LSU had the lead in the SEC West, but nothing was clinched yet. One week to go, and the Tigers had their usual end-of-the-year tilt with Arkansas, while Ole Miss had an Egg Bowl matchup with a very bad Mississippi State team playing out the string for Jackie Sherrill.
Arkansas's 2003 season was very...should we say Nuttish? Nutty? Completely in line with the wondiferous batshittity (shut up I'm the writer I get to make these words up) that we've come to know and love from the Right Reverend. A big road win over a top-10 Texas team that took the Razorbacks into the top 10, before three straight losses to Auburn, Florida and the Rebels. Plus, a 71-63, seven-overtime thriller over Jared Lorenzen and Kentucky, the second 7-OT game of the Nutt tenure by this point.
He was coming to Baton Rouge with one of the nation's best offensive linemen in right tackle Shawn Andrews, who played next to 300-pound tight end Jason Peters, who would later become a Pro-Bowl tackle in the NFL. The defense finished tackling machines like Caleb Miller, (Louisiana native/personal-foul machine) Tony Bua and future first-round NFL bust Ahmad "Batman" Carroll. And in the offensive backfield, 1,000-yard running back Cedric Cobbs and freak athlete quarterback Matt Jones.
I can't lie -- the Miracle on Markham wasn't far from my mind for this one.
- Storytime! I mentioned it last week, by my oldest sister had recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl, so mom had stayed behind in Memphis from our last trip to Ole Miss to help out around the house, with the baby's Christening scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving. This led to what myself, my dad and brother now refer to as "the Thanksgiving from Hell," in which our house was disabled by a busted sink pipe, my aunt's house was cut off due to street flooding and my grandmother's house afflicted by a stopped-up toilet. Ah, memories.
- Solo in the press box, for this'n. Pops and little brother had already left for the Christening, while I was due to drive up my aunt and grandmother on Saturday, while working the game Friday.
- And we started right out with a nice big lump in my throat as Decori Birmingham goes 53 yards fairly effortlessly for six. Seriously, running backs scored at least four or five very long touchdowns against LSU's defense on plays like this in 2003.
- Also, is it just me or was Decori Birmingham at Arkansas for like eight years? I feel like he might've even played for Bobby Petrino.
- Zone running plays out of the shotgun with Justin Vincent were huge in this game. LSU quickly put together an 11-play field goal drive, but I still wasn't really sure if the Tigers were awake and realized they had to win this game.
- A botched zone-read exchange leads to a fumble and an easy lead, but Arkansas quickly tied things up with a field goal on the ensuing drive, as Cobbs was starting to warm up.
- Arkansas had a defense that was big and pretty physical in 2003, with Bua playing that safety/linebacker/rover type position. Jimbo Fisher attacked them by spreading the field with a very horizontal game. A lot of zone-read game with Matt Mauck and quick passing.
- But as much success as LSU was having, Arkansas kept finding a way to move the ball and match them. Andrews & Peters absolutely mauled the left side of LSU's defense and paved the way for 80 rushing yards from Cobbs on the next drive, including a 20-yard score. He finished with 169 yards and three touchdowns on the day, the only other back besides Louisiana Tech's Ryan Moats to top the century mark on LSU in 2003.
- But then Jacob Skinner (another guy that I swear played forever) drops a snap, the punt gets blocked and LSU has its opening.
- It was all downhill from there. The blocked punt netted seven, the Tigers strung together a nine-play field goal drive and then Jones threw an awful interception to Corey Webster to help LSU rattle off 17 straight points before halftime.
- Matt Jones was always scary to face, because he could be such a big-play threat, but his record versus LSU was never that great, aside from his savant moment at the end of the 2002 game. On this day he would complete just four of 12 passes for 100 yards and lost 20 yards on seven rushing attempts despite being sacked only one time.
- Saban allowed Jimbo to dip into his bag of tricks for this one, a double play-action (fake dive/fake end-around) pass to David Jones for a 37-yard score. Jones had probably his best day at LSU in this game, with 57 yards receiving. I always thought he'd develop into a solid H-back type of player, but it wasn't meant to be.
- Blain Bech sighting! His fake field goal run helped set up Justin Vincent's 23-yard TD scamper, while LSU was trying to grind this one away in the fourth.
- Webster's second interception of the day sets up the final insult, as LSU hangs 55 on the Hogs. In the postgame, Arkansas chose to just give reporters free range in the locker room rather than bring players into the post-game presser. Shawn Andrews is just a massive human being. Bua, a John Curtis kid that caught a lot of hell from the crowd, tried to play the "we really just beat ourselves today" card, I guess due to the five turnovers they lost. I was tempted to ask him if he allowed 6.2 yards per play and 55 points on his own, but thought better of it. On to Atlanta.