AUBURN — If we're to understand Auburn coach Gus Malzahn right, after losing 22-21 at home to LSU on Saturday, the Tigers need to "figure out a way to overcome it."
We should know that "it's tough," and that "it was a dogfight." And, "obviously, it's a tough way to lose."
As for LSU, we should "give them credit."
As for those tough penalties against Auburn at the end, "it's the way it goes."
But Auburn has to "keep our chin up." And, "this team is going to rebound." Also, we apparently should understand this: "We are a team."
And here I was thinking they were a loose collection of individuals brought together by a common interest in football.
It's a good thing Malzahn is asked to win ballgames and not press conferences. He's clearly not getting paid $49 million over seven years for his words. I'm not sure he could motivate me to take out the trash, much less go out and fight LSU, Georgia and Alabama for 60 minutes apiece.
And, for the most part, he's pretty good at winning games. He handed Georgia's Kirby Smart his head on a platter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Nobody gives the great NIck Saban as many problems in this league as Malzahn.
But then there's a game like Saturday.
How in the world can you build a double-figure lead and wind up losing? To a team coached by Ed Orgeron? Twice in two years?
It's probably unfair to zero in on play to help summarize the night, but that four-and-one play from the opening quarter is hard to swallow.
Trailing 7-0, Auburn had third-and-one at the LSU 15 but a run over right guard by JaTarvious Whitlow gained nothing.
Then instead of kicking a field goal, Malzahn chose to try it again. That's not a terrible call, but to line up in the shotgun and give it a try that way?
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham handed to Whitlow again, who tried to go over right guard again, and failed to get the first down again.
That's just a terrible sequence, and it cost Auburn an important momentum swing. After an LSU field goal made it 10-0 later, Auburn rallied for two touchdowns before halftime. The Bengal Tigers added another on a bizarre fake punt call on fourth-and-three at the Auburn 45.
LSU tried a Tim Tebow-like jump pass, but the wobbly throw to a senior tight end went long.
Maybe that play worked in practice at LSU. Isn't that what coaches always say about a play that looks awful in a game? "It worked in practice."
That set up Auburn for another touchdown and a 21-10 lead. Last year, Auburn lost a 20-0 lead to LSU when the Tigers' offense grew conservative, nearly always running on first down and passing on third down.
That didn't necessarily happen this time, but it does seem as if from that point, Auburn kind of just wanted to hold serve.
Auburn did have one solid drive in the fourth quarter when the Tigers drove to the LSU 35. On fourth-and-five, Malzahn called upon freshman Anders Carlson, who struggled with long kicks against Washington. He did in this instance, too, as his 52-yard attempt sailed wide left.
Going for the field goal is not a bad call when you're up 21-13 and have a kicker who's young but has a strong leg.
But maybe this was the time to turn aggressive. Auburn was hurting LSU, and Stidham with 35 yards of field to work with. This was the time to put him in the shotgun and let him find his receiver for 5 yards or more.
It's hard to understand what Malzahn sometimes.
It's hard to understand Orgeron, too, but at the end of his news conference, when he slapped the podium and said, "Go Tigahs!" we understood that. We understood the fight his team displayed Saturday.
We don't understand why Auburn couldn't match that on its own field.