Miracle Keeps Tigers in the Driver's Seat

by LSUsports.net (@LSUsports)
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Miracle Keeps Tigers in the Driver's Seat

By David Steinle
Special to LSUsports.net

Two memories of Tiger football history from the early 1970s were evoked in the final seconds on Saturday in Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium-the first not so good, the second one of pure joy.

The first was the sight of opposing fans running onto the field to tear down the goalposts and celebrate a big victory over LSU. The Tigers had not suffered the humiliation of watching the other team’s fans celebrate in such a manner since 1973, when Tulane ended its quarter-century of suffering to the Tigers with a 14-0 victory at Tulane Stadium.

With nine seconds remaining and LSU needing 89 yards to overcome a 30-27 deficit to Kentucky, it appeared that for the first time in 29 years, the Tigers would bear witness to a wild on-field celebration, as the Wildcats’ Taylor Begley nailed a 29-yard field goal that appeared to give the Big Blue just its second seven-win season since 1985.

Those fears of heartbreak turned to pure elation seconds later when Devery Henderson caught a tipped pass from Marcus Randall and completed a 75-yard touchdown jaunt that gave LSU a 33-30 victory and kept the Tigers firmly in the driver’s seat for the SEC West division championship.

Maybe it was only fitting that the final annual meeting in this series that has been contested every year since 1952 ended in this manner, because truth has been stranger than fiction in this series, especially in recent years.

Last year in Lexington, LSU had more time but was in exactly the same predicament-trailing by three points and desperately needing a win to stay alive in the SEC race.

As everyone knows by now, Rohan Davey cemented his status among the great leaders to play quarterback for LSU by guiding the Tigers to the winning touchdown on a pass to Michael Clayton with 13 seconds left.

This year, Clayton’s role may be that as the “Hand of God”, as he was the player who got a fingertip on the ball and deftly guided it to his teammate. Henderson picked up the carom at the 25 and did the rest.

Kentucky had its last-second victory in 1998, a game in which multiple blown assignments on a reverse on third-and-forever gave the Wildcats the impetus to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.

And what few, if any, people realized is that the simple practice of calling a timeout had a profound effect on this game.

With 15 seconds left and Kentucky having just picked up a first down, Wildcat quarterback Jared Lorenzen inexplicably elected to call a timeout, rather than let the clock run down to three or four seconds, or even running a play or two into the end zone.

Yes, Kentucky coach Guy Morriss was thinking about a possible bad snap or a blocked kick, but what’s the worst that could have happened? Overtime? Given the way the momentum had swung, the Wildcats would have had good chances to win in the extra period(s).

Then, TV cameras showed LSU coach Nick Saban trying to get in a timeout to ice Begley. Had the officials granted that request, LSU would have been out of timeouts, and certainly the clock would have run out after Clayton’s catch in the middle of the field.

Unfortunately for Morriss, he became the first coach to ever be doused with the Gatorade bucket in a losing effort. But that’s the nature of the game.

The touchdown on the final play of the game marks the first time LSU has overcome a deficit to win on the last play of a game since November 4, 1972, in another improbable finish.

That ending was the famous 10-yard touchdown pass from Bert Jones to Brad Davis that would have began with one-tenth of one second on the clock had the modern scoreboards been in place at Tiger Stadium at the time. That ending so infuriated Ole Miss fans that 30 years later, radio stations around Oxford still play “The One-Second Blues”, the song that was released after that game.

As far as drama goes, it has to rank up there as one of the great games of LSU’s 109-year football history. Most LSU fans will probably rank this one below the Jones-to-Davis hookup and Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return on Halloween night against Ole Miss, but the importance of this game can’t be overlooked.

Any slim hopes LSU had of the national championship went by the wayside two weeks ago at Auburn, but a loss here could have been fatal. The Tigers would have had to win out to win the West if they would have lost, and even if they would have defeated Alabama and Ole Miss at home, in all likelihood, the division title would have come down to a winner-take-all showdown at Arkansas if Auburn did not already clinch.

Saban told LSU radio sideline reporter Jordy Hultberg at halftime that he was about to “put his foot up somebody’s you know what” in the locker room after a lackluster first half. The record will state that LSU won the game, but the Tigers are not the same dominant team that defeated Florida and South Carolina last month. There are three games left, and as is the case in any SEC games, they could go either way. But good teams find a way to win when they don’t play their best, and LSU may be to that point in its program.

LSU was fortunate to escape Lexington for the second straight year with a victory, but Saban’s won’t allow his team to dwell on it, thanks to his 24-hour rule. Tomorrow, the Tigers must get ready for a hungry Alabama team that may be on probation but would love nothing more to ruin LSU’s hopes for the SEC West title, even if it means helping archenemy Auburn.

The stakes continue to rise each game for the Tigers, but as they proved today, sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good.