Joe Burrow bounced up immediately from a high-speed hit that looked like it could have given the Louisiana State quarterback whiplash as he was sent crashing into the Auburn bench area.
Trotting resolutely back to the line of scrimmage, Burrow resumed his school-record eighth career 300-yard passing performance in a tense, top-10 clash that put a premium on grit and perseverance.
Burrow passed for 321 yards and a touchdown and ran for 47 yards and another score as second-ranked LSU edged No. 9 Auburn 23-20 on Saturday.
“If your quarterback shows toughness like that, it can kind of get your team going,” Burrow said. “If you lay down on the field and don’t hop right back up, it shows your team that you are not really into it.”
The victory ensured LSU (8-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) would be unbeaten heading into its highly anticipated Nov. 9 tilt at Alabama, which entered this weekend ranked No. 1.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 136 yards and touchdown for LSU, which wasn’t able to put away Auburn (6-2, 3-2) until Derrick Dillon recovered an onside kick with 2:31 left.
“It was a gut check tonight,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said, praising the way his players stuck together. “They didn’t want to be denied.”
While LSU’s prolific, up-tempo spread offense rolled up 508 yards, the unit didn’t approach its 50.1-point scoring average against an Auburn defense that thwarted LSU drives into its territory with a pair of fourth-down stops and an interception.
“They fought their guts out, and our defense played unbelievable,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We had opportunities, and we didn’t seize the moment. We just didn’t get it done offensively.”
LSU had not previously scored fewer than 36 points in a game, but Auburn’s defensive front put pressure on Burrow, sacking him three times.
Still, Burrow didn’t flinch when he was leveled along the sideline after 14-yard scramble on third and 12 in the first half. He completed five of his next six throws, ending with a 20-yard touchdown on a fade to Terrace Marshall Jr.
Burrow completed 32 of 42 passes. His top target was Ja’Marr Chase, who caught eight passes for 123 yards.
“We showed toughness today. It was not a pretty win by any means,” Burrow said. “SEC games aren’t going to be pretty. When you can come out on top of a top-10 team and feel like you could have played better, it’s always a good thing.”
Bo Nix completed 15 of 35 passes for 157 yards and one late touchdown to Seth Williams that gave Auburn the opportunity to set up a meaningful onside kick.
D.J. Williams rushed for 130 yards for Auburn, which looked primed to go ahead by a touchdown in the third quarter when Williams sprinted into the open field from his own 20.
Safety Grant Delpit forced Williams out of bounds just inside the 10, and Auburn couldn’t parlay the 70-yard run into a touchdown, settling for a field goal to make it 13-10.
That lead lasted until five minutes remained in the third quarter, in part because Burrow’s screen to Chase was stopped on fourth and goal from the Auburn 2. Later in the quarter, Burrow’s pass intended for Chase was intercepted by Roger McCreary at the Auburn 2.
LSU hadn’t trailed that late in a game all season, but it finally pushed in front by going back to a running game that had struggled most of the first three quarters. Edwards-Helaire ran four straight times for gains for 45 yards, capped by his six-yard score to put LSU in front 16-13.
Burrow’s seven-yard rushing touchdown, capping another run-heavy drive, widened the lead to 23-13.