Hello, everyone. I’m back in advance of LSU’s Citrus Bowl versus Notre Dame to share with you a tale of woe from LSU’s last tangle with the Fighting Irish. By LSU standards, 2014’s 8-5 campaign was dismal. The recurring problems of the Les Miles era evolved into plagues, as an inept passing offense and suspect secondary squandered a ridiculous amount of NFL talent. The (Franklin American Mortgage, okay?) Music City Bowl looked like a great opportunity to end the season on a high note for a multitude of reasons. LSU would be able to showcase a loaded freshman class now with 12 games of experience under their belts, and cap off the glorious downslide of a Notre Dame team who had lost four out five games after being ranked fifth in the country in mid-October. The game did not end as LSU fans had hoped, so many have nasty memories of that game. But my experience watching LSU lose was more painful than most, so buckle up.
Setting the Stage: LSU
First, a little more background on these two teams’ seasons. LSU went 8-4 following a 10-3 campaign the prior year. Obviously, losing more games than the year before is a step backwards, but it’s hard to put into words the whiplash fans experienced going from the 2013 LSU offense to the 2014 LSU offense. 2013 featured Zach Mettenberger throwing for 3,082 yards, 22 TDs and a 64.9 completion percentage in 12 games. Jeremy Hill bucked the recent trend of LSU’s backfield being by committee by rushing for 1,401 yards, with solid rotational guys in Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. Also, there were some guys named Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry who caught balls.
We probably should have been filled with dread over losing all of those guys sans Magee and Hilliard, but we were too blinded by the hype of the 2014 recruiting class featuring Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre, Brandon Harris, Davon Godchaux, Trey Quinn, D.J. Chark, Trey Lealaimatafao, Will Clapp, John Battle, Russell Gage, Sione Teuhema, Ed Paris, Travonte Valentine, Cameron Gamble and Clifton Garrett.
Yeah, uh… mixed results for sure.
While the young guys flashed their potential from time to time, the season is mostly remembered for the trials and tribulations of Anthony Jennings at QB. He finished the year with a completion percentage of 48.9! FORTY-EIGHT POINT NINE!!! He did this even with games against Sam Houston State, ULM and New Mexico State to pad his stats. Yeah, there was a whole Brandon Harris thing in there, but I’m really not in the mood to get into all that. Despite the struggles, LSU had some fantastic wins that season, starting with a wild comeback in the opener against Wisconsin, who forgot they had Melvin Gordon in the second half. Another one of the crazy wins was a shooto- /rubs eyes/ /squints/ a shootout in Gainesville against Jeff Driskel… huh. Probably the most fond memory from this year was a 10-7 win over the third-ranked, undefeated, perfectly legal and law-abiding Ole Miss Rebels. It’s either that or Leonard Fournette committing the first of about seven murders during his time as a Tiger.
The four regular season losses in 2014 were all extremely painful for different reasons each time. After a promising 4-0 start, an upstart quarterback named Dak Prescott led Mississippi State into Tiger Stadium and just SPANKED us. We then talked ourselves into Brandon Harris and promptly suffered the worst loss of the Miles era. A three-game winning streak got our hopes up for Alabama again. Boy, were we naive. Remember that? Believing we would beat Bama with Anthony Jennings at QB? Bless our hearts. At least we finished the season stro- oh wait nope, we got shut out in Fayetteville. Swell. Splendid. Terrific. Cool. Our annual win over the Aggies capped our season at 8-4, but you already knew all of that. Let’s see what Notre Dame was up to all that time.
Setting the Stage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016, after being ran- dammit, wrong year. I always do that. Notre Dame started 2014 ranked #17, with a lot of intrigue around starting QB Everett Golson returning after being suspended a whole year for academic reasons. Golson started much of Notre Dame’s 12-0 campaign in 2012 before they were destroyed by that freaking team. The Irish kicked off 2014 with a slew of blowouts against Rice, Michigan, Purdue and Syracuse before dramatic wins over Stanford and UNC lifted them to #5 in the AP Poll ahead of a trip to Tallahassee. This was one of those games that text can’t do justice, so here’s the sparknotes if you don’t have time to watch the full game on replay:
Man, college football is awesome.
