Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.
Heartbreaking. There’s no other way to describe it.
One heartbreaking moment, as time expired on the clock in Jordan-Hare Stadium — as LSU won and then didn’t win — ended Les Miles’ LSU career.
On Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, Miles was relieved of his coaching duties after unranked Auburn upset No. 18 LSU on The Plains in front of 87,451 screaming fans in orange and blue.
“I remember just soars of confidence and excitement and high success and happiness and just that plummeting down into some of the darkest depths of where I’ve felt emotionally as a football player,” Foster Moreau remembered of that game. “Just kind of have what we thought to be a historic comeback win and at the last second have it torn away from us — that was a tough loss.”
The game, which was called “The Buyout Bowl” because of the ramifications it would have on both Miles’ and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s coaching careers, changed the dynamics of the SEC West to this day.
LSU and Auburn have played many historic games against each other, with LSU wins producing earthquakes and burning buildings, but this one is burned in the memory of Tiger fans for all the worst reasons.
Les Miles was already walking a thin line going into Auburn in Week Four of the 2016 season.
He saved his job in 2015, ending the season with a 19-7 victory over Texas A&M and 56-27 win over Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl, even after three straight losses to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
But LSU could not carry those victories into 2016.
Quarterback Brandon Harris struggled to start the season and was quickly replaced by Purdue transfer Danny Etling in the second quarter of LSU’s second game. Etling would start the following game against Mississippi State, the loss in Auburn and the rest of the season. To make matters even tougher, LSU's Heisman contender running back Leonard Fournette dealt with an ankle injury throughout the season.
The Tigers opened the season with a disappointing 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and almost blew a fourth quarter lead to Mississippi State at home. Miles needed to beat Auburn to continue to compete in the SEC.
LSU’s defense dominated throughout the game, limiting Auburn to only field goals, including a goal line stand with 43 seconds left in the second quarter.
The same could not be said for Cam Cameron’s offense.
LSU’s only touchdown of the game came in the first quarter, when then-junior Leonard Fournette started the drive with an 11-yard run on the left side. On the next play, then-sophomore Derrius Guice ran the ball 52 yards to leave the Tigers with first-and-goal at the 8-yard line.
One 3rd and goal, Etling chipped a pass to tight end Foster Moreau for Moreau's first career touchdown for LSU to take a 7-3 lead with 12:19 remaining in the half.
“I can’t forget that — that play was absolutely wild,” Moreau said.
Even though Etling finished 15-of-27 passing for 118 yards with a touchdown, the LSU offense struggled in all phases. Etling was often left scrambling and throwing the ball away, and he was sacked three times behind poor protection from the offensive line.
“The move at quarterback from Brandon Harris to Danny Etling was all about improving the passing game,” ESPN analyst Mark Jones said during the broadcast. “If you’re looking at LSU offensively and where they will be based on tonight’s performance, you are still concerned about the passing game. It seems to be the one trick pony of Fournette and nothing else right now.”
When then-sophomore edge rusher Arden Key forced a fumble with 4:46 left in the third quarter, the LSU offense was left in prime position to score and take the lead. Though they were unable to get into the end zone, a field goal would put LSU up 13-12 going into the fourth quarter.
That was ultimately the last time LSU would score. On its first possession of the first quarter, Etling dropped a handoff to Fournette in LSU's red zone, which Auburn recovered.
Auburn kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to take an 18-13 lead, while LSU was shutout in the fourth quarter for the third game in a row.
Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson made all six field goals from distances of 51, 29, 29, 31, 37 and 29 yards. It was the first time Auburn won an SEC game without scoring a touchdown since 2008 against Mississippi State.
The Time Running Out
“This drive right here is the entire season,” ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore said on the broadcast with 1:45 remaining in the game.
Etling started LSU’s drive with a 12-yard run of his own, followed by a 16-yard pass to then-senior receiver Travin Dural as the Tigers marched upfield to the Auburn 47-yard line.
On 3rd and eight, Etling ran the ball once again, this time for 18 yards to the Auburn 27. A pass to Dural went just short of the first down and Etling completed a short pass to then-junior Malachi Dupre.
With 24 seconds remaining, Miles called LSU's final timeout. LSU then gained 10 yards on a flat route to Dupre.
With just under 17 seconds left, Etling completes a first-down pass to Dural at the 2-yard line, but LSU was flagged for illegal shift for 15 yards while trying to get the play off and running ten seconds off the clock in the process.
With one second on the clock, Etling had to get the snap off as soon as the referee blew the whistle.
In a perfect world, LSU would have taken its last-second snap with one second on the clock, Etling would have rolled out of the pocket along the sideline and hit then-junior DJ Chark in the right corner of the endzone for a touchdown and a 19-18 victory.
The LSU players celebrated, lifting Chark on their shoulders as the savior of their season.
But there was no time on the clock. The ball was not snapped in time, the touchdown was reversed and Auburn’s team sprinted across The Plains and jumped into its student section to celebrate.
“I remember losing there,” Devin White said. “It wasn’t a good feeling. I remember our defense being pretty dominant. They held [Auburn] to straight field goals, but it was a lot of not good feelings.”
Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron were released less than 24 hours later.
Athletic director Joe Alleva asked to see Miles during a regularly scheduled Sunday film session. Miles described it as “quick and efficient” on his podcast “Les is More” almost a year later. Alleva simply said, “I have to let you go.”
“Tough night. On the last play we scored, time ran out on the clock though. Emotional day for everybody,” Ed Orgeron said the game and the 24 hours following. “Coach (Les) Miles did a great job for everybody over here. That was an emotional time for everybody. Unexpected things happened, but we dealt with it and we moved on.”
The team received a text to meet in the locker room at 5:30, where it was announced to them.
“My intent was to tell them to respond to the next guy and play your best,” Miles said on his podcast. “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, geaux Tigers and God Bless.’ I walked away, and I was touched.”
At that meeting, Alleva announced Orgeron, the then-defensive line coach, as the interim head coach for the rest of the 2016 season.
Orgeron led the Tigers to a 5-2 record the rest of 2016, with losses to Alabama and Florida, and a dominant 29-9 win over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl to win the permanent head coaching position.
“We’re proud to be a part of Louisiana and we understand LSU, what it means,” Orgeron said at his introductory press conference. “This is a great day in my life, obviously, but it’s not about me.”