I miss Mike Shula.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Ali/Frazier slug fests we trade with Bama now, but it was also damn fun beating them five years in a row. Really fun, actually.
2005 was an interesting year for LSU football. Our National-Championship-winning coach fled for easier competition in the NFL, putting Skip Bertman a bit behind the eight-ball in a hiring search that took a few twists and turns and eventually wound up at Les Miles. There was plenty of reason to be excited about the season with an emerging Jamarcus Russell at QB and gobs of talent all over both sides of the ball. Then Hurricane Katrina happened. It put the entire state into disarray, and less importantly, also put a major strain on the football program, both logistically, from a scheduling practices standpoint and personally, considering the number of players on our team which had family members affected by the storm. Game one against Arizona State turned from a great Tiger Stadium night game into an impromptu road trip to a hostile stadium in Tempe, Arizona. It wound up being the first of many dramatic Miles' victories.
Game two seemed to be unfolding perfectly before the train came off the tracks and we let one slip away to an undermanned Tennessee team. Yet, the difficult loss and all the troubles the storm brought about didn't destruct this team. They rattled off six consecutive victories including tough wins against Nos. 11 Florida and 16 Auburn.
November 12th's match-up with Alabama loomed. The Tide slugged themselves to 9-0 and No. 4 in the country, destroying No. 5 Florida in Bryant-Denny along the way. Otherwise, they weren't overly impressive. LSU's trip to Tuscaloosa, looked, for all intents and purposes, to be for the West title. Sure, Alabama still had the Auburn game and LSU a tricky Arkansas squad, but we all knew this one was for the West, and for Alabama, a possible chance at a National Championship.
The Tide played stingy defense, led by All-American Demeco Ryans. Offensively they were competent but hardly overwhelming. Brodie Croyle and his much-hyped Bama bangs lead the offense to being ranked 67th nationally in Total Yardage and 85th in scoring. This was a team dominated by strong defensive play (2nd nationally in yardage, 1st in scoring). And that's exactly what would see on November 12th.
As our 2005 team was want to do, we started slowly offensively. In fact, it wasn't until there were five minutes remaining in the first quarter before we notched our first first down. It was obvious early on that moving the ball would be tough sledding all day long. Conversely, Alabama managed 107 yards of offense in the first quarter, and a pair of field goal tries, one made and one missed. They capped their final drive of the first quarter with a touchdown in the second quarter, an 8-yard pass from Brodie Croyle to D.J. Hall.
Bama battering rammed the LSU defense with a trio of backs: Kenneth Darby, Le'Ron McClain and Glen Coffee. Standing at 10 minutes left in the second quarter, it looked like the lead may be enough to secure the win. LSU continued to sputter on offense. Their fourth drive of the game went for 19 total yards, just a yard shy of all they managed in the 1st quarter. They'd head into halftime with only 78 yards, despite featuring Russell, Bowe, Davis, Doucet, Justin Vincent and a hot-running Alley Broussard. They were going nowhere fast.
Bama managed another drive late, getting to the LSU 38 before back to back sacks ended the half. It wasn't so much that LSU was holding on for dear life as dying a seemingly slow death before our eyes. Alabama's defense was really just as good as everyone said.
I'm not sure what happened at halftime but I'm sure asses were chewed, necks were wrung and Gatorade was drunk. Whatever the trick, it worked. LSU opened the third quarter with a 9-play, 80-yard scoring drive. In a single drive, they amassed more yards than they managed in the entire 1st half. The defense stood up as well, putting down Croyle immediately, stuffing Darby and then sacking Croyle for another 10-yard loss for an impressive -11 yard drive to open the half. The stuff put LSU in favorable field position, and a long pass from Russell to Bowe for 29 yards meant scoring was in sight. But the Bama defense stood up and held LSU to a field goal. What LSU couldn't do in 30 minutes in the first half, they turned around in did in 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter.
Now tied, the game reached another level of intensity. It was maybe the first of those aforementioned Ali/Frazier slug fests, with each team trading blows. For all the offensive production Alabama managed in the first half, they limped through the 2nd, putting up drives of 0, -4, -11 and 6 yards and never amassing more than 25 yards on a single drive. Yet, LSU's early offensive fireworks of the 2nd half soon died out, as the typically strong Bama defense put the clamps down.
The tie looked to be knotted tight. Only LSU ever threatened, after getting a strong defensive stand and starting field position on the 50. They matriculated 19 yards into Bama territory, sputtering after an incomplete pass to Jacob Hester with only a minute left on the clock. Chris Jackson attempted, and missed, a 49-yard field goal. Bama got the ball with 54 seconds remaining. They worked their way to the LSU 49 before attempting a last minute-pass with :02 remaining in regulation. Coffee took the pass with a lot of field in front of him, but was eventually wrangled down at the 10 to send the game to OT.
It wouldn't have been surprising had this game gone 19 OTs without another point scored. It just seemed like that was the direction this one was headed. Instead? It ended rather quickly. Bama took the ball first and after an illegal shift moving them backward, they completed a 9-yard pass to DJ Hall. Darby picked up four more, putting them in a favorable 3rd and 2, but the LSU defense stood up again, holding Alabama to a field-goal attempt. Their offense wouldn't see the field again.
LSU took the ball and quickly moved to the Alabama 12, but stared down a 3rd and 7 against a defense not inclined to yield big plays. Bowe and Davis split out wide with Hester and Vincent lined up in the backfield in the I. Russell peeks at the defense and makes a couple slight adjustments, one sending Hester to the left. The initial routes prove fruitless. The OL does an outstanding job protecting but with the rush bearing down, Russell scrambles right, pulls up and fires a bullet right through the heart of Tuscaloosa into the waiting arms of Dwayne Bowe. Goodbye SEC West Championship, goodbye SEC Championship, goodbye National Championship, goodbye Alabama.
I just remember this one felt good. 2005 was inordinately long due to all the Katrina struggles and sans that stupid storm, this team would probably have been in the BCS that season. Instead, we wind up an impressive 11-2 and finish with an ass whooping against Miami, which we've already covered. It's probably one of the best coaching jobs in Miles' tenure all things considered.