In the last couple of years LSU fans have gotten used to the SEC West race coming down to November. Easy to forget that in the early Aughts, when LSU and Auburn more or less ran the division, the race could seem over really quickly, especially in years where the game was in Auburn, which was typically in the season's first month.
So the previous week's heartbreak in Jordan Hare stung for a number of reasons, chief of all, that it was essentially a two-game swing in the division. LSU could win out in conference play for the rest of the season, but Auburn would have to lose two conference games for them to pull back into first place.
On top of that, it was a one-point loss. How in the hell could a referee actually call leaping (again, we weren't so nearly used to this sort of thing happening in Alabama in 2004)? How did Corey Webster just miss picking off that screen pass to Cadillac Williams on Auburn's game winning drive? Eventually, there was some second-guessing. Why did Alley Broussard only get 10 carries averaging over 8 yards a tote? Why was Marcus Randall pulled from the game after leading LSU's only touchdown drive on the opening series?
On the quarterback front, Saban simply spoke of sticking with "the plan" to rotate Jamarcus Russell in on the game's second series, and stuck to the line that both guys would play until one could take hold of the job on his own. With LSU likely rotating quarterbacks again this fall, put a pin next to this paragraph, because the topic will likely come up again later this offseason.
But the running game was a much larger issue. Sophomore "star-in-the-making" Justin Vincent was struggling, and LSU had rushed for just 482 yards through three games. Saban made no bones that he planned on getting Broussard involved earlier and more often as Mississippi State came to Baton Rouge.
- The visiting Bulldogs were led by Sylvester Croom, then the SEC first black head coach in history. A former offensive lineman at Alabama, Croom had made a name for himself at several stops in the NFL, and was famously passed over for the Alabama job in favor of Mike Shula following Mike Price's premature departure in the spring of 2003. But between the foundering at the end of the Jackie Sherrill Era and a pretty rough set of NCAA sanctions levied, this was not a very good State squad. A season-opening win over Tulane was followed by two straight losses, including a 9-7 home loss to Maine.
- Yours truly spent most of the Saturday in the Bogalusa Daily News' newsroom. I worked late on Friday and got in early Saturday morning to get as much grunt work done on the Sunday addition early so that I could pay as much attention to the LSU game as possible.
- Ah, the ol' 11:30 Jefferson Pilot broadcast. I'll never miss that time slot, but there was something provincial about the graphics. And the Daves. Miss you, Tres Daves! This was actually the first time since 2002 LSU had made it on to the JP slot.
- Great start for the Tigers, with a very well-scripted 7-play, 74 yard drive. Just two high-percentage throws from Randall on a play-action rollout and a bubble screen, setting up an 11-yard run from Broussard on a delay. The right side of LSU's offensive line absolutely mauls the State front. Andrew Whitworth and Will Arnold take out four guys by themselves more or less.
- Don't you miss hearing announcers mangle the pronunciation of Broussard?
- It really didn't take long for this game to start to get out of hand. State fumbled on its second possession and gave LSU the ball in the red zone. Six plays, 18 yards and not a single pass to put LSU up 14-0.
- Aww, lookit little Glenn Dorsey picking up the very first tackle for loss of his career!
- But the 2004 Tigers could only take so much prosperity. LSU would fumble on their next two possessions. Of course with the ball at LSU's 36, MSU's Omar Connor threw a pick on the second play right to Corey Webster.
- As you hear one of the Daves say, this was Corey Webster's 15th career interception. A lot of people thought he would push for the LSU career record (20) as a fifth-year senior.
- Despite the previous weeks rotations, Randall played the entire first quarter, and completed both of his passes on the ensuing drive, including a 10-yarder to a young freshman fullback named Jacob Hester. LSU went 68 yards in seven plays, with Broussard picking up his third touchdown of the day on a 16-yard run. Of course, Chris Jackson missed the PAT, marking the seventh total extra-point kick an LSU or opposing kicker had missed that season. Not counting John Vaughn's mulligan.
- Y'all. State was really, really bad. I remember thinking "how much does Tulane suck?" Not only were they completely starved of talent, what little they had (Jerious Norwood was a junior on this squad and would find a way to somehow rush for 1,000 yards) was not a fit at all for Croom's classic West Coast-style offense. Particularly Connor, who completed just 4-12 passes on the day and threw three interceptions, including this absolute lollypop right to Marcus Spears.
- It would be career pick No. 3 for Spears, who was having an outstanding year. He'll be coming to your TV this fall on the SEC Network. I had a class with Spears in the spring of 2004 and got to know him a bit for a profile I wrote for a class/Tiger Rag -- he's a great guy and he's been a great ambassador of LSU since leaving Baton Rouge. I also still have a baddass black-and-white shot of him mean-muggin' at practice that I took for a photography elective.
- First career sack for Ali Highsmith, a late addition to LSU's 2004 recruiting class who also led LSU in tackles in this game with six. He was a Miami legacy as the cousin of former Hurricanes star Alonzo Highsmith. But some kind of holdup kept him from enrolling at the U for a year or two and Saban found a way to poach him. He was always great at finding those late, somewhat random additions to a class (Hester and defensive end Brian West marking other examples), and he still does it at Alabama. Kind of like collecting random spare parts. I guess he figures he never has enough.
- Here's Russell, getting the passing game going and throwing Early Doucet his first career touchdown. At the half LSU led 34-0 and Mississippi State had gained all of 43 yards and just a single first down without the aid of LSU penalties.
- Russell would lead two more nice drives in the third quarter, ending one on an eight-yard touchdown run but the other on a fumble at the two yard line. He finished 9-12 on the day for 137 yards before giving way to Matt Flynn near the start of the fourth quarter.
- Flynn had been an afterthought in the quarterback race, largely due to a bad stomach bug that took him out of much of fall camp. He made the most of his opportunities in this game though, hitting two of three passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
- *sigh* Ah, the promise of Xavier Carter. He was one of the fastest men in America, and at 6-3 and 200 pounds he definitely had the size to be an effective receiver. Just look at him run right by those safeties on that 67-yard score. Sadly, there weren't many of those.
- So much promise on display. Six of LSU's seven touchdowns in this game were scored by freshmen or sophomores. But between three fumbles and nine penalties, there was still plenty to work on, and Saban wasn't about to let the Tigers forget that with a trip to Athens looming.