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            Why beating LSU ‘real bad’ left Auburn feeling ‘really good’

            Football: Auburn vs LSU

            Oct 3, 2020; Auburn AL, USA; Coach Gus Malzahn celebrates the victory after the game between Auburn and LSU at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

            K.J. Britt stood atop a chair in the middle of Auburn’s locker room Saturday evening and presented Gus Malzahn with the game ball after the team’s 48-11 dismantling of LSU.

            It was a belated birthday present for Malzahn, who turned 55 earlier in the week, in the midst of a postgame celebration for his Tigers. The team sang the school’s fight song. Players danced; Big Kat Bryant did the same “Get the Gat” dance that became one of LSU’s signatures during its national title run as the Lil Let song blared in the locker room.

            The scene was something more than the typical locker room celebration — it was catharsis for an Auburn program that has been haunted by close losses to LSU over the last three seasons.

            “It felt really good to really beat them real bad,” defensive back Christian Tutt said.

            The last three meetings between Auburn and LSU had resulted in disappoint for Malzahn’s team, which lost all three by a combined eight points and left the program lamenting missed opportunities and wondering what could have been.

            Prior to Saturday, Auburn’s last win against LSU was in 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, when Daniel Carlson’s six field goals lifted the program to an 18-13 win and altered the course of LSU’s program, which fired Les Miles after that loss and ultimately promoted Ed Orgeron to the role full-time. Orgeron, of course, led LSU to the College Football Playoff national championship last season, in Year 3 of his tenure.

            In each of those first three years, Orgeron’s team got the best of Malzahn’s. During the 2017 season, Auburn built a 20-0 first-half lead in Death Valley only to see a D.J. Chark punt return touchdown swing the momentum as LSU surged to a 27-23 win. The following year, Auburn lost at home, 22-21, after a pair of late pass interference penalties helped LSU extend its final drive and set up a walk-off field goal by Cole Tracy.

            Last season, Auburn played LSU tougher than any other team during its undefeated campaign, but Auburn couldn’t conjure enough offense and ultimately lost, 23-20, after a late onside kick attempt narrowly failed.

            “We feel like we should have beaten them the last three years,” wide receiver Anthony Schwartz said. “It came out to about 10 points combined, and we didn’t get through. But today, it doesn’t matter if they’re No. 1, if they’re unranked — it’s LSU. You know what you’re in for. So, we knew we just had to come in there and take care of business, and we ended up beating them by a lot, and it just felt good.”

            Auburn didn’t just avenge its prior losses to LSU, but it did so in emphatic and convincing fashion. After a couple of fruitless drives by both teams early on, Auburn seized control of the game and never looked back. The defense dominated, with a trio of takeaways that led to 21 points, all while holding LSU to 32 rushing yards and its worst offensive game overall in two years. Bo Nix had one of the best games of his career, as Auburn’s offense put together its most complete game of the season.

            The result was the most lopsided game in the series' 119-year history and Auburn’s first win against its SEC West rival since that 2016 game on the Plains.

            “I might be one of the only people on the team to have beat them in 2016, and that was a long time ago,” redshirt senior receiver Eli Stove said. “It felt really good.”

            Stove was the only Auburn player on this year’s team who played in that 2016 win against LSU, so he was in a unique situation during Saturday’s retribution four years in the making. He stepped up, too, finishing with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, plus another 21 yards rushing on three carries.

            And while Stove knew what victory against LSU felt like, there’s a reason the rest of the team was “extremely motivated” to get this win, as Malzahn put it after the game, echoing what cornerback Roger McCreary said earlier in the week.

            “We’re supposed to have already beaten them,” left tackle Alec Jackson said. “Like, a lot. But this time, we talked about finishing — actually finishing the job. Because, you know, playing in the SEC, anything can happen. So, we just preached having our foot on their neck and just keep on going to finish them.”

            Auburn did that this time around. It jumped out to a 21-0 lead and led by 18 going into halftime. Unlike that 2017 game, though, there was no squandering that early 20-point advantage. Auburn made a point of that in the locker room at halftime — not relenting like it did the last three years and letting the game come down to the wire.

            What followed was an utterly dominant third quarter out of the break in which Auburn outscored LSU, 21-0, controlled the clock for 11:20 and held LSU to just 27 yards on 10 offensive snaps while leaving zero doubt about the outcome.

            “They’ve had our number for the past three years,” Schwartz said. “It came down to the last possessions (in those games). We were just happy we were able to beat them — and especially in that manner, too, where we kind of felt like we needed to gain that respect.”

            Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.