Max Johnson QB hit

LSU quarterback Max Johnson is pressured by an Auburn defender in the Tigers' 24–19 win over LSU

In last Saturday’s annual Tiger Bowl, the pass rush of the orange and blue Tigers showed significant improvement from previous weeks.

Even more impressive is that Auburn was able to get pressure on LSU quarterback Max Johnson without edge T.D. Moultry and linebacker Owen Pappoe.

Johnson was sacked three times and pressured six times on Saturday, two of them coming by way of Derick Hall on back-to-back first half drives. The first sack pushed LSU back in the red zone, forcing them to settle for a field goal and a 10–0 lead. 

“We knew coming in that they were a pass-first team, so you know some of the stuff we emphasized on this week was get after the quarterback,” Hall said after the game on Saturday.

In the second half, fellow edge Eku Leota got home in the third quarter. Leota sacked Johnson on third down to set up a 51-yard field goal by LSU’s Cade York. This was Leota’s second-career start, filling in for Moultry, who did not make the trip to Baton Rouge. Johnson also fumbled on the hit, but the ball was recovered by an LSU offensive lineman. 

The sack was somewhat of a momentum swing, as holding LSU to a field goal gave Auburn new life in the game. The Tigers went on to post scoring drives of 75 and 92 yards in the second half. 

On the final defensive play of the game, Hall and Leota got pressure on Johnson yet again, forcing him to make a desperation throw on fourth down that led to an interception. The turnover iced the game and sealed Auburn's first win in Baton Rouge since 1999.

The six pressures by the Auburn defense topped its one-game output through the five games on the year; the Tigers also registered their first sack against a Power Five team on Saturday. When the Tigers traveled to Penn State in September, the pass rush was all but nonexistent, allowing quarterback Sean Clifford to pass all over the secondary. On Saturday, that was a different outcome with Johnson being pressured. With Johnson forced to get rid of the ball early, the Bayou Bengals were held to 118 yards of offense in the second half. 

“Pressuring, confusing the quarterback, keeping them in a pocket and trying to do certain things gives ourselves an advantage in the front,” Hall said. “I think just having that in the back of our head and knowing what we had to do really helped us coming into this game.”

In the fourth quarter, LSU was held to only 54 total yards and two first downs.

“Just because you play three quarters of football, you know the fourth quarter is going to be hard and tough, so just being able to come out and put it all together was good,” Hall said.

Showing improvement on pass rush comes at a key time for the Tigers, right before their home match-up with second-ranked Georgia, which has only allowed two sacks on the year.

The Tigers and Bulldogs will kick off their annual rivalry at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS.

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