Things were starting to come together for LSU by late November. The previous month had ended with a demoralizing loss to Ole Miss that all but seemed to eliminate LSU from the SEC West race. The Tigers were firmly behind both the Rebels and an Auburn team that seemed to be ascending under Tommy Tuberville. But the Tigers rebounded well behind Rohan Davey and Josh Reed with a huge road win over Alabama, which just so happened to coincide with a much-needed seven-overtime loss by the Ole Miss to Arkansas. The Tigers handled non-conference patsy Middle Tennessee the next week, and had fortune smile over a Nov. 17 bye week; both Ole Miss and Auburn lost -- the former in a 35-15 beat down by Georgia under first-year head coach Mark Richt and the latter in a brutal 31-7 Iron Bowl that also took down Auburn's star freshman tailback, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
That put LSU in the driver's seat, with the usual Thanksgiving Weekend matchup versus Arkansas followed by a showdown with Auburn that was a makeup game from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Both games would be at home. Win ‘em both, and LSU was headed to Atlanta for its first ever SEC Championship Game appearance.
Not that the 24th-ranked Razorbacks had any intention of rolling over.
- Both teams entered this game with three-loss records, all three in conference play. By virtue of a 42-17 beat-down of Auburn back in October, an Atlanta trip was still a possibility for the Razorbacks with a win versus LSU, followed by another Auburn loss. For the Tigers, a win would set up a de facto division championship game the next week.
- My memories of watching game are simultaneously clear and fuzzy at the same time, as myself and a large contingent of family members watched from the ESPN Zone in Walt Disney World in Orlando, the site of a large family Thanksgiving vacation. The game was on at the same time as Nebraska-Colorado (a shockingly brutal beating by the Buffaloes) and Texas-Texas A&M, and I can remember that the Cornhusker and Longhorn fans in the house greatly outnumbered us, thus, they got the giant video screen and game commentary over the restaurant's PA system. Of course there were TVs all over the place, so we still had a great view of the game. And I can distinctly remember a large number of pitchers of Killian's Irish Red, and that nobody carded 19-year-old me. No, I cannot remember how many pitchers. Like I said, clear and fuzzy.
The Game Itself:
- I definitely remember being very worried about this game. We all knew that the seniors on this team had the Auburn game circled, and things had been going well, but this wasn't an Arkansas team LSU could afford to look past.
- The future head coaches of Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and Florida State were all on the sidelines for this one. Wrap your head around that.
- Now that is how you start a football game. It was obvious the offense was starting to hit a major-league stride, but that was primarily with the passing game. If the running game was clicking...we had something special.
- And yes, my family was easily the loudest table in the restaurant at this moment.
- This game was something of an amazing statistical anomaly, when you consider that the two teams combined for over 900 yards of offense and yet still 15 tackles-for-loss/sacks, six turnovers and 12 penalties. A shootout in more than just one way.
- At the 2:51 mark, a vision of Jamarcus? Funny, when he made plays like that, the Humanoids saw it as "lazy ol' Jamarcus, getting lucky because he's so talented," but when Ro' did it, it was because he was "just out there making things happen!" Of course Josh Reed also had nobody within seven yards of him either...
- The Toe Truck was in high gear. 173 yards on 30 carries, 3 touchdowns. Gotta wonder what his ceiling was had he never had the injuries.
- 4:54 mark, Michael Clayton. You could not have convinced me at this time that we weren't dealing with a player that was going to break all of the records Reed was in the middle of setting.
- It's funny. Matt Jones finished his career with a 1-3 record against LSU (1-2 as a starter), but he always managed to scare the heck out of me whenever the Tigers faced Arkansas. You knew he was the type of player that could just make big things happen at any time.
- So many big plays. So many pitchers. Later that night, one of my uncles got the munchies in his condo, and decided to heat a frozen pizza in the oven. Only he forgot to take it out of the box. I'll leave the rest of that story to your imagination.
- Ryan Clark had one of the more underrated seasons of any LSU safety this year. 88 tackles, 4 tackles-for-loss, 3 interceptions and 8 total pass break-ups. And he's gone on to a damn strong pro career, stronger than a lot of guys that had way more press clippings in college. In this one he had 8 tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception and two pass break-ups.