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Greatest Game From Every Season: 2000

1999 sucked. Y2K didn’t happen, but a shutdown bug did hit LSU’s football program, continuing a growing trend of failed hires. This time, Gerry Dinardo, who brought back the magic, pulled off his greatest feat: making the magic disappear again. LSU looked like a program on the rise to their historical standard early in his tenure, but a 4-win season in ‘98 followed up with winning just 2 of his first 10 games in ‘99 meant LSU were back in the market for a new coach.

Sights settled on Butch Davis, then on a successful run at Miami. He wasn’t budging. LSU wanted a sitting, proven head coach, but the landscape looked bone dry. Then Athletic Director Joe Dean was working his way into a second-tier of candidates: assistants and then 1-AA head coaches. It’s easy to forget that two decades ago LSU was in position to beg a successful head coach to man their program, even while paying top dollar.

Discouraged but needing to move forward in the process after a two-week standstill that followed firing Dinardo, Joe Dean received a phone call from Sean Touhy. Yes, THAT Sean Touhy. Touhy shared restaurant ownership with a little-known sports agent. His name was Jimmy Sexton.

Touhy suggested one of Sexton’s clients may be interested in LSU’s opening. That client was Nick Saban. Dean explained he hadn’t really considered Saban a viable candidate, due to his ties to Michigan State and handsome $700,000/year contract. The group met in Sexton’s Memphis home. Saban wanted to know why LSU couldn’t win. Joe Dean wanted to know if Saban was the right person to turn them into winners. Mark Emmert, then Chancellor at LSU, was sold.

Saban got a $1.2 million dollar contract, complete with incentives driving it up to $1.5 million and virtually no buyout clause. LSU got their sitting, successful head coach. And unbeknownst to everyone involved, the fortunes of the program were all about to change.

“I don’t have a philosophy that I need to wear a tie, but if it helps us win I’ll wear one every day.” - Nick Saban

LSU badly need a firm-handed leader to right the football program. Perhaps same it always was, the athletic department maintains a healthy cash flow and a rowdy bunch of wealthy cajuns willing to dole it out without regard for consequence. Left unchecked, these people helped Mack pack, and ushered LSU through some of the most godforsaken football darkness possible (for an elite collegiate power, that is). Bad hires were compounded by bad luck which were further compounded by more bad hires, which all finally culminated in the Dinardo/Saban 1-2 punch. Dinardo, of course, failed, but where he succeeded was in shifting the mentality away from the loser-talk that permeated the program through the 80s and early 90s. He made believers out of people again and he made LSU realize they have standards to uphold and meet.

Enter Saban. It’s difficult to conceptualize Saban in this era, knowing all we know now. The bonafide football legend wasn’t a superstar coach in 1999, but he was a valued commodity who spent time in the NFL under Bill Belichick, then only a renowned protege of Bill Parcells. Saban re-built Michigan State, putting his first major skin on the wall as a head coach. He came from the Don James coaching tree and Saban himself has re-iterated many times that James was one of his primary mentors in coaching. James was known for being detail-oriented and systematic. Sound familiar? It won James 4 Rose Bowls at Washington. If James created a detail-oriented and systematic model of success, Saban perfected it.

Saban arrived at an LSU not quite in shambles, but more of a strange collection of odds and ends that didn’t entirely fit together. He had freshmen all-conference LBs Bradie James and Trev Faulk. He had a WR named Josh Reed. A safety named Ryan Clark and a back-up QB named Rohan Davey that the world would soon discover. They had some good players, but very little depth. Dinardo did a pretty fine job of assembling talent, and a not so fine job of figuring out what to do with it all once it arrived on campus. That’s the group that won 3 games in 1999. That’s the group Saban inherited.

The Greatest Game in 2000: Tennessee

Coming off 3 wins, and transitioning to a new coaching staff, expectations were modest in 2000. The team started 2-0 and after opening a 10-point lead against no. 24 Auburn, on the road, LSU yielded 20 unanswered points before eventually ceding the game by a 17-point margin. They followed the loss up with what remains one of the most embarrassing losses in LSU football history, being felled by UAB, at home, 13-10. At 2-2 with a home loss to UAB, and no. 11 Tennessee, the 1998 National Champions, coming to town the next weekend, new coach Nick Saban didn’t look to have much of a future in Baton Rouge.

