By SCOOTER HOBBS
BATON ROUGE — If you were counting on LSU football for a little Louisiana lift, better look elsewhere.
Or maybe it just ain’t gonna happen for this state this month.
At least nobody new lost a house.
But the state’s psyche suffered another disaster of sorts Monday night — a meltdown of biblical proportions — as the fourth-ranked Tigers blew a three-touchdown halftime lead and eventually lost 30-27 in overtime to Tennessee.
Think of it this way. It could be worse.
You could be Les Miles, trying to follow in the footsteps of Nick Saban, and making your home debut by blowing what is believed to be the biggest lead a Tiger team ever held before losing a game.
“We’re miserable,” said Miles after a lengthy postgame chat with his team. “We’re all disappointed. We lost our poise and couldn’t stop them.”
The clincher came when Tennessee’s Gerald Riggs bulled in from a yard out in overtime, moments after LSU settled for a field goal with its possession.
But by overtime it was almost anti-climatic for Tennessee, a foregone nightmare for the Tigers, after the Vols forged a 24-24 tie after trailing 21-0 at the half.
“We knew we’d score,” Riggs said of the overtime. “It didn’t matter if it was in the air or on the ground. We had the utmost confidence.”
It capped an awful night for a crowd of over 80,000 who somehow picked their through the debris of the state looking for a glimmer of hope and a reason to celebrate.
Instead, it was more heartache.
“We played like a joke in the second half,” said LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams after admitting the Tigers probably got complacent after dominating the first half. “An absolute joke. It was a complete and total breakdown. A joke.”
LSU’s defense followed a dominating first half with some Arizona State flashbacks, allowing a Tiger reject, Rick Clausen, to pick it apart.
That would be the salt in this gaping wound.
Clausen, who transferred to Tennessee two years ago after it was obvious he was making no headway up the LSU depth chart, came off the bench to riddle the Tigers for 196 yards passing while completing 21 of 32 passes, one for a touchdown.
The Tiger offense wasn’t much help as it managed only three points and three first downs in the second half and probably left a couple of touchdowns on the field when it was moving in the first half.
“We played well to a point,” Miles said. “When you’re in your second game you would wish to play with the ability to finish and we didn’t. That’s why we lost the game.”
Clausen, peppering LSU’s defense with mostly short passes, directed two long scoring drives sandwiched around a Tiger field goal and the Vols got a gift when Jonathan Hefney intercepted a Russell pass and returned it to the LSU 2-yard line.
The interception, Russell’s first of the season, set up a one-yard scoring run by Riggs and turned what had been a three-touchdown Tiger rout-in-the-making into a 24-21 nail-biter with 7:15 to play.
“That’s when you could feel is slipping away,” Williams said.
Another three-and-out by the Tigers set up a 52-yard Vol drive that tied the score at 24-all on Wilhoit’s 28-yard field goal with 2:02 to play.
The Vols second touchdown drive was easily the most frustrating. It stayed alive with two third-down penalties against the Tigers after they thought they’d forced a punt and Clausen converted another third-and-17 when a wide receiver got wide open and would probably have scored if he hadn’t had to dive for Clausen’s pass.
“Not making plays, making stupid plays,” Williams said. “Just bad plays by us. The second half it didn’t get done.”
Even in the first half, LSU played with more emotion than precision in building the three-touchdown lead.
The Tigers scored on their first play from scrimmage when, after Kenneth Hollis recovered a fumble by Vols quarterback Eric Ainge at the UT 19, LSU’s Joseph Addai bounced outside and scored from there on the next play.
A 47-yard flee-flicker pass from JaMarcus Russell to Craig Davis set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Russell.
The Tiger defense got in the act when Vol starter Eric Ainge, under pressure in the back of the end zone, tossed up a wild underhand pass that was intercepted by Hollis at the 3-yard line and returned for an easy touchdown.
Otherwise, the Tigers stopped themselves, so much so thatTennessee was fortunate to only be trailing 21-0 at the half.
LSU lost two unforced fumbles deep in Vols territory, was unable to move after starting another possession at the UT 40 and the first-half clock hit zero with the Tigers, out of timeouts, desperately trying to get off another play from the Vols’ 6-yard line after Russell chose to scramble instead of throwing the ball away to at least set up a field goal.
“We had some rough situations that it was tough to get through,” said Russell, who was 11 of 19 for 145 yards in the first half but only 3 of 9 for 13 yards in the second half. “It was one of those things where we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Vols, who ran only three plays in Tiger territory in the first half and never crossed midfield on their own in the first half, quickly made it interesting in the second half, setting the tempo with a 61-yard touchdown drive in which Clausen completed six of seven passes.
The LSU defense actually might have been too good in the first half, forcing the normally land-loving Vols to abandon their running game
“That’s what we talked about all week,” Williams said. “We wanted to stop the run. Then we get them in a position where they had to throw the ball and then we couldn’t make plays.”
Tuesday, September 27
By SCOOTER HOBBS
Posted by American Press at 1:02 AM