2009 was a major transition year for the Miles era. Following the ‘07 title run, DC Bo Pelini left for a head coaching job and Miles opted to go with internal promotion of Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory to DC. It proved disastrous, as LSU limped through the worst season of the Miles era in 2008.
Quickly realizing his error, Miles went out and made an impact hire bringing on longtime Tennessee DC John Chavis. Tennessee had fallen down a rung in the final years of Fulmer, but Chavis was as well respected as any DC in the country when Miles brought him to Baton Rouge.
LSU was also ushering in the Jordan Jefferson era. Jefferson took the QB reigns to close out 2008 and showed promise as LSU’s starter for the next several seasons. The reset was on in Baton Rouge, and fairly or not this was the first team that truly felt like Les Miles’ team. Gone were any Saban holdovers on the roster. This was a roster and coaching staff built by Les.
The Greatest Game of 2009: Georgia
There’s a kinship with Georgia that LSU shares with perhaps no other school in the conference. Our East Division sister program, if you will. Georgia and LSU’s histories strongly mirror one another, and there’s no real blood to the matchups when the teams square off. Besides, Georgia hates Florida and Auburn and that’s 2/3rds of the LSU hate trifecta.
It’s also a rare matchup. The teams have only played 30 times since 1935 and not since 2013. The big intervals between matchups always make the games feel a bit more special. If you’ve never taken in a game Between the Hedges, I highly recommend you add that to your bucket list.
And so LSU arrived in Athens in 2009. Despite a disappointing 2008, LSU began the season ranked 11th nationally. They weren’t overly impressive in the first month of the season. They put together ugly wins against Washington and Mississippi State, beating 4 unranked teams to climb to No. 4 nationally. Georgia suffered an opening weekend loss against a talented Oklahoma State team, but rebounded in a pair of shootouts against South Carolina and Arkansas before winning a narrow one against Arizona State, climbing back to 14th nationally. So the stage was set for a showdown between a pair of top 15 SEC teams.
The game started slowly. LSU would move the ball well but only hit a pair of FGs, failing to capitalize with TDs. Georgia, on the other hand, struggled to get any traction on offense. In fact, of 5 first half drives, 4 were 3 and out. The other went only 33 yards. The game went to halftime a 6 - 0 LSU lead and new DC John Chavis looked to be delivering early returns of defensive improvement.
The 3rd quarter looked like a role reversal. The LSU offense sputtered and Georgia began to find some room. Still, the Dawgs couldn’t capitalize, missing a FG. But starting midway through the 3rd, QB Joe Cox would orchestrate an 18-play, 60 yard drive, cashing it in for the game’s first TD in the 4th quarter. The teams would then trade punts on the next 4 consecutive drives before all hell broke loose.
LSU took the ball with 6:47 left to go in the game, trailing 7-6. The offense, which had totally hit the brakes in the 2nd half, suddenly found life, through the arm of Jordan Jefferson. 13 plays and 88 yards later, the Tigers cashed it in for their first TD of the game. They went for 2 but failed, marking the lead 12-7.
Georgia took the ball back and suddenly found an explosiveness not seen all afternoon, largely aided by a rare Patrick Peterson coverage bust, leaving Tavarres King open for a 46-yard gain. On 2nd and 10, Joe Cox threw a jump ball up to the incomparable A.J. Green, who was well flanked by CB Chris Hawkins. Alas, Green proved too much, going up and plucking the ball out of the air for a TD. Georgia tried for 2 themselves, and failed, leaving the Dawgs with a 1-point lead with only 1:00 to go in the game.
After Green’s TD, the referees inexplicably called a celebration penalty on the Dawgs, meaning the kickoff would be moved backward. This would prove significant, considering LSU only needed a FG to win the game. It was a stroke of fortune for LSU and an admittedly horrendous call by the refs.
Georgia kicked off and Trindon Holliday fielded the ball from the LSU 17, returning it 40 yards. To make matters worse for Georgia, an illegal formation tacked 5 more yards onto the end of the run. Suddenly, LSU was at the Georgia 38 and needing only a FG to win. Naturally, Miles played it conservatively, handing to Charles Scott on first down. Scott would barrel ahead for 5 yards before LSU would call timeout. With :54 to go, LSU was already in long FG range. There was no reason to force the issue in the passing game when a FG would win the game. Miles was clearly playing for the FG here.
The end of the game would hearken back to the end of the first half, when the offense failed to capitalize on quality field position. After running the ball with Charles Scott on 3rd and 1, LSU failed to get a play off on 4th down, potentially leaving 3 points on the field.
Coming out of the timeout, LSU lined up in shotgun on 2nd and 5. With only 1 timeout remaining, LSU needed only a few yards to be in comfortable FG range. Naturally, Miles turned to Charles Scott again. Scott would find a hole in the left side, but it quickly closed as LB Marcus Dowtin attacked the gap. After vicious impact, Scott emerged standing tall, stepping out of an attempted arm tackle, regaining his balance and finding space behind the blocks of Kadron Boone and Richard Dickson as he scampered to pay dirt.
Georgia would have one last gasp, which would end in a Joe Cox INT by Georgia native Perry Riley. In a game of slow building drama, it ended with pure fireworks. This was the best game of 2009 and one of the best of the Miles era.
W vs. Arkansas 33 - 30 (OT)
W vs. Auburn 31 - 10
I don’t think there’s much competition here. The Georgia game is easily the best game of the season. LSU suffered close losses to Florida and Alabama, as well as the debacle against Ole Miss and then the sloppy bowl game. But going on the road and beating Georgia, in dramatic fashion? That’s an easy choice.