2001 may well be the dawn of the Golden Era of LSU football, but it’s easy to forget that sandwiched between the Rohan-to-Reed connection and ‘03 National Title winners was a disappointing 2002 campaign. Davey graduated and Reed went pro. Trev Faulk went pro too, which proved the wrong decision after he wasn’t selected in the 2002 NFL Draft. Gone too were Jarvis Green, Howard Green and Robert Royal, all drafted into the NFL. Saban had a rebuild on his hands, but not a major one at that.
Returning was Bradie James and an emerging Chad Lavalais. Also, a pair of sophomores you may recognize: Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill. QB Matt Mauck presented hope, after his stunning performance in the SEC Championship against Tennessee, subbing for an injured Rohan Davey. And LSU had a veteran offensive line with Rob Sale, Stephen Peterman and Rodney Reed and a talented RB in Domanick Davis and LaBrandon Toefield. Sounds like a sure fire 10-game winner on paper. Until your QB gets hurt.
The Greatest Game of 2002: Florida
LSU dropped the opening weekend vs. Virginia Tech when they couldn’t muster enough offense to beat a talented Hokies team. It would be the last regular season, out-of-conference game LSU would lose for 13 years. The Hokies would go on to win 10 games in 2002, so nothing to be too upset about in a tough environment on the road. LSU would rally to win four in a row heading into Florida week, the Zook edition.
The Greatest Game of 2002: Kentucky
Look, we kicked the shit out of Florida and that is downright delicious, but there’s no way in hell you can pick any other game from 2002. And let’s just get this the hell out of the way right now, yeah, it’s Kentucky. So what.
Everyone knows where this is leading, so let’s take a little bit of a look back to what got us here. That aforementioned Florida game turned out be a turning point, in a bad way, for LSU, when Matt Mauck went down injured while still taking snaps late in the 4th quarter of a beatdown. To this day, it remains one of the most head scratching decisions of any LSU season in history. LSU was head by nearly 30 points with under 10 minutes to play and the starting QB, who held the success of LSU’s season in his right arm, is still in the game running draw plays. Not the brightest moment for Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher.
And thus began the Marcus Randall era. Randall was a perplexing QB during his LSU career. He flashed moments of absolute brilliance that were quickly marred by moments of utter ineptitude. He never fully took the reigns of the LSU starting QB gig, always splitting time or serving as a backup the rest of the way. But it’s easy to see the appeal. He was athletic and had a gigantic arm that offered a plethora of options in the passing game. Unfortunately, his accuracy and decision making suffered. Randall found himself caught between eras that would have better maximized his talents and instead was shoe horned into being a “Jimbo Fisher” type QB, to mixed, at best, results.
He played well enough vs. South Carolina, averaging 8.0 yards a passing attempt, chipping in 39 rushing yards and a TD on the ground. This came ahead of showdown at Jordan Hare against a reeling Auburn team that had just lost back-to-back games. LSU showed up and Auburn kicked the ever-living shit out of them. Randall played miserably, tossing 4 INTs. It was an ugly affair.
So that’s the lead. LSU sat at 6-2 and ranked 16th heading into the Kentucky game. But everyone knew they weren’t the same team without Matt Mauck. They were volatile. And the Kentucky game was a perfect exhibition of that. It’s easy to forget that Kentucky were on a bit of a run leading to this game. The Wildcats were 6-3 themselves, and Guy Morriss legitimately had people believing he was doing things in Lexington.
Most notably, they had a rotund QB named Jared Lorenzen. Affectionately known as the Round Mound of Touchdown, Lorenzen stood at 6’4”, 300 pounds and looked more like he should be blocking for the guy throwing the ball than actually throwing the ball. And in 2002 he was on absolute fire. He threw 20 TDs to just 3 INTs, and nearly 1,700 yards passing. Things were exciting in Lexington and springing an upset over LSU was just the type of victory they needed to launch the program to the next level.