LSU’s ineptitude vs. Tennessee is well documented. The Vols (and Gators) were the standard bearers of the SEC throughout the late 90s and up until 2000 held a 18-4 historical record against the Tigers. The modern day equivalent would be Alabama showing up for a game at Kentucky. It was a mismatch in every way imaginable. Sure, Tennessee suffered an early season loss to Florida, but it was a narrow defeat to a top 10 team. These teams were on a different plane entirely than LSU. Did I mention LSU was starting their back-up QB?

But the Vols walked into a hornet’s nest.

The game started innocuously enough, each team notching a FG in the opening stanza. Then, LSU caught fire. Davey found Reed for a 16-yard TD. LSU followed up with a quick 3-and-out. The next drive, LaBrandon Toefield took the first handoff 74-yards to pay dirt, putting LSU up by a pair of TDs early in the 2nd quarter. The Vols answered with a FG drive, only to be spun right back around by LSU going 67-yards, capped off with another 31-yard TD to Josh Reed. LSU took the 24-6 lead into the half.

Then, LSU’s lack of depth started to show and things began to unravel. The Vols opened the 2nd half with a TD, cutting the lead to 24-12 after failing a 2pt conversion. Then followed that up with a FG, cutting the lead to just 9 points as the 3rd quarter came to a close. But unlike two weeks ago against Auburn, or the week before against UAB, this time LSU did not wilt.

Rohan-to-Reed answered again, this time with a 53-yard TD pass. At 31-15 in the 4th quarter, LSU’s lead seemed comfortable. Except that it was 2000. Remember those depth issues? Tennessee meticulously drove 92 yards on 13 plays, capping it with a score and a 2pt conversion, making it 31-23. For the first time since the early 2nd quarter, the Vols were within one possession of tying the game.

LSU eliminated less than 2 minutes from the clock before punting it back to Tennessee with 7:15 left. Tennessee promptly threw an interception to Ryan Clark on the first play. LSU only burned just under 3 minutes this time around, before punting again. Tennessee ball with 4:23 from their own 41. In what can only be described as college football in the year 2000, the Vols drove 59 yards... in 12 plays... to score. 31-29 pending a 2pt. conversion. Which, of course, they converted, because it’s Tennessee vs. LSU. LSU’s 18-point lead was finally evaporated.

With 1:30 remaining on the clock, LSU remained gallant. The Tigers drove 49 yards in 11 plays, putting K John Corbello in range for a game-winning 46-yard FG with only :02 left on the clock. The kick was blocked.

LSU took the ball first in OT and didn’t waste any time. After motioning LeBrandon Toefield out of the backfield, Davey dropped back and slung the ball over the middle of the field, perfectly in between orange-clad defenders into the waiting arms of TE Robert Royal. TD LSU. LSU fans came unglued. Fans began to climb onto the field, even with Tennessee still having a single remaining possession.

As the Vols meticulously drove 21 yards on 6 plays, the students pushed further and further onto the field, now standing on the edge of the boundaries. 4th and 3 from the LSU 4 was the Vols last chance. As QB A.J. Suggs dropped back from his shotgun position, three LSU defenders came bearing down on a blitz. Suggs retreated and fired off a pass to Eric Parker. It sailed high and was batted down by DB Damien James.

LSU wins. The fans stormed the field. The Golden Era is born.

The Contenders

45 - 38 vs. Mississippi State
30 - 28 vs. Alabama
20 - 9 @ Ole Miss

This felt like an easy choice. Drama. Stakes. Implications. This game had it all. Sure, it didn’t launch LSU to a championship, but after a porous start to the season and the Saban era, it solidified the program was heading in the right direction. It was monumentally important to Saban’s tenure to gain buy-in from the players and fans.

Both Mississippi schools were good teams in 2000 and both marked quality wins for Saban and were both closely fought contests of entirely different varieties. Bama was downright bad in 2000, but it’s always nice to beat Bama and LSU decided to make it interesting. But still, this one is upsetting the Vols to move the clock forward on LSU football.

Poll

What’s the greatest game in 2000?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Upset vs. Tennessee
    (60 votes)
  • 5%
    Shootout vs. Mississippi State
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Slugfest vs. Ole Miss
    (0 votes)
  • 15%
    Beating Alabama
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
76 votes total Vote Now