It’s difficult to explain the Les Miles era. In year one, coming off a disappointing final season under Saban, Miles showed up and delivered and 11-2 campaign that half the fanbase somehow deemed disappointing but understandable. History will remember 2005 as a season ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, as a clearly gassed Tigers team gave out to Tennessee in a bizarre Monday night game. But Katrina was reason enough to believe Miles was unfairly cursed in year one and both losses could easily be explained away by it’s repercussions.
Entering 2006, LSU somehow carried modest expectations despite having an absolutely loaded roster. Believe it or not, LSU entered the season with QB questions. That never happens in Baton Rouge.
In 2005, Russell had been good enough to take the starting job, but not so overwhelming that fans were clamoring for another season of his QB play. Add to that, Matt Flynn QB’d LSU’s destruction of Miami in the Peach Bowl. LSU plastered a Miami team that lost 2 games by a combined 7 points during the season, by 37 points. And then they whupped their ass in the tunnels after the game. It would be the true demise of Miami’s excellent run and Matt Flynn had captained that offense, efficiently, posting 13/22 for 196 yards and a pair of TD passes. The real stars were the LSU backs, rolling up 272 rushing yards on 56 carries. Joe Addai is still picking Miami defenders out of his cleats.
That was the team rolling into 2006. Good will abounded about the team’s prospects, but with an uncertain QB situation, fan expectations hit a ceiling. SEC contenders but maybe not national title contenders? In short, it was basically every season under Les Miles: We should be pretty good if we can find a quarterback.
The Greatest Game of 2006: Tennessee
LSU’s season started with a bludgeoning of Louisiana-Lafayette, in a typical preseason game. But the real heat turned up the next week when LSU welcomed Arizona to town and gave them the exact same treatment. Sure, Arizona wasn’t a great team, but they weren’t an awful one and LSU treated them like they treat the members of the University of Louisiana System.
Thus no. 6 LSU walked into Jordan Hare Stadium, where only well officiated, completely normal games happen, to challenge no. 3 Auburn. This felt like a playoff game a full decade before the playoffs existed. Naturally, we watched a highly competitive, well officiated game with absolutely no controversy whatsoever. Auburn won 7-3 but no one really left that game feeling either team was truly superior. If anything, it felt like either team may well be the best team in the country.
LSU took their pent up frustration and unloaded it the next two weeks on a helpless Tulane (lol Greenies) and an equally helpless Mississippi State. The State performance was a disappointment, seeing how every other LSU victory came by a margin of 42 points and they only beat State by 31. Ho hum.
And then, LSU took to the road again. This time to square off against the Florida Gators, ranked no. 5 nationally under second-year coach Urban Meyer. LSU and Florida played a barnburner in 2005 and it was easy to see the burgeoning rivalry between Meyer and Miles into year 2. LSU took an early lead before Florida got on the board on the back of young backup QB Tim Tebow. A goal line fumble, a bad spot and a Jamarcus Russell INT gave the Gators all they needed to create separation. Florida would win 23-10 and suddenly LSU was sporting 2 losses after the first weekend in October.
This was really right at the beginning of peak “ESS EEE CEE!! ESS EEE CEE!! ESS EEE CEE!!!” pride, but even losing to a pair of top 10 teams, LSU’s season looked shot. So just as they did after the Auburn loss, LSU picked themselves up and took all their frustrations out on a couple of outmatched opponents, squashing Kentucky and then Fresno State. And just like after the Auburn loss, LSU was staring down another road game against a top 10 SEC opponent. This time, the dreaded Tennessee Volunteers.
By 2006, the Vols weren’t the force they once were in the SEC, coming off a disappointing 5 win season in 2005. Still, they had back-to-back 10-win seasons in ‘03 and ‘04 and and the 2006 were 7-1 with only a 1-point loss to Florida on the ledger. 2005 looked more like the exception than the rule before the Fulmer era truly wore itself out. Those 2006 Vols were loaded with talent. Erik Ainge was a JR QB completing 67% of his passes and throwing 19 TDs that season. Their RB was a middle tier SEC back you may have heard of named Arian Foster. They had Robert Meachem at WR and players like Jerrod Mayo, Turk McBride and Justin Harrell on defense. This was a pretty loaded Tennessee team that stroked a top 15 Cal, who were lead by Marshawn Lynch and beat no. 9 Georgia in Athens, so they weren’t just beating up on lower-tier opponents.
LSU clawed back to no. 13 nationally and there was a palpable feeling of not really knowing what to expect from this LSU team. Their victories clearly illustrated they were a cut above your average college team, but they had also lost their only two games against ranked opponents. Russell had played well, throwing 15 TDs to 4 INTs, but 3 of those picks came against Florida and while he didn’t throw any picks vs. Auburn, he completed less than 60% of his passes and didn’t throw any TDs. It was an open question whether he could thrive against a quality opponent.
The game started slowly. LSU’s best drive ended in a missed fg. Otherwise, the teams swapped a couple punts after short drives. Midway through the quarter, Russell was sacked and fumbled, to be recovered by LSU. But the real news is that the beleaguered QB went down injured. Flynn came in and took a series, mostly handing off to Alley Broussard, before taking a sack himself. LSU punted. Tennessee took the ball and Dorsey sacked Erik Ainge, injuring him in the process. The Vols punted again.
With 5:00 to go in the 1st, Russell returned, clearly a bit worse for wear. LSU quickly fell to 3rd and 7, looking to be heading to punt again. Then Russell found Bowe for 16 yards and a conversion to jump start the LSU O. A handful of plays later LSU worked themselves into a 3rd and 20, again looking to be heading to punting. Again Russell delivered, this time connecting with Bowe for a 25-yard conversion to get LSU to the Tennessee 35. Two plays later, LSU was again in 3rd and long, this time needing 15. This time, Russell would come up short, only connecting with Doucet for 14 yards to end the 1st quarter.
