With the final regular season home game of 2004 looming, LSU was actually on the verge of accomplishing something memorable -- the first undefeated regular season in Tiger Stadium since 1972.
Still, the mood surrounding the program was pretty dour. The games were ugly and the Tigers just couldn't find any consistency. What's more, with Dave Wannestedt out as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, speculation had begun that Nick Saban would be first on their list. Anybody that had been paying attention knew that Saban would eventually try his hand in the NFL, but the program wasn't even a full calendar year removed from a national title. The idea of starting new with a new head coach wasn't something anybody was really ready for.
But at the same time, nobody was really happy. Least of all Saban. LSU had a damn good defense, with players like Marcus Spears and Corey Webster in the middle of All-American seasons and talents like Claude Wroten, Kyle Williams, LaRon Landry and Glenn Dorsey beginning to tap into their potential. The offense, however, was a source of constant frustration. Marcus Randall and Jamarcus Russell were still rotating at the quarterback spot, with neither asserting himself into the job full time. Some thought Saban should just role with Russell and suffer the growing pains, but he didn't seem interested. At the time, some friends close to the athletic department would pass on depressing reports. Saban seemed torn between pushing the freshmen to step up and take control of the team and the seniors to maintain control, and in the process was making both miserable. There was a concern he was close to losing some of the team.
But with a 3-6 Ole Miss team coming to Tiger Stadium, nobody was particularly worried.
- The Rebels had cratered in what would be David Cutcliffe's final season. That 3-6 record had featured losses to Memphis, AT Wyoming (seriously, they went TO Wyoming) and blowouts versus Alabama, Auburn and an Arkansas squad that only won five games themselves. The wins? Three-point squeakers versus Vandy and South Carolina along with a seven-point win over Arkansas State.
- As for your humble correspondent, football playoffs had begun and given me a light Friday. That allowed me to grab a press pass and make the drive into Baton Rouge. My parents were out of town, so my tailgating was a bit limited, but it would be the only game I'd get to see live that season. And even then, I had to leave at halftime to make it back to the Bogalusa Daily News newsroom and finish off the sports section.
**Forgive the quality of the video, but it's the only one of this game available on Youtube. And honestly, with a major record falling in this game I just didn't want to leave it off. Thanks to firmianasimplex for having it loaded, along with a couple other classics.**
- How's that for a video start? Alley Broussard breaking a 44-yarder on third-and-one to set up a 1-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive. The Tigers jump up and this one looks like it'll be a laugher.
- One of my distinct memories from that first drive - Russell (who got the start) juuuust missing Early Doucet on a second-and-one, play-action bomb just before that big Broussard run.
- To Ole Miss' credit, the Rebels responded with an 11-play, 60-yard field goal drive. Ethan Flatt got the start at quarterback, but redshirt frosh Robert Lane came on in relief came on and converted a big third-and-long. Lane was a prize quarterback recruit out of Neville High School in Monroe in 2003. LSU needed two QBs that year but were recruiting Lane, Matt Flynn (who committed early) and Jamarcus Russell all pretty hard -- and many believed they'd take all three. But Lane was also expected to be a relatively high baseball draft pick, and eventually there was a tipping point. The Lanes didn't want to be a part of a three-QB class, but Saban wouldn't commit to a prospect that wasn't certain to make it to campus. Eventually, all parties went their separate ways and Lane wound up at Ole Miss, with LSU obviously nabbing Flynn and Russell.
In retrospect, if this melodrama played out today the reaction would be far, FAR more meltdown-ish. Les Miles spurning a big-time, in-state quarterback prospect for two out-of-state kids would not go over well in this era of 24-7/365 recruiting coverage and social media.
- A couple of Russell passes help to set up one hell of a powerful one-yard touchdown by Broussard. He tries to go over the top, gets throw back but manages to spin out of the pile and drive his way in. LSU's up 14-3 at the end of a quarter, and it seems like this game is going according to plan, right?
- But remember what I've said about prosperity and this bunch? Ole Miss returned the ensuing kickoff to the LSU 35, and picked up an extra 10 yards on a penalty. With the ball at LSU's 25, Lane drove the Rebels inside the 10 to set up another field goal. They just weren't going away.
- Penalties were a big theme in this game. LSU had 10 for 76 yards, and that helped make up for holding the Rebels to just 5-15 on third down.
- Lane strings together another scoring drive, taking it in himself on a quarterback draw. Lane ran for 43 yards on 14 carries, losing another 16 on sacks. But he only passed for 23 yards and this would prove to be a high-water mark for Lane. Within a few years, Ed Orgeron moved him to tight end, and his football career ultimately ended without remark (ditto for baseball).
- Marcus Randall would come on the next drive and helped string together a 14-play drive. Broussard was beginning to assert himself, with 39 yards. But with two false starts and a holding penalty short-circuited things in the red zone, forcing LSU to settle for a field goal and maintaining the Rebel momentum. And it only increased when the Tiger defense took its foot off the gas on the next possession. Ole Miss would pick up another field goal before the half and keep the game close. Yours truly headed out at halftime, worried but still confident that with the running game really going LSU would find a way to get out of this.
- And then...a lazy throw from Russell, who passed for just 66 yards on the night, and the Ole Miss pick-six, with a two-point conversion from Lane and now Ole Miss has its first lead. Fun, right?
- Seriously, look at that two-point play. LSU had absolutely no respect for Lane's passing ability, loaded up the line of scrimmage and STILL got blown off the ball on an option run.
- Yeah, it was only a touchdown lead, but when LSU went three-and-out on the very next drive, there was a real sense of dread that the drive back to Bogalusa would NOT be fun listening to this on the radio.
- Next drive? A substitution penalty turned a 42-yard kick into a 47-yarder, which Chris Jackson missed.
- After that and I imagine quite the shouting match between Saban and Jimbo Fisher, LSU scratched together a field goal drive on five runs. Good thing Broussard would break a 58-yarder on the drive.
- LSU began focusing more on Broussard and Joseph Addai, and on the next drive picked up the go-ahead and final touchdown. The two combined for 66 yards and Broussard picked up his third touchdown of the night to give the Tigers the lead. But with well over 10 minutes left, there's no reason to feel safe.
- A 53-yard run by Addai would only lead to a missed field goal by Ryan Gaudet, but the defense would hold Ole Miss to eight yards on their final three drives. Jessie Daniels' interception sealed it and LSU held on.
- Alley Broussard would set the LSU single-game rushing mark with 250 yards. I remember being very surprised that neither Kevin Faulk nor Charles Alexander had ever topped that mark. And what's more, Addai tacked on 107 on his own. All-in-all, the Tigers rushed for 360 yards, but had to hold on for dear life against a three-win team. 2004 y'all! While this wouldn't quite be Broussard's last hurrah, a knee injury before the 2005 season would limit his further contributions. It's a great "What If" to wonder how he might have done under Les Miles.