The day game that changed LSU

<p class="indent">If you’d have dropped by this fox hole the morning of Sept. 21, 2003, you would have read this startling prophecy:</p><p class="indent">“BATON ROUGE — This changes everything, you know.</p><p class="indent">“Welcome, LSU, to a whole new world.”</p><p class="indent">Regular disciples around here know that over the years my attempts at predicting anything dicier than a next-day sunrise have been hit and miss, at best.</p><p class="indent">But I guess I lucked up on one. Maybe the blind squirrel and the acorn came into play.</p><p class="indent">Before that LSU-Georgia game the previous day, the Tigers and Nick Saban were showing some promise, 3-0 and ranked No. 11 in the poll.</p><p class="indent">After beating No. 7 Georgia 17-10 in one of the three or four most intense games Tiger Stadium has ever seen, from that moment on LSU was a national player, right in the thick of things for the next 10-12 seasons, unquestionably the best football era in school history.</p><p class="indent">That one thrilling game was the dividing line. Everything that happened in the Saban era before that game was a prelim to it; everything that happened afterwards was because of it.</p><p class="indent">And it all happened right there in broad daylight.</p><p class="indent">Yes, daylight in Tiger Stadium. No fog. No haze. No lights. Just a scene set in brilliant, blinding sunshine that changed the course of LSU football.</p><p class="indent">Yes, it can work.</p><p class="indent">Keep that in mind in mind when complaining that the SEC and CBS have conspired to hold the Tigers down this year by force-feeding a day game against No. 2-ranked Georgia come Saturday.</p><p class="indent">It sure didn’t bother LSU — or what was then the largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history — that day.</p><p class="indent">Saban (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe) had already lectured LSU fans that, with what he had in mind, they’d eventually have to learn to get their drink on before a big game with an ungodly 2:30 p.m. kickoff.</p><p class="indent">And did they ever that day.</p><p class="indent">Long story short: Georgia fairly dominated the first half — but LSU somehow led 7-3. LSU dominated the second half — but still led 10-3.</p><p class="indent">The crowd was as electric as anything ever seen under the lights. With the way the Tigers were playing defense, it looked to be in the books with Georgia backed up to its own 7-yard line with just under 5 minutes to play.</p><p class="indent">And then, all of sudden, with absolutely no warning — boom — Georgia tied the score on a 93-yard screen pass, tying the longest pass play in Bulldogs history.</p><p class="indent">You may find YouTube evidence to the contrary. Go for it. But to my memory, it was the best executed play I ever saw. The way I remember it, by the time UGA’s Tyrone Browning crossed the line of scrimmage, all but one or two of the Tigers were already blocked and sprawled on the ground. There was nothing but red jerseys vertical.</p><p class="indent">It almost looked like the defense you’d run in a spring game to set up a touchdown for a 90-year-old alum.</p><p class="indent">Tiger Stadium was in stunned silence, the congregation sitting there in total shock.</p><p class="indent">Danged sunshine. And then something really crazy happened.</p><p class="indent">After the tying extra point, PA announcer Dan Borné said something. Can’t remember what. Or maybe it was just the way he said it.</p><p class="indent">But, almost as if on cue, the crowd began as loud of an “L-S-U! … L-S-U!” cheer as ever a full moon beamed down upon.</p><p class="indent">It was the sonic-boom flyover of the familiar chant. And the whole atmosphere changed instantly. You’d have thought LSU just gone ahead unexpectedly rather than had a sure victory snatched and put in jeopardy.</p><p class="indent">Tiger Stadium gets credit for a lot of LSU victories that belong to the players. But that crowd might have won that game right there that minute.</p><p class="indent">If it had been a movie, this would have been the cue for the scene showing players and officials on the field looking around in dumbfounded bewilderment.</p><p class="indent"><span>Wait, don’t they know they just got tied?</span></p><p class="indent">They kept chanting, louder and louder.</p><p class="indent">And next thing you know Devery Henderson returned the kickoff 48 yards to midfield, and it was doable again. Moments later LSU faced third-and-4 from UGA 34, and it got really weird.</p><p class="indent">Skyler Green was supposed to set a pick for Michael Clayton to get the first down. Green didn’t get the memo. Ran the wrong play. He knew he’d messed up, so he just took off running for the goal line.</p><p class="indent">“I didn’t know what he was doing,” quarterback Matt Mauck said afterward.</p><p class="indent">Neither did Saban, who threw his hands up in the air.</p><p class="indent">But Clayton wasn’t open, and Green had a step on a cornerback, so Mauck heaved it up there just as he got levelled. Green, who’d been benched for a few series after dropping three passes earlier in the game, ran under it with a diving, over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.</p><p class="indent">The explosion in Tiger Stadium made the chant moments earlier sound like a warm-up act.</p><p class="indent">Our headline the next day called him “Wrong-way Skyler.”</p><p class="indent">Yeah, that sounds more like a game-winning formula for some of the big, unexplainable Les Miles victories that would come later. But Saban, who came close afterward to admitting it was a big win, took it and ran anyway.</p><p class="indent">My prediction bore fruit sooner than I would have expected.</p><p class="indent">LSU met Georgia again in the SEC championship game in Atlanta and won easily, 34-13.</p><p class="indent">Later that night a couple of late games went just right for the numbers in the old BCS formula to fall into line and put LSU in the national championship game where the Tigers beat Oklahoma 21-14.</p><p class="indent">LSU wouldn’t look back for another decade.</p><p class="indent">But it all started with one of those day games in Tiger Stadium — you know, the ones that fans hate so much.</p><p class="indent">Kind of like the Georgia visit Saturday.</p><hr /><p class="indent"><em>Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at <strong><span class="text_link link_wrap type_eml" data-link-target="shobbs@americanpress.com" data-link-type="EML">shobbs@americanpress.com</span></strong></em></p>””<p>Louisiana State wide receiver Skyler Green (5) catches a 34-yard game-winning touchdown from quarterback Matt Mauck in late fourth-quarter action against Georgia Saturday Sept. 20, 2003, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU defeated Georgia, 17-10. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)</p>BILL HABER

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