The 2000 season ended on something on a down note in Nick Saban's first year in Baton Rouge, with a depressing 14-3 loss at Arkansas to finish 7-4. It wasn't so much that the record was a disappointment; in fact I would say the team more or less met its potential, rebounding from a 3-8 season to earn a birth in the Peach Bowl. But a season-ending loss always tends to put a damper on seasons, and Josh Booty's dreadful play in the game (6 of 27 for just 65 yards with two interceptions, including a pick-six) had reignited the quarterback controversy. It's worth noting that Booty managed to somehow earn All-SEC mention, but that's more a testament to how bad the quarterbacking was in the conference that year. Booty's final stat line: completed 50-percent of his passes for 2,121 yards (7.3 per attempt), with 17 touchdowns and 14 picks. Not exactly anything to brag about, but it managed to look good compared to the rest of the league's starters. Think about that.
On the other side of the field, Georgia Tech had just wrapped up a surprising 9-2 regular season led by quarterback George Godsey, who played great in replacing 1999 Heisman finalist Joe Hamilton. Tech fielded a quality group of wide receivers, a good running back in Joe Burns and an All-American defensive end (and LaPlace, La. native) in Greg Gathers. I can't remember the spread, but I remember being perfectly prepared for a loss. The Tigers hadn't exactly fared well against good offenses at this point, especially teams with good quarterbacks.
But some great individual defensive performances and a second-half surge led by Rohan Davey resulted in a decisive 28-14 win for the Tigers.
- Watched this one at my Uncle Butch's house with the family. My Uncle Butch is pretty much the man who taught me how to love LSU. He's short in stature but large in personality, and at used to be extremely active with the River Parish Tigers booster group. One of my cousins on that side married into a Georgia family, so while everybody in the house wasn't necessarily an LSU fan, they at least had a healthy hate for Tech.
The Game Itself:
- LSU's defense really stepped up in this game, led by Bradie James, who had just recently lost his father to illness. His six tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries would earn him defensive MVP honors, and helped keep the game close in spite of some major offensive struggles. LSU managed just 97 yards in the first half.
- On the other hand of the West Monroe recruit spectrum -- Brad Smalling. He was one of the top five offensive tackles in his class, and he couldn't pass-block his way out of a paper bag. But with Brandon Winey out, the Tigers were stuck with him at right tackle, matched up on Gathers, who had three tackles-for-loss and a sack.
- Winey's return to the second half has been the subject of much rumor surrounding this game. There are two different sets of rumors surrounding this, and Rohan Davey's insertion into the second half. Rumor #1: Winey suffered some sort of wrist injury, and, in fear of his draft prospects, decided to hold himself out of the game, drawing the obvious ire of both Saban and his teammates in the team unity council. At halftime, spurred by the return of Davey, he decided to suit up, and Saban, after watching Smalling's first-half flailing, quickly decided to play him. Rumor #2: Winey, and a group of seniors decided to lobby Saban to start Davey pre-game, frustrated (as many players were) with Booty. Saban put his foot down on the matter, which led to an argument with Winey, which led to a suspension. At halftime, the player unity council essentially begged Saban to relent on Winey and get Davey in. The truth is anybody's guess. Regardless of which version actually happened, it was clear after this game that Josh Booty's days as LSU's quarterback were over.
- Great second half interception by Ryan Clark. I have to say, his NFL career has been a very pleasant surprise. He was always an eager and active defender, but struggled with the mental side at times. But it just goes to show that as much as talent matters in the NFL, so does hard work.
- No catches for Josh Reed in the first half. Nine catches for 96 yards in the second. Tell me that wasn't part of Booty's problem?
- 5:46 mark -- one of the legendary catches of Josh Reed's career. I can remember my dad saying absolutely no way Reed had really caught that, and I can remember yelling "YEAH HE DID! ONE FOOT!" as the replay rolled. Typically there'd be more expletives in that statement, but I was watching this game with family. Is there anything more gratifying than seeing that the replay showed your team really did deserve that close call?
- Followed up by an even greater play by Rohan and Reed. No other LSU receiver in my lifetime could have made that play. Jamarcus Russell could have made that throw, but NO other LSU receiver would have gotten back to the ball, pulled it away from the defender and found a way to muscle into the endzone. And the best was still to come from Reed.
- Tommy Banks ended his career in style, with seven catches for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns. I can only imagine how many "the coaches are holding Banks back!" threads the Humanoids would have started had message boards been a bigger deal in those days. Banks was the darling of the post-game radio show call-in crowd.
- 277 of LSU's 374 yards came in the second half, with three touchdowns from Davey. The seeds for a season of greatness were sewn.
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