BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — 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.
Hill was quick to deflect some of the credit to LSU's young offensive line for opening "gaping holes."
"It was just up to me to make a couple of guys miss," Hill added.
Even Hill's defensive teammates talked about being "pumped up" on the sideline as they watched Hill tear off big runs.
"For him to be that big and run that fast, it's ridiculous," LSU cornerback Jalen Mills said.
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 a season-low 229 yards. He also 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 yards and was intercepted twice. He also rushed for 46 yards.
Although LSU raced to a three-touchdown lead, Auburn refused to fold. 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.
"Our kids didn't quit and they're not going to quit," first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I'm very proud of our guys and with that attitude they'll have a chance to improve."
Auburn already appears substantially better than last season, when it won three games all year and went winless in the SEC.
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."
With rain steady throughout the day and well into the first half, ball security was a challenge early and hurt Auburn 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.
Already, Auburn was facing a larger deficit than at any point in its first three games.
"We kind of beat ourselves in the beginning," Mason said. "Mistakes after mistakes can get frustrating and that happened.
"We also have to figure out how to play in weather like this."
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 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 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.
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 scored twice last week against Kent State, including a 58-yarder. He was even more dominant this weekend.
NOTES: Auburn WR Jaylon Denson was carted off with what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the first quarter. ... LSU DT Anthony Johnson appeared to hurt his left leg, but LSU did not provide any update on his condition. ... LSU G Trai Turner left with a right ankle injury but Miles said he was not seriously hurt.