SEC defenses knocked on their heels, backpedalingLSU linebacker Kwon Alexander tries to tackle Auburn running back Tre Mason (21) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. LSU won 35-21. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Auburn's opening drive looked promising until Nick Marshall mishandled a fourth-down hand-off in LSU territory.
Three plays later, LSU running back Jeremy Hill raced 49-yards to the end zone, foretelling a difficult night for Auburn in a rainy Tiger Stadium.
Hill rushed for a career-high 184 yards to go along with three touchdowns as sixth-ranked LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) handed Auburn (3-1, 1-1) its first loss of the season, 35-21 on Saturday night.
''I think it was obvious that at the first of the game we didn't respond very well to the elements and the crowd,'' first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ''We got ourselves into a hole. We were fighting uphill the rest of the day. We made some mistakes but I'm proud of how our guys battled and came back. That first quarter it was raining pretty good and we were just never able to get into a rhythm.''
Auburn's misfortune continued on its second possession on a bobbled snap by punter Steven Clark. Hill would score on the ensuing play from 10 yards out. A 54-yard run by Hill early in the second quarter set up a one-yard touchdown run by J.C. Copeland to make it 21-0.
Jermaine Whitehead's interception of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger early in the third quarter led to Auburn's first score on a 2-yard run by Tre Mason. Mason would add another 2-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, cutting LSU's lead to 28-14.
Mason finished as Auburn's leading rusher with 132 yards on 26 carries.
''Tre is definitely a good back and is a tough guy,'' Malzahn said. ''He wanted the football and any time you want the football that is a good thing. Overall I thought he had a solid night.''
However, LSU promptly answered when Mettenberger connected with Jarvis Landry for a 32-yard touchdown reception to make it 35-14.
LSU coach Les Miles applauded his team's fast start and its timely answers to Auburn's second-half surges, but Miles also said he would have liked the game to have ''a nice, orderly finish,'' adding, ''That was not what I consider orderly.''
Cameron Artis-Payne added a late 12-yard touchdown run for Auburn to cut the game to 35-21.
''There is no doubt that we had some missed opportunities tonight,'' Malzahn said. ''You have to be able to seize the moment and it is frustrating when you don't. We didn't execute like we can at times.''
Losing for the third consecutive time to their SEC Western Division rival, Auburn was held to a season-low 21 points, 10 below its previous average. Meanwhile, the Auburn defense struggled to contain LSU, giving up a season-high 457 yards.
Making only his fourth-career start for Auburn, Marshall finished the game 17-of-33 for 224 yards and a pair of interceptions, giving him three turnovers in all.
''That was my fault on the first turnover,'' Marshall said of the lost handoff. ''That's on me and I have to go back to work at practice.
''We didn't get off to the kind of start that we wanted to, of course. But Coach Malzahn gave us a positive speech at halftime and we just came out and executed the game plan much more efficiently.''
Taking over a 3-9 program that was winless in the SEC last season, Malzahn said that he still saw plenty of positives in his team.
''I will tell you this - we will improve,'' Malzahn said. ''Our kids didn't quit and they like playing together. They were fighting until the end and with that attitude we will have a chance to get better and improve.''
Mason said that he can see the difference in the team's attitude under Malzahn.
''I am much happier with where this team is going now,'' Mason said. ''There is a different sense of direction with this team now. A lot of guys that were on this team last year are back and they know how it felt to lose too many games. We somewhat gave up at times and we lost pretty badly. We don't want to go through that again.''
Auburn now gets a week off before hosting Mississippi on Oct. 5.
''We have disappointed guys in there and I think that's a good thing,'' Malzahn said. ''They want to win and they are hungry. They are not happy right now and I think that will help us moving forward.''