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Greatest Games from Every Season: 2004

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The highest paid coach in college football couldn’t deliver on his new contract.

The beginnings of the Nick Saban era, which ushered LSU into the Golden Age of LSU football, started with a shocking upset of Tennessee. The crowning moment would come three years later, when LSU would beat OU to claim their first National Championship since 1958. A clause in Nick Saban’s contract, which stated he must be paid at least $1 more than the highest paid coach in college football, activated. LSU made good, doing all they could to keep their star coach in Baton Rouge for good.

LSU entered 2004 knowing a rebuild was on hand. Gone were Mauck, Clayton, Lavalais, and Hill. Gone were Lionel Turner and Eric Alexander. LSU had a stud young RB named Justin Vincent and a star safety named Laron Landry. CB Corey Webster, LT Andrew Whitworth and DE Marcus Spears shocked many when they decided to return for their SR. seasons, but it was plainly evident LSU was in the midst of a rebuild. But a promising crop of freshmen, headlined by QB Jamarcus Russell and WR Early Doucet offered great promise for the future. Of course, the greatest hope was the multi-million dollar man on the sideline.

The Greatest Game From 2004: Florida

Mississippi State v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

VIDEO

LSU’s season began with a slop fest against Oregon State, where kicker Alexis Serna famously missed 3 XP in what would wind up being a 1-point LSU victory. Though it rates high on the drama factor, it was an outright bad game to watch. LSU dropped a couple spots in the AP after the performance, before traveling to Auburn to play Tuberville’s #14 ranked Tigers. That team would wind up going undefeated, and LSU certainly had them on the ropes, losing by only 1-point in a game clouded by officiating controversy. (Who would have ever thought would have happened against Auburn?). Again, we have high drama here. Again we have a sloppy, nigh unwatchable game. And this time, LSU came out on the bad end. No thanks.

The first month of LSU’s season didn’t really answer any questions to their quality. They struggled against an outmatched Oregon State team, but then nearly went on the road and beat what would wind up being a pretty special Auburn team. It all came crashing down two weeks later when LSU hit the road against the Georgia Bulldogs. LSU and Georgia played a sensational game in 2003 - one that very likely sprung LSU on their National Championship run. LSU’s loss to Auburn dropped them into the teens, while Georgia ranked 3rd nationally. Any excitement for a stellar matchup quickly faded when Georgia jumped out to a 24-point lead and never looked back. Finally, LSU’s youth truly showed through. The ugly performance vs. Oregon State, tough loss to Auburn and beatdown to Georgia suddenly had LSU’s season looking on life support. LSU seemed no closer to establishing Jamarcus Russell, who continued to share snaps with the enigmatic Marcus Randall, as full-time QB. The defense took it’s lumps against Georgia, surrendering 5 TDs to veteran QB David Greene. Star RB Justin Vincent looked nothing like the player who lit up defenses in 2003. What did the team have to hang its hat on?

You learn a lot about your favorite teams when the chips are down. One week into October, LSU had a pair of conference losses, one within the division. Not exactly the type of follow up Nick Saban hoped for after his massive contract boost. To make matters worse, the nation’s 12th ranked team, the hated Florida Gators, loomed ahead. Florida was the lone team to beat LSU in 2003 and now they welcomed a wounded LSU into Gainesville.

When the 1st quarter closed, LSU looked the part of the wounded, defeated victim. Florida took a 14-0 lead after the opening stanza, with LSU’s first four drives ending as such: Missed FG, INT, Punt, INT. Things were going well. Jamarcus Russell, who threw 2 INTs, went to the bench with an injured ankle and in came the oft-frustrating Marcus Randall. Randall was prone to moments of brilliance, but could just as easily turn in pedestrian or outright poor performances. On this day, the good Randall showed up.

Near the end of the 1st quarter, Randall orchestrated a 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted nearly 7:00 and got LSU onto the board. LSU’s momentum didn’t last long. Both teams swapped drives that failed to even amass 30 yards, before Florida cashed in on another drive, growing their lead back to 2 TDs, 21-7. Down 14 on the road, with only 1:39 left in the half, and a questionable QB, LSU would opt to cut their losses, go into the half and regroup, right? Nope. After a quick run up the middle by Joseph Addai net 9 yards, Randall completed passes of 6, 4 and 22 to get LSU to the UF 39. After a false start by LSU, a quick screen pass to Dwayne Bowe net another 15 that was aided by a personal foul, when a UF LB decided to jump kick Rudy Niswanger. LSU quickly called TO at the conclusion of the play, which the officials honored, despite the clock-stopping penalty. Saban ranted at the officials to no avail. Suddenly, LSU were sitting on the UF 15 with :18 to go in the half. Naturally, Marcus Randall, throwing an absolute bullet between two defenders, connected with freshman Early Doucet, on a slant pass for the TD to cut the lead to 7. Despite a disastrous start, LSU showed signs of life, now trailing just 7 heading into the half.

