How Auburn abruptly ended the Les Miles era at LSU

In just one second, 12 years of Les Miles’ hard work at LSU washed down the drain.

The LSU-Auburn rivalry, which had already produced seismic activity and a burning basketball arena, may have seen its wildest edition ever in 2016.

Going into the week, it was already being dubbed “The Buyout Bowl.” Like a pair of gunslingers, Miles and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn were squaring off with the legitimate possibility of dire consequence facing the loser.

Miles had saved his job at the end of 2015, but LSU laid an egg in the season opener against Wisconsin before bouncing back with expected wins over Jacksonville State and Mississippi State.

Malzahn’s job security was slightly more stable, but not by much. Auburn was already at 0-1 in SEC play after losing to Texas A&M. A defeat to LSU would drop Auburn to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the league, all but eliminating any hopes of competing for the SEC West crown.

SEC Country revisits the wild, controversial finish of Auburn’s 18-13 win, and the aftermath of an unforgettable game both teams thought they had won.

Auburn builds a lead

The LSU defense didn’t allow a touchdown, but that still wasn’t good enough to hold a lead thanks to Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson. The junior hit from 51, 29, 29, 31, 37 and 29 yards out to give the hosts an 18-13 lead with 2:56 left to play.

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Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson accounted for all of Auburn’s points against LSU in 2016. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Auburn radio play-by-play man Rod Bramblett:

“You have games like that every once in a while, where you better have a really good place-kicker, or you’ll have games where teams just stop you in the red zone. You have to find a way to put up points, and the fact that Auburn has a weapon like Daniel Carlson from 50 yards, beyond 50 yards, it can be a real difference maker.”

LSU linebacker Devin White:

“As a team standpoint, it’s disappointing because they beat us on field goals.”

The final play

In classic Miles fashion, it came down to a wild finish complete with questionable clock management.

LSU appeared to be in good shape when quarterback Danny Etling connected with Malachi Dupre for 4 yards on a third-and-1 from the Auburn 18 with 54 seconds left. But despite having a timeout — and the clock momentarily stopping on the first down — LSU didn’t get off another snap until there were only 28 seconds left.

As it turned out, LSU needed the timeout when Etling was sacked by Auburn’s Carl Lawson on second down. Etling then connected with Dupre for 10 yards before chaos erupted.

On fourth-and-6, Etling hit Travin Dural at the 2 for a first down. LSU would have enough time for one more snap but was called for illegal motion — a penalty that does not induce a 10-second runoff.

So with 1 second left, the ball was placed on the 15-yard line. The officials blew the whistle to roll the clock before center Ethan Pocic snapped to Etling.

LSU quarterback Danny Etling:

“I rolled out to the right. I saw Leonard [Fournette] short, but I didn’t think he could get into the end zone. So I threw it over his head. D.J. [Chark] made a good catch.”

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling throws toward the end zone on the final play that was later nullified. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

LSU receiver D.J. Chark, who caught the pass in the back of the end zone for the apparent winning touchdown:

“At the time, I wasn’t looking at the clock. I was looking at the ball. I thought we did get it off.”

ESPN play-by-play announcer Mark Jones:

“You’ve got to be kidding me! The Tigers roar! Real late! Ballgame!”

ESPN color commentator Rod Gilmore:

“LSU may have just saved its season and Les Miles’ job.”

Now wait just a second …

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LSU running backs LSU Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice await a ruling on the review of the final play. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

LSU tight end Foster Moreau, who was on the sideline:

“I was on the sideline and saw the game clock drip to zero, and I was like ‘Oh.’ Then as I looked down I saw Danny had the ball in his hand and said ‘Maybe we got it off?’

“I honestly didn’t think we had it. But when they scored, and the [officials] put those hands up, I said ‘Oh my gosh, we just won the game.’”

Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson:

“We were on the field, and we were saying, ‘Clock, clock, clock.’ The referees didn’t say nothing. We were scared. I was scared. I didn’t want to lose that game out of nowhere. We were up on them.”