The Irish beat Navy in a high-scoring game the next week before the wheels completely fell off. They were throttled by 11th-ranked Arizona State 55-31. The Sun Devils picked Golson off four times and returned two for touchdowns. They followed this with HOME losses to 5-7 Northwestern and pre-Lamar Jackson Louisville before heading west again, only to be drubbed by Southern Cal, 49-14. Golson was benched early in the game for Malik Zaire, who would take the reigns into the bowl game. This team was in complete free-fall, and looked like a perfect punching bag for LSU to beat up on. But there’s one more part of the story before we get to the actual game.
Setting the Stage: Evan
The date and matchup of the game was announced Dec. 7, sometime in the third quarter of a dreadful Saints loss to the Panthers that was so bad, I was looking forward to the bowl reveal to distract me from the game. I was excited when I saw we would play Notre Dame, knowing their defense would help usher in the golden era of Leonard Fournette. But after a minute or two, I realized the game was being played Dec. 30 at 2:30 p.m… just a few hours after I was scheduled to have my wisdom teeth removed.
This was my junior year of high school, so my mom scheduled the surgery over Christmas break, ensuring I wouldn’t miss any school during recovery. Of course, this was months in advance of us knowing when and where LSU’s bowl game would be, so I was stuck with a pretty busy Tuesday. Even though I wasn’t necessarily nervous about the surgery, it made me less excited for the game. I arrived at 8 a.m. for my surgery. My mom is a dentist, so she is very familiar with wisdom teeth removals. My surgery was completed in 20 minutes, which my mom confirmed is absurd. I woke up with an extremely numb mouth, but didn’t mind because I was being wheeled out of the clinic, back into the world to watch an exciting LSU game.
I snapchatted almost every one of my friends to tell them the surgery went well even though they were all sleeping and didn’t care. I kept asking my mom how long until the game started for the whole 20-minute ride home. Once home, I crashed until a little before kickoff.
Upon waking up, all excitement for the game was immediately replaced with mind-numbing pain. My gums felt like they had just bench-pressed 300 pounds, and the only thing distracting me from it was the taste of blood. I took Advil and prayed for its relief to be swift. My pain had not subsided by kickoff. The game did not care.
The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl began with a Trent Domingue touchback. The Irish then trotted out Malik Zaire for his first career start. I hadn’t followed much of the late-season Notre Dame drama besides the fact they were losing a lot, so I was surprised when Everett Golson wasn’t starting. When I say I was surprised, I mean that I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I wonder what happened to Golson.” In a normal situation, I would’ve said that out loud to my dad, or pulled out my phone to Google it myself. What I did in this situation was lay there motionless, looking at the screen with my mind aflutter and my body too ravaged by pain to search for the answers I desired.
Malik Zaire led the team down the field pretty methodically for a game-opening touchdown to Will Fuller. Anthony Jennings responded with the LSU special: Run-Run-Incomplete Pass-Punt. Zaire continued to gash the defense for most of the second drive. Part of me wants to say the Chavis drama had begun brewing before kickoff, but I can’t find anything to verify that. Either way, we now know he was calling this game in DGAF mode, so maybe that explains this game. At least this year we don’t have to worry about coordinator drama, am I ri-
/off-screen assistant hands me note card/
The gashing of the LSU defense stopped temporarily in the second drive when 19-year-old Jamal Adams had had enough of that shit and blew up a Zaire keeper on 4th and 1 for a loss of 4. LSU capitalized on the stop in beautiful fashion: An 8-play, 76-yard touchdown drive with none of that passing foolishness. Facing a 3rd and 5 from the 8-yard line, we PITCHED the ball to Fournette, who made a cut and took it into the endzone. My dad clapped and celebrated the beautiful display of America’s greatest sport being played the way its founders intended, but I remained motionless on the couch, my mind shackled by my body, unable to express the joy my heart was experiencing.