Facing a 4th and 1 at the Tennessee 26, we saw vintage Les, as he opted to go for it. Bruising Alley Broussard picked up 3, keeping the drive alive. The next play, Russell found Buster Davis for 6, putting LSU up a TD in the early moments of the 2nd quarter.
Jonathan Crompton came into the game for Tennessee, for the injured Ainge. Unlike Russell, Ainge would not return.
Both teams swapped punts again before Tennessee put together an 80-yard, game-tying TD drive. LSU would take the ball back and drive to the Tennessee 33-yard line before Russell threw an INT. Tennessee capitalized, turning that into 3 points, for a 10-7 lead heading into the half.
LSU looked capable but inconsistent in the 1st half. Their road woes seemed to be following them to Knoxville. But at least they would start the 2nd half with the ball. After a short run from Keiland Williams, Russell promptly threw his 2nd INT of the game, this time a pick 6, giving Tennessee a 10-point lead. It now seemed certain LSU was doomed on the road in 2006. It was all happening again.
But, LSU didn’t fold. The next drive, they took the ball and marched 77 yards in 10 plays before Russell found Bowe for his 2nd TD, cutting their lead back to 3. After a quick 3 and out, LSU took the ball back again and immediately drove 52 yards, with Keiland Williams punching it in from the UT 7 to give LSU a 21-17 lead.
When the Vols take over, they drive 9 plays and 52 yards, leading into the 4th quarter, but the drive ends when kicker James Wilhoit misses a 46-yard FG. LSU takes the ball back and again starts driving, going 9 plays and 47 yards before Russell throws his 3rd INT of the game, this one returned to the Tennessee 27. Fortunately Crompton bailed LSU out, throwing an INT of his own to Darry Beckwith. Two plays later, LSU turned it over again, this time on a Dwayne Bowe fumble.
The Vols capitalized immediately, as Crompton dropped back and unleashed a deep ball just before Tyson Jackson could get to him, dropping a 54-yard bomb right above the leaping arms of Laron Landry and in front of corner Jonathan Zenon. Vols took the lead back 24-21.
Not to be outdone, LSU took the ball back with 7:23 to go and orchestrated one of the most epic drives in LSU football history. It started in auspiciously, with a -1 yard rush by Keiland Williams. On 2nd down, Russell found Doucet for 12. After an incomplete pass and an LSU timeout, LSU was at their own 31 with 5:30 minutes to go. On 2nd and 10, Russell scrambled for 11 yards. Remember, he was hobbled early in the game after a rough sack. This was downright heroic effort. Next, they turned to Holliday, who ripped it for 14 yards. Then a short completion to Doucet, a short run by Keiland and another short run by Doucet put LSU at 4th and 3 from the UT 37. Nearing FG range, Miles had a decision to make, but he opted to go for it. Then Herman Johnson committed a false start, entirely eliminating any lingering hope for a long FG. Only 2:15 remained.
Now 4th and 8 from the UT 42, and Neyland is coming unhinged. The crowd disrupts the offense and Russell, clearly frustrated, calls LSU’s 2nd timeout.
Russell dropped back, the OL cleanly picked up the blitz, giving him plenty of time, and he found Doucet for 8 yards. LSU quickly lined up again and this time Russell turned to Doucet again, this time on a quick bubble screen for another 11. LSU lined up again, letting the seconds tick now that they sat comfortably in FG range. Russell handed off to Hester for one of his patented inside runs, that looked like a no gain but suddenly turned into 9 when he refused to quit moving his legs. As the clocked ticked past 1:00 remaining, LSU sat at the UT 14. Moving at a comfortable pace, they handed off again, this time to Keiland Williams, who picked up 7, now 1st and Goal from the UT 7.
The clock ticked past :30. Russell dropped back but clear confusion on the playcall had Russell bailing on the play quickly, scrambling to his right to try and find an open man. As the Tennessee pass rush bore down on him, Russell launched it to safety out of the back of end zone. 2nd and Goal with :20 remaining.
From the shotgun, Russell takes the snap on a designed rollout right. Not finding his target, he looks to scramble, before planting his foot and leaping toward the end zone windmill style. Remember, bum leg from earlier. This was edging toward a mythic performance, even with the trio of INTs. Unfortunately, Russell’s leap would be for naught. He was ruled out at the 4.
Calmly, LSU lines up in Shotgun again on 3rd and Goal. Russell takes the snap and scans left, working through his progression. Not finding his primary targets, he moves up and to the left in the pocket, resetting his feet before throwing an absolute dart to Early Doucet in the middle of the endzone. Touchdown LSU with only :09 remaining. Comeback complete. The nightmares in Knoxville were finally over.
L 7 - 3 @ No. 3 Auburn
W 28 - 14 vs. Alabama
W 31 - 26 @ No. 5 Arkansas
W 41 - 14 vs. No. 11 Notre Dame
The UT game was a bit uglier than I remembered, but at the time, it felt magical watching Russell work. This was truly his breakout performance, even with the 3 INTs. It felt 100% like LSU couldn’t win this game without Russell heroics and he delivered. Several good games this season, as it was the precursor to the great 2007 team. I think the Arkansas game might be the other top contender, but I docked it points for it being a meaningless game for the Hogs. Beating Bama was fun, but not only were they bad, they also had to vacate all of their wins from that season. Of course, obliterating Brady Quinn, Charlie Weis and Notre Dame was a blast too.
Who ya got?
What’s the Greatest Game of 2006?
This poll is closed
Beating Tennessee on the road
Losing to Auburn in a nail biter
Beating Bama, always and forever
Upsetting the Hogs to close the season
Smashing Notre Dame