Roy Bramblett:

“Stan White, who does color with me, immediately said they didn’t get the snap off. I was calling the play, and Stan said, ‘They didn’t get the snap off in time. They didn’t.’ On the radio, we were saying there’s no way they can say this play had gotten off in time.”

Upon further review

LSU players mobbed Chark in the corner of the end zone. Referee Hubert Owens then announced the play was under review.

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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn celebrates his team’s win over LSU in 2016. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Shortly before Owens told the crowd the outcome of the review, the verdict was made evident by Malzahn, who started pumping his fists as his players rushed to celebrate with their fans in the opposite end zone.

Roy Bramblett:

“I’d never seen a game where it came down to whether or not they got the snap off in time. I’d never seen anything like that before.”

Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews:

“It was crazy. Like I told people back when, I almost had a heart attack that game. We found a way to win and we did.”

Foster Moreau:

“What everyone saw on that replay in the stadium was exactly what we saw when it happened. Fear and just disheartened. That was what we felt when we went into the locker room.”

D.J. Chark:

“We didn’t get it off. At the end of the day, I can’t get mad at anyone.”

Danny Etling:

“There’s a lot of plays I could have made to not to put us in that situation. Obviously, that’s something that you aim to do this year, is not be in a similar situation where you have to win at the end.”

Day of reckoning for Les Miles

The day after the game, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva finally had the critical mass of support he needed to fire Miles, which he had originally aimed to accomplish in November 2015.

Les Miles:

“Sunday, we were looking at film, and they said the athletic director wants to see me. That is something that had never happened before, and that’s reminiscent of something significant. The athletic director acted in a fast and efficient way and said, ‘I have to let you go.’”

Foster Moreau:

“We all got a text to report to the facility at 5:30. That was kind of a daunting feeling. You start to feel the stuff you’re seeing on Twitter, the reports you’re getting from Bleacher Report. It’s kind of worrisome.”

D.J. Chark:

“Growing up, as far as I knew LSU football, all I knew was Les Miles. I didn’t really know the Nick Saban era of LSU. From going to camps when I was little, it was Les Miles. So now being on the team under him for 2½ years, and then coming in the next day and finding out he’s not going to be there, it was a shock.”

Les Miles on his final meeting with the Tigers:

“My intent was to tell them to respond to the next guy and play your best. I looked into the faces of the guys I recruited and realized I knew every one of those men and their families, so I got emotional and stepped away from the podium and said, ‘Always, go Tigers and God Bless.’ I walked away, and I was touched.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn:

“I think I talked to him that week that happened. I’ve got a lot of respect for Les Miles. He’s an outstanding coach. He’s not a good coach; he’s an outstanding coach. I think he’s a great person.”

The alternate universe

What might have happened had there been another second on the clock and LSU scored? Would Miles still be in Baton Rouge? Would Malzahn have been replaced at Auburn? Ultimately we’ll never know. That’s how much difference a second can make in football.

Roy Bramblett:

“Well, you just never know because confidence is such an important thing at this level in particular with young people. You lose a heartbreaker like that on the heels of not playing very well against Texas A&M on offense, and you never know. That’s a question you really can’t answer. It’s just where would their confidence have been? Then you ask yourself how the leadership would have handled all of that.
“It’s hard to tell, but I do think the win and the way they won it had a direct impact on the season and the win streak that Auburn went on, because they did have some confidence. Something good finally happened, and I think that made a big difference.”
D.J. Chark:
“I try not to think about it. Life happens. Things happen. If that catch did count, you never know where we’d be at right now. We all know where we’re at now, though. That’s the only thing you can focus on: the now.”
SEC Country reporters Nick Suss and Lauren Shute contributed to this story. Miles’ quotes were taken from Episode 1 of his “ Les Is More” podcast.

The post How Auburn abruptly ended the Les Miles era at LSU appeared first on SEC Country.

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