Randall Rallies Tigers to Big Win in First Start

by LSUsports.net (@LSUsports)
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Randall Rallies Tigers to Big Win in First Start

By David Steinle
Special to LSUSports.net

For the first 25 minutes of Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference game against South Carolina, LSU’s offense looked lost without its leader, starting quarterback Matt Mauck, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury.

Under the leadership of third-year sophomore Marcus Randall, all the Tigers had to show for their first three drives was a single field goal despite moving the ball well, as LSU had gained 123 yards on those three drives.

The Tigers’ second drive late in the first quarter was LSU’s only three-and-out of the night, and in the second quarter, their first drive produced a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by John Corbello.

Not that the missed opportunities were Randall’s fault, though. Randall hit Jerel Myers for a 26-yard pass on LSU’s first drive to help the Tigers score on Corbello’s 42-yard field goal, and he also found Reggie Robinson for a 16-yard gain later in the period.

When all was said and done, Randall and the Tigers righted their ship, thanks in large part to the exploits of the third-year sophomore from Baton Rouge’s Glen Oaks High, who displayed the athletic ability and decision making skills that made him one of coach Nick Saban’s first “red alert” recruits when Saban left Michigan State for Baton Rouge following the 1999 season.

Randall didn’t have the most spectacular numbers in the Tigers’ 38-14 victory, but he didn’t need to, thanks to a furious LSU defense that limited the Gamecocks to one yard in the third quarter and 62 overall in the second half, along with a balanced attack that netted 414 total yards.

Randall finished the night 12-of-23 for 183 yards, but more importantly, he led a mistake-free LSU offense that recovered the only fumble it put on the ground and controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes.

“Marcus played an outstanding game,” Saban said. “Not once did he lose his poise.”

LSU was marooned deep in their own territory at the 9 with 4:56 remaining before halftime, and the Tigers looked destined to head to the locker room down by 11 points, which would have been the Tigers’ largest halftime deficit at home since a 21-10 lead by Ole Miss last year in the infamous loss that eventually turned the Tigers’ season around.

Instead of playing it conservatively, Randall began to open up the offense, hitting Michael Clayton on a third-and-7 for 16 yards to the 38, and after two penalties set up a second-and-29, he first found Robinson for 18 to give LSU breathing room, then went deep for Bennie Brazzell, and although the pass fell incomplete, it drew a key pass interference penalty, giving the Tigers 15 additional yards and an automatic first down at the South Carolina 48.

With time running out before halftime, Randall eluded a heavy South Carolina rush and speared Clayton for 17 yards with one tick remaining in the first half, enough time to get a timeout and Corbello on the field to nail a 48-yard kick, one yard shy of his career high 49-yarder in last year’s SEC Championship game.

The crowd of 91,340 in Death Valley could sense the momentum shed its garnet and black and now wore purple and gold, and the Tigers rode that crest of the late drive to its first touchdown drive to start the third quarter, and naturally, it was Randall who led the way.

Randall converted a third-and-7 with an 8-yard hookup to Clayton to move into Gamecock territory, and the Tigers moved steadily from there before Joseph Addai was stuffed for no gain to set up a second-and-10 at the Carolina 12.

With the Gamecocks expecting pass, Randall simply took the snap, kept down the line toward the right sideline, and cut upfield to score an untouched 12-yard touchdown, awakening a crowd that had precious little to cheer about in the first half.

Randall then showed his poise on the 2-point conversion, waiting for Clayton to clear his defender, and then spearing him in the left corner to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:07 remaining in the third quarter, but for all intensive purposes swinging the game permanently toward the Tigers.

Randall wasn’t done, hitting Myers for a 19-yard gain to start LSU moving with just over four minutes left in the period, a drive that ended in Shyrone Carey’s first career touchdown on a 13-yard run and a 24-14 edge.

One of the great traditions of the late, great coach Charles McClendon at LSU was the two-quarterback system, a system that had its critics but also had distinct advantages, namely forcing a defense to prepare for a change of pace under center while also allowing LSU the luxury of not losing production if one quarterback went down.

It worked for the average (Lynn Amedee and Jimmy Field), those with great heart (Pat Screen and Nelson Stokely), the superstar with the unsung (Bert Jones with Buddy Lee and Paul Lyons), and those who had the football savvy to overcome the great obstacles (David Woodley and Steve Ensminger).

Randall is the first LSU quarterback to win his first start since Rohan Davey beat North Texas in 1999, but given the circumstances and the opponent, it’s probably the biggest debut for a starter since Tommy Hodson helped LSU upend Texas A&M in 1986.

Not to say that Mauck won’t regain his job when his foot injury heals, but with the past success of LSU’s two-quarterback system, if Randall should continue the Tigers on their road to their first back-to-back SEC championships since 1935 and 1936, there might be those who will want to relive the glory days of Cholly Mac in more ways than one.