Kentucky came out swinging, connecting on a 43-yard TD pass midway through the 1st quarter. The lead would hold into the 2nd quarter, when LSU would take the lead on a pair of long passing plays from Randall to speedster Devery Henderson, in what would prove to be a delightful bit of foreshadowing. First, a nifty inside shovel pass that Henderson housed with his track-speed and the next was an ill-advised dart thrown into double coverage, that Henderson plucked while falling backward into the endzone.
The game would go to half with LSU leading 14-7 and the 3rd quarter opened with a similar level of domination by LSU. On their first drive of the 3rd quarter, Joe Addai busted free on a toss left for a 63-yard scamper to put LSU up by a pair of TDs.
From there, LSU failed to ever put the Wildcats away, even after forcing a fumble on Kentucky’s next drive, first by punting after a five play, 21-yard drive and then, after going three and out, having their punt blocked putting Kentucky deep into LSU territory. Kentucky capitalized, needing only eight yards to score, cutting the lead to 21-14.
LSU took the ball back with just under four minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, bleeding the drive into the 4th quarter, needing a 3rd and 4 to convert. Randall couldn’t get the yards and LSU settled for a FG, moving the lead back to 24-14. Then things went ham.
Kentucky took the kickoff and returned it 30 yards to start at their own 32. Lorenzen then found Jared Boone on a post route, dropping the ball right over the head of Randall Gay, who failed to turn around on defense, for a 25-yard TD. Suddenly the Wildcats were an XP away from making this a single point game. Naturally, they biffed the XP attempt so the lead sat at 24-20 LSU.
Kentucky cut the lead, but Devery Henderson remained on a single-handed mission to destroy them, returning the kickoff 38 yards. The LSU offense didn’t back up his charge, quickly going three and out. Fortunately, Kentucky fumbled the punt and LSU recovered. LSU recovered on the Kentucky 19, in prime position to put this game firmly out of reach for good. Instead, the offense were stopped on the UK 2 and forced to settle for a FG. Kentucky now needed a TD to tie.
Catching fire, they took over at their own 20 and promptly drove 80 yards in just 7 plays. 44 came on a single play when Lorenzen looked to pick on Randall Gay again. Gay, again, was turned around in defense, chasing after Aaron Boone, who was streaking up the middle of the field. Lorezen dropped the ball nicely into his receiver’s arms and Kentucky tied LSU.
LSU took over with 2:24 remaining and again looked the part of a team in full meltdown, this time losing nine yards on the three and out, managing to also waste 1:33 of game clock at the same time. In a spectacular piece of buffoonery, Randall nearly threw it all away on a single play, launching the ball into what looked to be quadruple overage.
Nevertheless, they turned it back over to Kentucky with just :51 remaining. That was the good news. The bad news is was that Donnie Jones punt was returned 21 yards with a facemask penalty tacked onto the end, putting Kentucky on the LSU 31 to start.
Lorenzen went looking for Boone again, incomplete on first down. On second down he turned to Boone again, and this time Jack Hunt interfered, giving Kentucky a new set of downs and placing them on the LSU 22. On the new set of downs, Kentucky went conservative, first handing to Pinner, who gained nine. LSU called a timeout, trying to regroup. Kentucky trotted out their GL offense and got the potential game-winning FG lined up with a sneak from Lorenzen. On first and 10, with just :11 remaining, Guy Morriss went super conservative and opted to kick the FG. The Wildcats made it and sprung the upset against the mighty LSU Tigers. Gatorade baths all around for the coaching staff. What a job they’ve done.
* record scratch *
No words needed.
W 36 - 7 @ no. 16 Florida
W 14 - 13 Ole Miss
L 20 -21 @ Arkansas
This is a contender’s list for the sake of having one. The only choice is the Bluegrass Miracle.
What is the Greatest Game of 2017?
This poll is closed
The Bluegrass Miracle
Sneaking by Ole Miss
Thrilling loss to Arkansas