The 2004 season was down to the final week for LSU. Auburn had more than clinched the SEC West title and was about to finish an undefeated season.
But most of the talk in Baton Rouge had shifted to the future of Nick Saban. The Miami Dolphins job had been open for nearly a month, and the consensus seemed to be that Saban would be one of owner Wayne Huizenga's top targets. At the time, he was known as an owner that liked to make splashy hires, and poaching college football's highest-paid coach, coming off of a national championship, certainly fit the mold. Plus, the Dolphins were completely cleaning house, which meant that it would be a prime opportunity for Saban to get the personnel control everybody knew he would want.
Anybody with any ties to the program knew the day would come. Saban had always had an eye on the NFL and had spoken with at least one team almost every offseason he was in Baton Rouge. Still, the idea of starting over with a new coach didn't really sound all that appealing either.
Meanwhile, it was time for the annual Black Friday afternoon tilt with Howlin' Houston Nutt and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
- Arkansas was sitting at 5-5 and 3-4 in SEC play. At the time, it was the worst record they'd had under the Right Reverend. Back in those days, the Razorbacks were primarily known for being pretty consistent in the 7-8-win range, with a good running game and stout defense. But key losses had basically left the 04 squad with all-purpose superfreak quarterback Matt Jones, a burley freshman back named Peyton Hillis and not much else. Although a number of talented younger guys off this team would help Arkansas get back to the West title in 2006. They still had bowl eligibility to play for, so the idea that they'd be read for this one crossed my mind.
- Yours truly watched the first half of this one from the sports desk of the Bogalusa Daily News, with a dinner date in Baton Rouge scheduled for that night. With football season over I was shifting to basketball coverage, so Fridays/Saturdays were much lighter. One of the paper's other writers was an Ar-kansan, so the trash talk was flyin'.
- Matt Joooooooooones
- Neither offense did much to start, but an intentional grounding call against Jones (still up there on the "Best Bad Quarterbacks that Scared the Shit Out of Me" list) on pressure from Marcus Spears helped to net LSU some pretty good field position. Seven plays later, Randall found Joseph Addai in the flat and he got to the corner for six. It wouldn't be their last hookup.
- It didn't take long for Arkansas to match. Decori Birmingham ran the ensuing kickoff back to midfield, Hillis broke a nice run the Jones later found him in the endzone to tie things.
- A 46-yard kick from Chris Jackson. Just barely missed his long of the season at this point.
- Defense really came to play in this one. Held Arkansas to just 247 yards of offense.
- 1:42 mark -- Giggity! A fake punt on fourth-and-15 from Arkansas' own 29.
- One play, 29 yards. Nifty play call from Jimbo Fisher: fake on the jet sweep with Skyler Green out of the shotgun and Addai, faking the lead block, just continues right up the sideline. Easy pitch and catch with Randall. Wouldn't mind seeing something like that again this season.
- Addai finished with 49 yards through the air and two scores, his third game of the season with 40 or more receiving yards. He was beginning to develop into quite the multi-purpose threat, which was surprising given that he'd been something an afterthought behind Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard when the season began.
- Nice play from Spears, who finished with nine tackles and two sacks on the day, wrapping up an All-American season.
- It's not an LSU-Arkansas game without SOMETHING weird happening. A punt hits the foot of an LSU gunner and Skyler Green can't get on it. Sets up an easy touchdown for the Razorbacks to keep things close. That didn't last long.
- Tigers responded quickly, driving down to the Arkansas 22 before a long sack set up a...53-yard kick from Jackson? Where was THAT all year?
- Once again, under "where was this all year?" Randall kept rolling, with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Addai and Broussard did most of the work with seven runs, but three straight passes from Randall set up his own 1-yard scamper.
- Things started to get ugly in the third quarter. Jones was intercepted on back-to-back possessions, while Randall rushed for another touchdown, set up by another creative play. Tailback motions out wide to clear the box, then Randall follows the fullback on a quarterback lead-draw. Set up Randall's second rushing score of the day on a seven-yard scramble.
- Shyrone Carey was kind of a victory cigar in this one, capping off 295-yard rushing performance. Randall would finish 10-14 through the air with 173 yards and two touchdown, plus his two on the ground and 79 rushing yards. All-in-all, it was his best game under center in purple and gold, and a nice end to an inconsistent senior season. Randall was a very good program player, and a heck of a class act here, and as an athlete he was good enough to make the Tennessee Titans practice squad as a safety. At the time, I don't think anybody ever thought he'd be as missed as he would be six or seven seasons later.
- I watched the second half in my apartment getting ready, before driving to Baton Rouge. I remember the postgame radio shows were almost solely focused on Saban's future, mostly trepidation with a smidgen of relief that maybe it was time for everybody to move forward. But none of knew that the drama was only beginning.