BATON ROUGE, La. -- According to LSU legend, it never rains in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. So much for that meteorological history.
A torrential downpour Saturday night didn't seem to douse the spirits of the poncho-wearing, sellout crowd of 92,638 as No. 6 LSU built a three-touchdown lead over Auburn, but the Tigers suddenly got sloppy and nearly paid the price.
Jeremy Hill rushed for 184 yards on 25 carries, including touchdown runs of 49, 10 and 6 yards, and Zach Mettenberger added a 32-yard scoring pass to Jarvis Landry in the fourth quarter, but LSU (4-0) had to hold off pesky Auburn (3-1) for a 35-21 victory in its SEC opener.
"In the second half, the only thing we wanted to have happen was to finish the game off, keep the ball, move the clock, get first downs and have a nice, orderly finish," said LSU coach Les Miles. "That was not what I consider orderly."
Hill had 151 yards on 14 carries at halftime, and the Tigers appeared ready to coast to victory in their SEC opener. Fourteen of their 21-first-half points came after recovering Auburn fumbles.
But on the second play of the third quarter, Mettenberger's sideline throw for Landry was wrestled away by Jermaine Whitehead, and Auburn got its first score on the game, a 2-yard run by Tre Mason, capping off a 50-yard drive, to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Auburn outscored LSU 21-14 in the second half, drawing within 35-21 with 6:33 left on a 12-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne. Auburn got the ball to the LSU 4-yard line with less than two minutes left, but they couldn't punch it in.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said his team, playing its first road game of the season, got off to a shaky start but never quit.
"Obviously, the first part of the game we didn't respond well to the crowd, and we got ourselves in a hole," Malzahn said. "We were battling and making some mistakes. Any time you get in hole against a good team on the road, that's tough enough. We were fighting uphill the rest of the way."
Hill appeared to tweak his left leg and came limping off the field after a 14-yard gain early in the third quarter. But he returned in the same series to score his final touchdown.
Mettenberger finished 14-of-22 for 229 yards and one touchdown -- his 10th in four games -- but the SEC's passing efficiency leader threw his first interception of the season. Auburn, however, turned the ball over four times, leading to 14 LSU points.
Leading 28-7 midway through the third quarter, LSU could have padded its advantage to 24 points, but Miles couldn't help himself, deciding to pass up a 32-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-10 and instead have holder Seth Fruge, a linebacker, take the snap and run off left guard.
Fruge was stopped two yards short, and Auburn took over on downs at its 6-yard line.
Nick Marshall then drove Auburn 94 yards in 10 plays to cut the deficit to 28-14 on a 2-yard run by Mason, his second scoring run of the quarter. Mason finished with 132 yards on 26 carries.
"When we came here, everyone got in their minds to never quit," Mason said. "That's one thing we preach every day. Never quit till the clocks says zero."
Mettenberger bailed out his coach's questionable decision by taking LSU 81 yards on it next possession, getting the payoff with a 32-yard strike on a crossing pattern to Landry, putting LSU back up 35-14 with 14:52 left.
Hill scored touchdowns on his first two carries, and the plays looked almost identical. He found a gaping hole up the middle and then outraced the Auburn secondary to the end zone. Hill nearly had another long-distance score in the second quarter when he raced 54 yards up the gut and then turned to the left sideline. But Auburn cornerback Jonathon Mincy had the angle and pushed him out at the 1. J.C. Copeland got the TD on the next play.
In the end, Miles was upset with both his offense and defense for not finishing off the game.
"We took such a strong lead initially, but I just didn't like the way we finished," Miles said. "Defensively, we put them on the field for 85 snaps, and you can't do that."
NOTES: Auburn junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson was a victim of the slick turf, losing his balance while wide open in the LSU secondary and injuring his left knee in the first quarter. His leg was immobilized in an inflatable cast and he was carted off the field. ... LSU has outscored its last three opponents (UAB, Kent State and Auburn) 56-0 in the first quarter. It has not trailed this season. ... LSU needed just 5:04 to score 14 points against Auburn, more than the Tigers did in a 12-10 victory over Auburn last year.