If there was one thing the 2004 LSU team could not stand, it was prosperity.
That was never more on display than in the final weeks of October. In the afterglow of that fantastic rally in the final seconds in Gainesville, the Tigers laid a pair of stinkers in consecutive home games versus Troy and Vanderbilt, scoring just 24 points in each. In the former, LSU trailed in the final five minutes, with a 30-yard touchdown from Marcus Randall to David Jones preserving a 24-20 win. In the latter, the Tigers scored just 10 points in the first half and finished with just 102 combined passing yards from Randall and Jamarcus Russell.
For all Randall had done to stake a claim to the starting job against Florida, it didn't last. He threw three interceptions versus Troy (even as he managed his only career 300-yard game) and took two sacks. In the two-game stretch LSU converted just 7-23 third downs, fumbled the ball four times (with five total turnovers) and committed nine penalties for an even 100 yards.
Never let it be said that frustrating wins began under Les Miles. And be happy that both games were on Tigervision, because neither is on Youtube.
The defense was still outstanding. Marcus Spears, in the midst of an All-American season, had a combined 13 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. But the offense couldn't find any kind of consistency. The veterans that were expected to provide the stability -- along the offensive line and at running back -- couldn't seem to string two good plays together, nevermind scoring drives. Justin Vincent was floundering rather than blossoming as a running back, and Skyler Green was too easily contained at receiver.
The tension was palpable. Nobody was having any fun, particularly the head coach. He couldn't seem to push the right buttons. People begun to monitor NFL transactions more closely, particularly the Miami Dolphins, whose head coach had resigned that week. It wasn't the best environment with a relatively dangerous Alabama team coming to town.
- The Crimson Tide were unranked but were still 6-3 and right at .500 in SEC play under then-second-year head man Mike Shula. They'd suffered a brutal blow in losing starting quarterback Brodie Croyle to an ACL injury, but fought hard and had number of players that would help lead them to 10 wins the next season, like linebacker DeMeco Ryans, running back Kenneth Darby and defensive backs Charlie Peprah and Roman Harper.
- Your humble correspondent spent a very cold Saturday mostly at his apartment in Bogalusa, before heading in to the Daily News newsroom for the second half, to make sure that I was on hand to get the AP wire story into the Sunday edition, and get it to press. It's worth noting that at this point, LSU had just won one game in Tiger Stadium against Alabama in my lifetime. I remember being quite nervous, even though the Tigers were favored.
- Ten years and Uncle Ron's intro is smooth as ever.
- LSU had complete crap field position through the first quarter of this one, after Skyler Green returned the opening kickoff out of the endzone for all of six yards. They were never able to really get it flipped and Alabama steadily had the ball round midfield. Eventually, backup quarterback Spencer Pennington caught LSU in a blitz with the right protection and made a throw down the field to Matt Caddell. Kenneth Darby punched in a one-yard touchdown a couple of plays later.
- Pennington was still really bad though. Honestly that pass should have been six. He only completed 7-15 on the night.
- Signs of life as we open the second quarter. JaMarcus Russell hits Craig Davis for a nice gain on a crossing route, and a couple of Joseph Addai runs give LSU goal to go. Only the offensive line gives on third down, Russell is swarmed and sacked and the Tigers settle for a field goal. It was early, but after the last few weeks there was a real concern that this would be how the night went.
- Claude Wroten was really beginning to emerge as a force in the middle of the Tiger defense. The JUCO transfer finished this one with six tackles and four tackles for loss. Big play there to slow Alabama down, but the Tide would still pound Darby down the field for a field goal.
- Alley Broussard's 35-yard run would be followed by a nifty end-around to Green, keying a nice 9-play, 65-yard drive just before halftime. But again, LSU would fail to punch the ball in and settle for a field goal.
- The start to the third quarter is sadly lost here. The box score reads the opening kickoff as a nine-yarder by Ryan Gaudet. Either it was an onside kick attempt or one miserable shank, but either way the Tide were still starting with great field position, and even without the ability to move it with much consistency, they were keeping LSU deep in its own territory.
- Of course Broussard fumbles on the first play. Because again, prosperity was no fun for this team. Alabama, nursing a 10-6 lead, with the ball inside the 15. A prime opportunity to really take this game over.
- And there it is. The call that Alabama fans can point to forever whenever we say they get ‘em all. Pennington lofts a fade to Keith Brown, and Corey Webster pretty clearly gives him a shove and makes the pick. Tide fans will cling to this play as an "oh yeah, but what about that time..." counter to the infamous Patrick Peterson non-interception shitshow in 2009. Of course, they also received an actual apology from the league office the very next week. I wonder what that's like. Besides, keep in mind that there's still some 26 minutes of game time left in this one.
- Besides, what did LSU do with that pick? Drive three yards and punt.
- Still, field position was flipped, and LSU's defense had all the momentum. Alabama would gain all of 44 yards on its remaining seven possessions.
- Nice read for Lionel Turner, snuffing out the screen attempt. That was something that he struggled with often. He finished with nine tackles on the night, a very nice showing.
- Remember what I said about field position? Alabama had started three drives in LSU territory to this point. The next four positions all started inside their own 20.
- Marcus Spears with the sack fumble, Cameron Vaughn scoops and scores and the Tigers have the lead. Yeah, it was only three points but Alabama just seemed to be falling apart.
- LSU would only gain 283 yards of offense in this game, but in the fourth quarter began and the Tigers just began to wear down the Tide. Joseph Addai takes a little check-down pass, shakes Anthony Madison (I swear that guy played for Alabama for a decade, alongside Ramzee Robinson) out of his Nikes and goes 35 yards for six, effectively putting this game out of reach.
- And then Addai ices things completely with a 47-yarder on a power sweep. He finished with 145 combined rushing and receiving yards, and was starting to develop into a nice multi-purpose weapon for an offense that needed them.
- Another shanked PAT and the final score of this one was 26-10. This team converted just 80 percent of their extra-point attempts and 68 percent of their field goals. It really highlighted how fortunate the 2003 squad was that every single time a game came down to kicking, it came down to the other team making the kick.
- LSU improved to 7-2. Auburn was beyond rolling at this point. I can't remember if LSU had been mathematically eliminated, but we all accepted that there would be no return trip to Atlanta. Still, with games against pretty bad Ole Miss and Arkansas teams remaining, there was still plenty of opportunity for the Tigers to close out the season on a high note.