On the ensuing drive, Notre Dame put Everett Golson back in because… sure? Golson missed on his first two passes, but a couple of runs got the Irish close to midfield where they faced a 3rd and 8. The pocket collapsed on Golson, who seemed way too casual about how much pressure he was facing, until at the *very* *last* second he fired to a wide open receiver who made a move and took the ball deep into LSU territory. After two runs set up a 3rd and 2, Brian Kelly put Zaire back in, probably just so the column written about this game in three years could be a little longer. Zaire ran for the first, then for the touchdown on the very next play to give the Irish a 14-7 lead. Great, we need Anthony Jennings to lead us through a shootout for a third time this season. There’s no way lightning strikes three times. Clearly our defense can’t hang with this offense, so we’re about to be toast.
Lightning did not strike. Leonard did.
One of Leonard Fournette’s conditions during recruiting was that he would be given the chance to return kickoffs. I believe he was in and out as kick returner throughout the year, but he never really broke any big ones. Fournette fielded the kick right on the goal-line: his left foot in the endzone, his right foot outside of it. He started sprinting to the right and there was no stopping him. At this point, my dad was going nuts, as was I... internally. This was the closest I came to my emotional state overpowering and usurping my physical state. I wanted to jump and scream and fist-pump and smile, but all I could muster was saying in a mildly loud voice, “Oh wow.”
The Leonard Fournette era had arrived, and the only emotion I could produce was “Oh wow.” It really hit me then how miserable it was to watch a game in this state. Much of the rest of the game didn’t matter to me because I was upset that LSU couldn’t have been picked for the Liberty Bowl the day before.
Notre Dame went down the field for another touchdown in 10 plays, leaving LSU 6:12 to tie the game before halftime. A series of runs with a Desean Smith 17-yard catch thrown in gave LSU 1st and goal at the 5 with 30 seconds left. Jennings was sacked on first down, scrambled for four yards and second, then threw to John Diarse on third, who came up a yard short of the goal-line.
If you’re an LSU fan and you weren’t expecting a fake here, I’m not sure what to tell you. The genius of Les Miles’ trickery paid off once again as LSU tied the game up right before halft- oh you gotta be kidding me.
That’s a touchdown. Maybe we should just save the fakes for Florida.
At least we got the ball out of halftime. Fournette's running as well as he ever has, so maybe he can lead on a long drive to tie th- WAIT WHAT THE HECK A 75-YARD TOUCHDOWN PASS ON THE FIRST PLAY OF THE HALF??????
I’m being a little over-dramatic here. As bad as Anthony Jennings was, he had an amazing ability to stumble ass-backwards into long touchdown passes. He threw 11 touchdowns in 2014. That 75-yarder to Diarse was still only the third-longest of the year behind 80- and 94-yarders to Travin Dural. Two of those three did not look like they were drawn up to be touchdowns, but it just somehow happened that way.
LSU’s defense began to clamp down on Zaire, who began to show he was not much of a passer. A fumble on the exchange between Jennings and Fournette ended up being rather inconsequential as it was sandwiched between two Notre Dame punts. LSU got the ball back on its own 11, and Leonard struck for a third time.
Still in a heap of pain, I at least was filled with inspiring hope. Our running back was about to win a game all by his damn self, and we got to have him for two more years. The pain that plagued me then would not survive for long. I’m referring to both the pain of watching LSU in 2014 and the pain of my bleeding gums.
After three short runs, Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise exploded for a 50-yard touchdown, a gut-punch LSU would never recover from. Their last three drives consisted of a three-and-out, a blocked field goal and another punt. Zaire then led the Irish on a 14-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a field goal as time expired.
If we’re speaking literally, this was the most painful sporting event I’ve ever endured. From an emotional standpoint, it was frustrating, obviously, but it was a bowl game, so whatever. I would go on to spend most of my recovery week watching bowl games and the Pelicans, which was about everything I could hope for while stuck on a couch. If you’re an LSU fan, I’m sure the Music City Bowl was painful for you, but it was probably more painful for me. So here’s to hoping we lay waste to the Irish to kick off 2018.
A1 Banger of the Week
I was going to use a song from a great artist from Orlando since that’s where the Citrus Bowl is being played, but I discovered something wild. Did you know that the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC are BOTH from Orlando? That’s crazy! I don’t want to spark a debate about which band is better, and I also don’t want to use a song by Matchbox Twenty, so l’ll use an A1 Banger from Indiana. Happy New Year, everyone.