From Celebration to Gustav, 2008 Was A Memorably Bumpy Ride
The 2008 LSU Tigers: In Retrospect
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
(At left) Andrew Hatch and The Tigers knocked off Appalachian State in the season opener. The 10 a.m. kickoff, set because of the threat of Hurricane Gustav, was the earliest start for an LSU game in Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Matt Deville)
In late January, tens of thousands of die hard LSU fans bundled up in their winter gear and gathered in Tiger Stadium to celebrate the Tigers recent BSC National Title victory over Ohio State just a couple of short weeks earlier.
It was a joyous time for the LSU fan base and for the Tigers senior class that accomplished more than any other class in the history of the program.
It would have been hard to imagine then just how significant the departure of those seniors, and the exodus of a troubled quarterback, would be to the Tigers chances of a successful title defense campaign.
Along with talented players that wouldn’t return in ’08, a key piece of the championship coaching staff would be missing as well, when defensive coordinator Bo Pelini left for the head coaching job at Nebraska, which led to the promotion of co-defensive coordinators Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory.
The Tigers had a massive amount of obstacles to overcome, yet it was still hard to imagine the season would turn out the way it did.
For the second time this decade, south Louisiana would be pounded with a brutal hurricane and the LSU football program would once again be faced with an odd start to the football season.
Luckily, Hurricane Gustav would not bring about the suffering and tragedy of the magnitude that Katrina caused in 2005.
But it did cause mass chaos for nearly a week in southeast Louisiana, due to power outages that were caused by the extremes winds brought on by the storm.
(At left) Les Miles and the Tigers were honored last January in a championship celebration in a frigid Tiger Stadium (Photo by Matt Reynolds)
That’s where LSU’s season began, in the midst of chaos – and it never fully recovered it seemed.
Actually, you have to go back a day before the storm to tell the story. With all the horror Katrina inflicted, south Louisiana residents didn’t waste any time acting on the warning of the newly elected Governor Bobby Jindal.
With Gustav setting its sites on the gulf coast, LSU and other state officials decided to move the season opener against Appalachian State up to 10 a.m. from its original time of 4 p.m. so that game attendees could get home earlier in the day to prepare for possible evacuations.
It was an estimated 65,000 in attendance at Tiger Stadium, in a game that resembled the crowd presence of a spring game at some points in the second half.
Those fans who set their alarm clock and made it out to the stadium witnessed an amazing rushing performance from LSU junior Charles Scott that fueled a 41-13 LSU victory in the battle of the two defending national champions from their respected classifications.
It was widely speculated that Keiland Williams would be the starting back for the Tigers or possibly sophomore Richard Murphy.
It would be Scott who carried the first ball, and did he ever – 56 yards down to the Appalachian State eight yard line. The Jonesboro-Hodge product went untouched up the middle for the score on the very next play to start the LSU offensive onslaught on Saturday.
The run was a career long for Scott – edging his previous long of 55 yards at Kentucky last year. The junior rushed for a career-high 160 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns.
Scott’s 160 yards on the ground was the most by any LSU running back since Alley Broussard rumbled for 250 yards against Ole Miss in 2004.
Due to damage from Gustav, the Troy game the following weekend had to be rescheduled to a bye week that both teams shared on the same date.
On September 13, Baton Rouge gained some normalcy back to its everyday life, as the Tigers took the field against North Texas for a night game.
The LSU Tigers let loose some built up aggression, as they pummeled the over matched North Texas Mean Green 41-3.
Although the score didn’t indicate it, the Tigers effort was far from flawless and the threat of an SEC road game at Auburn was just days away.
LSU running back Charles Scott solidified his place as the Tigers top running back after churning out another solid performance on the ground.The junior carried the ball seven times for 104 yards and a pair of scores – leading the Tigers offensive charge for the second consecutive week.
Speeder Trindon Holliday electrified the crowd with a 92-yard-punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. The score was the first punt return for paydirt in the junior’s career. Holiday averaged over 40 yards a return in four opportunities.
The Tigers had what seemed then, a tough SEC road test next, as LSU would travel to the plains to battle with Auburn.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee came off the bench to lead the No. 6 LSU Tigers to their first victory at Auburn in 10 years and one day, 26-21.
Lee, who entered for good when starter Andrew Hatch went down with a mild concussion in the third quarter, finished 11-of-22 passing for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately for LSU, it would be Lee’s first and last stellar performance of the season.
His second touchdown came with 1:03 remaining, as he tossed a dart to Brandon LaFell who made one cut and got a down-field block for an 18-yard touchdown that gave LSU the final margin.
The Tigers were faced with another conference test the following week in pesky Mississippi State. In a week where several of college football’s top teams were dropping like flies, LSU was able to sleepwalk through a 34-24 victory over State in front of a packed house at Tiger Stadium.
As No. 1 Southern California fell the way of the little man on that Thursday night and Florida and Georgia were toppled in SEC slugfest earlier in the day.
LSU was led offensively by the ever dependable rushing attack of Scott, who continued to make his case for as the best running back in the SEC.
Scott pounded the ball 27 times for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The juniors performance put him over the 1,000 yard mark for his career.
Mississippi State forced two turnovers, an interception and a fumble recovery, on defense and accumulated 285 total yards against the Tiger defense.
