The afternoon began with special operations soldiers parachuting into Tiger Stadium with surgical efficiency.
By nightfall, a bourbon-reeking mob was storming that same patch of grass by the thousand, bounding over waist-high fences and each other to get in on the raucous celebration.
In between, LSU vaulted itself back into both the Southeastern Conference and national championship conversations by way of a 36-16 shellacking of formerly-undefeated Georgia, the No. 2 team in the country.
Fans hadn’t rushed the field at Tiger Stadium since LSU upended No. 3 Ole Miss 10-7 on Oct. 25, 2014. LSU hadn’t beaten a team ranked as high as Georgia since winning the Game of the Century over Alabama in 2011. Such a win hadn’t happened in Baton Rouge since the famed Florida upset of 1997.
It was the kind of incredible scene that had become few and far between in recent years at LSU. It was the kind of triumph that many doubted would happen again any time soon once LSU hired Ed Orgeron as its head coach.
The coach was given another opportunity to pound his chest after his team notched its third top-10 win of the season, the most of anybody in the country. Instead Orgeron — as he always does — and his players chose to focus on the present instead of trying to attach meaning to the bigger picture.
“It’s never going to be about me,” Orgeron said, as he has after each of his three signature upsets this season. “I’m just glad for the team, man. These guys work so hard and they deserve it. This coaching staff works so hard. I’m just glad to be part of it.”
“We’re a good football team,” said senior tight end Foster Moreau, one of the team’s most well-regarded leaders. “Other teams know that. Everyone on any given night has a chance to win in the SEC, and you’ll see that around the country, but we’re just trying to play football and win games.”
This upset — a choice of verbiage that several LSU players took exception to, by the way — came just a week after Florida knocked LSU from the ranks of the unbeaten, 27-19, in Gainesville.
That loss seemed to expose all the imperfections of LSU’s football team. Florida dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, sacking Joe Burrow five times and totaling 11 tackles in the backfield while LSU couldn’t generate a single sack and allowed more than 200 yards rushing to the Gators.
Orgeron harped all week on the angry focus that his team took to the practice field from Monday on in preparation for Georgia. Instead of wallowing in defeat, the staff ceased on that motivational material and coaxed from their players the most complete effort put forth by this team to date.
And as fate would have it, it was those two much-maligned groups up front that led the way on Saturday afternoon.
The offensive line cleared paths all day as LSU gashed Georgia for 275 yards on the ground. They did their best work in the most high-leverage of moments, generating enough push for LSU to finish a perfect 4-for-4 converting on four downs. Burrow got three himself via quarterback sneaks.
“We know when we have to push, and those guys know when we have to get the first down,” Moreau said. “I think everyone (took what happened last week personally). We came out with our hands up ready for a fight. We just came out swinging.”
On the other side of the ball, LSU generated its most ferocious pass rush to date since losing edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson to a knee injury. LSU sacked Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm twice and forced him into throwing a pair of interceptions.
The heat came from everywhere. Defensive end Glen Logan and outside linebacker Michael Divinity accounted for two of the sacks. Infrequently-used defensive back JaCoby Stevens got the other on a perfectly-time slot blitz.
“More focused,” Logan said of the mood around the program this week. “I think last week we were kind of complacent. We were more focused, more into detail. We just wanted to be more aggressive as a D-line. We were being too passive. We need to come after people.”
This more focused, aggressive LSU team can be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch. The challenge will be for Orgeron to keep his team hungry and avoid the kind of lackluster football that followed LSU’s previous marquee win, a last-second upset at Auburn.
College football is a season of ebbs and flows, of breathtaking highs and heartbreaking lows. The key to going on any sustained run is to stay completely in the here and now, to be obsessed with the task at hand.
“You’ve just got to handle it one week at a time,” Orgeron said. “That’s why we don’t make projections. That’s why we don’t read the newspaper. I’m sure my guys read it, but I don’t. It didn’t do these guys anything to be ranked as good as they were. That doesn’t win football games. We take it one week at a time, one day at a time.”
Next up on the schedule is Mississippi State, and if LSU can get past that hurdle, it’ll have two weeks to prepare for the juggernaut that is Alabama.
All roads to Atlanta and the College Football Playoff from the SEC West now run through Tiger Stadium, and when LSU plays like it did against Georgia, anything is possible.
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