BATON ROUGE, La. — Whether Jeremy Hill deserves a prominent role in LSU's offense this early in the season is a matter for debate.
His offseason arrest aside, there is no denying what a game-changer the explosive, 6-foot-2, 235-pound running back can be for the surging sixth-ranked Tigers, who have quickly re-established their credentials as contenders in the Southeastern Conference.
Hill rushed for a career-high 184 yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns, helping LSU defeat previously unbeaten Auburn, 35-21 on Saturday night. Running with a combination of power, agility and speed, Hill scored touchdowns of 49, 10 and 6 yards. He set up yet another score with a 54-yard scamper in which he was shoved out of bounds at the 1.
Tre Mason rushed for 132 yards and had two short touchdown runs in the third quarter for Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC), the second cutting LSU's lead to 28-14.
Zach Mettenberger responded with his only touchdown pass of the night – a 32-yarder to Jarvis Landry – early in the fourth quarter as LSU (4-0, 1-0) dimmed Auburn's hopes for a comeback.
Mettenberger was 14 of 22 for 229 yards. He threw his first interception of the season, but it wasn't that costly as LSU's 228 yards rushing helped it stay in control for most of the game.
Auburn's Nick Marshall was 17-of-33 passing for 224 and was intercepted twice. He also gained 46 yards on the ground.
LSU was favored by 17 points, but Auburn refused to give up. Auburn pulled within two scores on Cameron Artis-Payne's 12-yard touchdown run with 6:33 left, then nearly pulled off a successful onside kick. Auburn recovered, but on replay review was deemed to have touched the ball before it went the requisite 10 yards.
With rain steady throughout the day and well into the first half, ball security was a challenge early on, but hurt Auburn the most.
Nick Marshall's fumbled handoff on fourth-and-1 on the LSU 41 led to Hill's long TD run three plays later for the game's opening score. Punter Steven Clark's mishandled snap on Auburn's second possession of the game set up Hill's 10-yard score to give LSU a 14-0 lead before six minutes had elapsed.
At that point, Auburn was facing a larger deficit than at any point in its first three games.
LSU was threatening to take a three-score lead when running back Terrence Magee fumbled on the Auburn 12, but Hill's slashing 54-yard run set up fullback J.C. Copeland's forceful touchdown carry through the left side of the line to make it 21-0.
Auburn did not score until early in the third quarter. Mason's 2-yard TD run capped a 50-yard drive that began with Auburn safety Jermaine Whitehead's interception.
LSU responded immediately with a 75-yard drive that ended with Hill's third TD.
During much of the offseason, it wasn't clear if Hill would be able to play at all. His arrest for landing a punch outside a bar in late April violated of his probation from an earlier misdemeanor plea to carnal knowledge of a juvenile. A judge placed further restrictions on Hill's probation, but agreed to let him remain out of jail.
LSU coach Les Miles, who'd suspended Hill after his arrest, reinstated him when fall practice began and benched him only for LSU's season-opening victory over TCU. A week later, Hill scored on his first carry against UAB. He then scored twice last week against Kent State, with one TD going for 58 yards. He was even more dominant this weekend, albeit against a defense that had given up an average of 157 yards rushing in its previous three games.