to do. “When it’s all said and done but we’ll look at all those things and take that into consideration before we make any sort of final evaluation on what we have to do and what we did well and what we have to do moving forward.”
At the end of the night, who knows what’s next for Auburn? Will this team reach 6 wins? Is Bryan Harsin’s time at Auburn coming to an end? Only time will tell when it comes to these questions.
Next up for Auburn is date in Athens against reigning national champions Georgia for what could be the biggest test of the season. The matchup is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT. and can be watched on CBS.