Florida started the 2nd half with the ball, but only progressed 33 yards before punting. LSU converted, driving 49 yards and adding a FG, to cut Florida’s lead to 21-17. Florida took the ball again and the LSU defense stood up again, limiting them to just 29 yards and forcing another punt. LSU took the ball and again began to drive the field before Randall made his first mistake of the night, tossing an INT. But yet again, the LSU defense stood tall. Forcing a 3-and-out with -7 yards on Florida’s next drive.

Taking the ball at the beginning of the 4th, LSU drove another 75 yards, knifing through Florida’s defense with passes and runs, before stalling out at the UF 17. LSU lined up for a FG, hoping to cut the game to a 1-point lead, but UF blocked the kick. Taking over on their own 20, Florida again stalled out after gaining only 24 yards, though successfully flipping the field with the punt. Down 4 with 8:41 remaining, LSU took over again. Again the offense found success, driving 41 yards on 10 plays, before falling short on the UF 39. With under 4 minutes to go in the game, LSU opted to punt and pin Florida deep. Burying the Gators deep proved wise, as LSU’s defense took the field needing one more great stop to give their offense a chance. They proved valiant, allowing the Gators only 9 more yards before forcing a punt, which fortuitously bounced back to midfield. With just 2:06 remaining, LSU took over needing a TD to win.

LSU opened with a handoff to Joseph Addai who rumbled and stumbled for 16 physical yards. LSU’s aggressive ground game wore the Gators down late. With the clock ticking, Randall hits a slant to Craig Davis for another 7 yards. With 2 T.O. remaining LSU quickly lined up and gave it to Addai, who found a massive hole at the LOS and hit it for another 12 yards and a 1st down. With a new set of downs at the 15 and 1:15 left on the clock, LSU lined up in the shotgun and turned to Addai again, who made good with another 6 yards to the Florida 9. On 2nd and 4 LSU stuck with the shotgun and rolled Randall left, into a sea of rushers. He cut back up field and went down at the original L.O.S., averting disaster. LSU called timeout with just :33 remaining.

Again, LSU turned to their shotgun, 3 WR look where they found so much 2nd half success. Randall motioned Doucet across the formation and took the snap. After faking the handoff into Doucet’s gut he pulled back to search his receiving options, only to find a UF defender bearing down on him. By design, RB Joseph Addai slipped out behind the defender and Randall slipped the ball past the defender into Addai in the flat. Addai turned to open space, which quickly closed by the speedy UF defense. Florida DB Cory Bailey closed in and leapt onto Addai’s back. Addai kept his legs trucking as the defender tried to spin him down. Dwayne Bowe came back and delivered a devastating crack-back block on another DB, leaving Addai a path to the EZ if he could break free.

As if in slow motion, Addai hopped and hobbled ahead, diving across the end zone to give LSU it’s first lead of the game with only :27 remaining. After a pair of incomplete passes, Chris Leak stepped back on 3rd and 10 for the game’s final play. Scrambling to his left, he found Dallas Baker for 22 yards, where he was tackled. Fittingly, the LSU defense sealed the deal.

After the crushing defeat against Georgia, LSU could have turned it in and given up on the season. But instead, despite going down by 14, LSU fought back, showing grit and toughness that sparked a 6-game win streak to finish the season. Of course, the season would end with a jaw-dropper against Iowa as outgoing Nick Saban coached his final game at LSU. Despite their best efforts, the LSU admin lost out to Saban’s NFL dreams, where he’d go on to a pair of lackluster NFL seasons. But this week, LSU showed a fortitude that made for a definitive choice of the best game of 2004.

Contenders

10 - 9 L @ Auburn
22 - 21 W vs. Oregon State
24 - 20 W vs. Troy
27 - 24 W vs. Ole Miss
30 - 25 L vs. Iowa

Plenty of close games in 2004, but they were mostly filled with disappointment. The ugliness of the Auburn and Oregon State games. The need to comeback vs. Troy and bad Ole Miss. And of course, the stunner vs. Iowa. A frustrating season to Saban’s championship campaign, even if it showed us glimpses of the dominant teams under the early years of Miles.

Poll

What’s the Greatest Game in 2004?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    W @ Florida
    (35 votes)
  • 2%
    L @ Auburn
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    W vs. Oregon State
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    W vs. Troy
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    W vs. Ole Miss
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    L vs. Iowa
    (0 votes)
46 votes total Vote Now