After the MSU game, the LSU season took a nose dive for the worst. Next up on the Tigers plate was date with the jet-fueled speed of the Florida Gators in Gainesville, on primetime CBS for the entire country to see.
What they saw was an infuriated Florida team that had something to prove after losing to Ole Miss at home by one point a week earlier.
Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC) used a blitzkrieg offensive attack, jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and never relinquished the upper hand in this matchup of the past two national champions.
Gator quarterback Tim Tebow threw two touchdown passes to Percy Harvin and ran for another score as the Gators put a 51-21 smack down on the Tigers.
It was the first time a Les Miles-coached team had surrendered 50 points in regulation and the first time for LSU to give up half-a-hundred since a 56-13 loss in 1996 – ironically at Florida.
A first quarter, in which Florida outgained LSU 186-4, set the pace for the one-sided event. Despite a spirited rally, in which LSU closed the gap to 20-14 midway through the third quarter, the game was never really in doubt for the home team. The Gators out gained LSU 475-321 and held the Tigers to just 80 rushing yards in the 30-point blowout.
Scott was limited to just 37 yards on 12 carries by the Gator defense.
The Tigers, battered and bruised, would rebound the next week though, on the rode against Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Tiger defense allowed 42 yards in a second-half shutout to shutdown South Carolina and get back to its winning ways, 24-17.
The Tigers defense recorded six sacks for minus-49 yards, helping LSU allow only 39 yards rushing on 31 carries. USC was 1-of-9 on third down.
LSU outgained South Carolina, 363-254.
Then came the loss that began the tumble into mediocrity for the Tigers season, when the Georgia Bulldogs came to Baton Rouge.
LSU and Georgia combined for the highest SEC point total in a regulation game in Tiger Stadium history combining for 90 points in all. Unfortunately, the visiting Bulldogs split that total and then some.
Georgia came out on top in an offensive avalanche of points, and got some defensive digits as well as the No. 9 Bulldogs outgunned 11th-ranked LSU 52-38.
In a game that had 940 total yards of offense, the Bulldogs backfield duo of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno guided the way for Georgia, as both players put forth stellar performances in the offensive barrage.
Moreno ran for 172 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries on the afternoon.
Stafford completed 17-of-26 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and also pitched in a 7-yard score.
A costly Jarrett Lee interception, which was returned for a touchdown by Georgia’s Darryl Gamble on the first play from scrimmage put LSU behind the eight-ball. Lee would throw another pick six to Gamble later in the game and then throw another pic that resulted in a Georgia field goal.
The Jarrett Lee bashing officially began in Baton Rouge after this performance.
A lackluster 35-10 victory over Tulane the next week set up possibly one of the biggest games in Tiger Stadium history when No. 1 Alabama and former LSU coach Nick Saban came to town.
The contest lived up to the hype and more.
Alabama safety Rashad Johnson had three interceptions including one in overtime and another that was run for a touchdown, as the No. 1 Crimson Tide beat No. 15 LSU in an extra period, 27-21.
LSU forced overtime when Alabama placekicker Leigh Tiffin’s 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois as time expired in regulation, sending the packed house at Tiger Stadium into a frenzy.
Alabama won the coin toss in overtime and elected to send its defense onto the field.
On third-and-6 from the 21, Lee’s pass to LaFell in the end zone was intercepted by Johnson, giving Alabama another chance to win the game. This time, they didn’t settle for the short field goal.
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones caught a 24-yard pass from Wilson on the first play of overtime to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback John Parker Wilson. The score sent the Tide rushing onto the field. Though the play was reviewed and order maintained momentarily, the call was confirmed.
LSU’s season seemed to have ended that night, as the deflated Tigers never recovered.
The Tigers did break the record books the following week, pulling off the biggest comeback in school history and topping Troy 40-31.
Though records were only available from the modern era of LSU football (since 1958), the previous record was 21 points most recently against Ole Miss in 1977 (trailed 21-0 in second quarter).
Troy seized a commanding 31-3 advantage midway through the third quarter when DaJuan Harris hauled in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Levi Brown.
With Tiger Stadium nearly empty at that point, LSU answered with a three-yard Jordan Jefferson touchdown run late in the quarter, and the comeback was on.
Fueled by its defense, LSU rattled off 30, fourth-quarter points to avoid its first-ever loss to a member of the Sun Belt Conference – as well as utter embarrassment.
The next week was possibly the worst performance of the season by the Tigers, as the Ole Miss Rebels under the direction of wild man Houston Nutt dominated LSU in Tiger Stadium to the tune of 31-13.
Guided by the physical play of its defensive line, Ole Miss was able to contain LSU’s solid ground attack to a mere 37 yards on 29 attempts.
Scott — one of the top running backs in the conference entering the game — was held to 10 yards on as many attempts.
But the Tigers had one last shot to prove that all wasn’t lost with a showdown against a struggling Arkansas team looming to close out the regular season. It simply wasn’t meant to be, as LSU blew a 16 point third quarter lead to lose to the Hogs 31-30 in Little Rock.
A 7-5 record is hardly what Tiger fans, or even the college football nation for that matter, expected from LSU in 2008.
As the Tigers are now preparing for the blistering option attack of Georgia Tech, they have to be wondering what all could have been done differently to prevent this post-championship disaster.
One last shot at redemption for the Tigers.
A New Years Eve date in Atlanta at the Chick-fil-A bowl.