AUBURN, Ala. — Before Auburn beat two No. 1 teams and played for a league title last season, the Tigers stumbled against LSU.
Going into Saturday's rematch, No. 7 Auburn is determined to mine the embarrassing loss for a silver lining while trying to avoid a repeat. Then-No. 10 Auburn (2-0) quickly jumped ahead 20-0 only to see the lead evaporate into a 27-23 defeat .
Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers did rebound to beat Georgia and Alabama, who both topped the rankings before those games and ultimately played for a national title, to earn a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"The thing I took away from it is that if we would have won that game, I don't think we would have gone on to go to the SEC championship, to be honest," Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said Tuesday. "We learned a lot about ourselves that game. I just don't think the season would have played out the way it did unless we had lost that game so I try to find the positivity behind it."
Stidham thinks the team and its leaders grew from that humbling experience in Baton Rouge.
Auburn and 12th-ranked LSU (2-0) both enter their SEC opener with aspirations of emerging as perhaps the top-ranked Crimson Tide's biggest challenger in the SEC West.
Auburn's trying to avoid another painful lesson, no matter what positives might have come out of it. And Stidham's not alone in saying that loss was a turning point.
"I think it's one of those games where it made us the team that we were in November and December, and got us to the SEC championship," H-back Chandler Cox said. "Because it's just one of those games you learn from. You can either quit or just keep going. We decided to keep going, and forget about it. It made us better. It was a heartbreaking loss, obviously, to everyone in here. But it was one of those games that we needed."
Auburn got awfully predictable offensively in that game, running the ball on 17 consecutive first-down plays. Stidham was just 2-of-13 passing for 6 yards in the second half.
Malzahn said he doesn't have to say much about that 2017 game to his players.
"It was the toughest loss of the year last year, and one of the toughest since I've been here," he said. "Our players, the majority of them, are back and went through it, so they understand it. They don't need a whole lot of motivation and rah-rah stuff as far as last year.
"This is a new year. We're playing at home. Our guys are extremely motivated right now. Looking back, that was kind of the turning point of our whole season last year, going through that extremely low time."
AUBURN NOTES: Punter Aidan Marshall, who started much of last season and the 2018 opener, has left the team "to do other things," Malzahn said. Newcomer Arryn Siposs replaced him in Game 2 against Alabama State. Siposs is averaging 40.8 yards on four punts. "We feel very good about Arryn," Malzahn said. ... Wide receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings, who returned against Alabama State after spring knee injuries, are both likely to play more in this one, Malzahn said.