I've talked about this before, but 2010 was a great time on this blog. The current roster began to take shape, we had some fantastic players to write about and a ton of exciting games. The season had a bit of everything in the wild finish department, highs and lows. But leave it to that early November clash with Alabama to deliver not only an outstanding game and a memorable victory, but one of the most "Les Miles" calls on this list.
Alabama was coming off the 2009 national title and had beaten the Tigers in back-to-back seasons under Nick Saban. Between the Tide's development into the nation's top program, and five- and four-loss seasons in 08/09, there was real concern that the gap would only continue to widen. LSU postgame radio host Charles Hannagriff had famously opined that "this staff will never beat that staff," referring to the perceived edge -- despite both the previous games being relatively close. We even had our own doubts, with a portion of the game preview trying to implore fans to show up for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff and stay loud.
The fifth-ranked Tide came in with five future 2011 No.-1 draft picks in tow (Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus and James Carpenter) plus a host of additional future studs like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson. An upset loss at South Carolina was the team's only blemish.
LSU, likewise, was 7-1, led largely by a fantastic defense. Patrick Peterson was joined on defense by senior stalwarts like Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard, along with an infusion of talented first- and second-year players like Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid and a particularly precocious young cornerback named Tyrann Mathieu.
Stevan Ridley lead a tough rushing attack, but the Tiger passing game was at its nadir. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee had combined for five touchdowns on the season at this point, and thrown for fewer than 120 yards in half of the previous eight games.
Sure enough, defense led the day early. A tipped pass from Mathieu was intercepted by Sheppard to set up a 45-yard field goal by Josh Jasper. But eventually, Bama responded with an 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive. LSU gained all of 99 yards in the first half, 57 through the air, with a dropped interception from Lee.
But in the third quarter, something happened. Jefferson dropped back and connected on a dig route to Rueben Randle. He turned the corner on the Bama secondary and began to run. And he kept running. The 75-yard touchdown brought 90,000-plus to a thunderous crescendo with every step -- as if one play almost made up for an entire season of aerial frustration. And just like that LSU had a 10-7 lead, and by God, a chance.
Alabama responded to take the lead 14-10, but LSU's offense was beginning to find a grove. A 41-yard run by Russell Shepard helped set up another field goal, and after forcing a big three-and-out, LSU started to get Ridley going. Four carries for 44 yards helped to set up a 4th-and-1 at the Alabama 26-yard-line, and then Les Miles did what Les Miles does. He went for it.
Boy, did he go for it.
LSU ran its trademark power-toss play, but as the Tide collapsed on the A-gap little-used receiving tight end Deangelo Peterson looped behind Ridley and took a reverse pitch 23 yards. It set up a go-ahead touchdown run from Ridley (followed with a two-point conversion pass from Jefferson to Randle), gave the Tigers a 21-14 lead and created another signature trick play moment. Some people like to call Miles the Mad Hatter, but all I could do sitting next to my cousin was shout "LES. FUCKING. MILES."
And if a rarely (if ever) seen trick play wasn't enough, Miles gave us one of his most indelible images in the process.
Two plays later, Drake Nevis bull-rushed Alabama center William Vlachos onto his ass, lunged forward and punched the ball out of Greg McElroy's hands. The fumble was recovered by Kelvin Sheppard and set up another field goal to give the Tigers a 24-14 lead with less than five-and-a-half minutes to go. Everything was in LSU's hands.
But the drama wasn't over yet. Alabama would drive for a touchdown to cut the lead to three, with LSU getting the ball back with just over three minutes left. A couple of more first downs would be needed, but an option play lead to Jefferson getting drilled and knocked out of hte game. Lee would have to come in for one more play -- on third-and13. And at that moment, Alabama's young secondary blew a coverage, allowing Lee to find a wide-open Randle for 47 yards. With the ball at midfield, the Tigers were able to force the Tide to burn their timeouts and run the clock down to the final seconds. Alabama's desperate relay pass as time expired failed.
Final score LSU 24, Alabama 21. Suddenly, the Miles/Saban series was dead even. The distance between the Tigers and the Tide didn't seem that far. And maybe, just maybe, LSU fans didn't need to worry that the right guy was leading the program anymore.