As we look ahead to Saturday's monster showdown at Rocky Top (Can't you just hear the annoying Tennessee band in your head whenever those two words are mentioned? I've seen stats in the past that peg the over/under on times played per game at 41), we take a look back at a little of the history of the LSU-Tennessee series.
The series has been rare one as the teams have met just 28 times. A Tiger victory has been even more scarce, having beaten the Vols only five times -- although two have come since 2000. Let's take a look back at some of the more prominent games in the series.
For me, the most important game vs. UT was the 2001 SEC Championship Game. I would argue that it was this victory that put LSU in a position to win the national championship two years later. This game was also the first real glimpse of Matt Mauck at quarterback as he subbed for an injured Rohan Davey and rallied the Tigers for their first league title in 13 years. Perhaps the best part of this game was shutting up the Vols fans. Tennessee entered ranked second in the nation and one win away from playing Miami for the national championship in the Rose Bowl. Some Vol fans already had their flights and hotel rooms booked. It was fantastic to listen to them talk so much trash before the game and then see them wallow around the dome afterwards with their tails between their legs. I hope Delta accepted changes to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl.
Just one year before, a victory over Tennessee officially got Nick Saban out of the doghouse with LSU fans -- and he never returned. The Tigers were one week removed from an embarassing loss on homecoming to UAB. However, Rohan Davey took the reigns and led LSU to an improbable upset, hitting Robert Royal on a 25-yard touchdown in overtime to seal the victory. The game was a turning point for the year, and perhaps the program. LSU would go on to win eight games, including another upset of No. 11 Mississippi State and a Peach Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
On the other side, Tennessee's greatest win in the series is easily the 1959 victory over defending national champion and top-ranked LSU. The Tigers had won 19 straight and were the nation's top ranked team. The Chinese Bandit defense had allowed just three field goals in the first seven games and the offense boasted eventual Heisman winner Billy Cannon. However, the Vols caught LSU in a let down game, one week after Cannon's legendary 89-yard punt return to beat the Rebels.
Last year's game was probably the biggest heartbreaker for LSU and its fans in a long time. Just four short weeks after Hurricane Katrina and in the first major sporting event in the state afterwards, the emotion in the stadium, the city and the state was at soaring levels. For the first 30 minutes, it seemed as the Tigers could do no wrong and would ride the wave to a much-needed exhilirating victory in front of better than 90,000 faithful. However, after jumping out to a 21-0 first half lead, the balloon burst and former Tiger outcast Rick Clausen (RICK-@#$%^&-CLAUSEN!!!) led Tennessee to victory in front of a deflated, exhausted, disbelieving crowd. The loss was LSU's only of the regular season and possibly cost a shot at the national title. Obviously, the SEC Championship loss would have prevented that as well, but who knows what would have happened had the Tigers been unbeaten and knowing it had to prove it belonged in the discussion with USC and Texas.