By the middle of October, 2002 LSU seemed to be riding pretty high. Rebounded from an opening week embarrassment in Blacksburg, the Tigers had won five straight, including a dominating win over the Florida Gators in the Swamp. But the win was costly, as a stupid called quarterback draw in garbage time led to broken bones in starting quarterback Matt Mauck's foot, fresh on the heels (I swear pun not intended) of one of his best games as a starter. He gave way to third-year sophomore Marcus Randall, who would get his first start at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
- Sakerlina was in year three a Lou Holtz-led renaissance, and had gone from the utter doldrums of the 1990s -- it's easy to forget this was a program having 0-fer seasons -- to a respectable unit that came to Baton Rouge on a four-game winning streak after back-to-back losses at Virginia and to Georgia (featuring this all-time great play from emerging superstar David Pollack).
- I seem to recall this being a chilly night in Tiger Stadium, spent again in the press box for your intrepid student reporter. I remember spending most of pre-game watching Auburn lose to Florida and feeling that if Randall could play well, the Tigers would have a fantastic chance at winning the next week in Jordan Hare.
The Game Itself:
- Like I mentioned earlier in the series, Corey Webster was still very much learning the cornerback position, and while he was a little unknown at this point, Troy Williamson was a future first-round pick.
- I very much remember South Carolina's offense being kind of a fun grab-bag in this era. They were very much experimenting with some big, hard-running option quarterbacks in Corey Jenkins and Dondrial Pinkins. Blending some early era spread option with the occasional three-back set like the T-Formation or Wishbone.
- Five first-half penalties were huge for LSU in this game, but Randall gutted things out, completing four of his last six passes to set up a John Corbello field goal that put the game within eight at the half.
- The third quarter was the story of this game, as LSU completely dominated, starting off with a 10-play touchdown drive capped off with an incredibly well-executed 12-yard power optioin by Randall.
- The Gamecocks, meanwhile, lost five yards in four possessions in the quarter, including a pair of one-play drives ended by Demetrius Hookfin interceptions, including a pick-six on a well-read screen pass attempt. Hook (Hook and I became buddies at Media Day which is why I call him Hook) finished with seven tackles and another pass break-up on top of the two INTs.
- Domanick Davis finished with 113 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Shyrone Carey had one of his few highlight games with 68 yards and a score. Randall finished with a yeoman-like 12-23 for 183 yards. No touchdown passes (though one nice 2-point conversion pass), but no interceptions either. With a solid defense and running game, it felt like that could be enough going forward...