AUSTIN, Texas — While watching LSU’s 45-38 shootout victory against Texas, I was hit with an immense sense of déjà vu.
Among reading endless comments and responses on twitter about how LSU’s new offense was accomplishing unprecedented feats, I couldn’t stop thinking, “I’ve seen this before.”
As the game entered the fourth quarter and the two teams began trading touchdowns, it hit me.
“This is the Georgia game.”
For all the talk about how LSU has never had an explosive offense, fans and media alike seem to forget what the Tigers looked like in 2013.
With Zach Mettenberger under center throwing to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill dominating the run game, the Tigers had one of the best offenses in the country.
Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards, Landry and Beckham became the first duo in LSU history to each receive more than 1,000 yards and Hill netted 1,401 yards on the ground. The offense was dominant, if not prolific.
The problem? John Chavis’ 4-3 defense didn’t have the punch it usually had. The Tigers gave up 22 points per game along with more than 340 yards of total offense. Not the standard set by the program in the years leading up to that season.
No game better characterized the role reversal between the sides of the ball that season than the Tigers’ trip to Athens, Georgia, a game I was lucky enough to cover during my days at The Daily Reveille.
It was a matchup remarkably similar to what LSU fans just witnessed.
For starters, the rankings were exactly the same, with LSU heading into a road environment as the No. 6 team in the country taking on a home team ranked No. 9.
It featured two quarterbacks that would eventually get picked up in the 2014 draft with Mettenberger going back to the school he first attended to take on his former teammate Aaron Murray.
Headlines swirled about Mettenberger’s history with the program and how he ended up a transfer at LSU, much to the chagrin of the senior quarterback who made it clear he just wanted to go out there and win a football game.
The game, as advertised was a shootout that saw both quarterbacks lead their respective teams down the field for touchdowns no matter what defenses threw at them.
In fact, the Tigers scored in all but one of their drives in the second half, settling for a field goal in the opening drive and reaching the end zone in their next three attempts.
The two teams traded blows until the final whistle, which came after the Tigers failed to get a first down on their last drive, some would argue was due to a blatant pass interference that the officials didn’t call. Georgia took a knee and sealed a 44-41 victory that had Bulldog fans celebrating deep into the night.
In any other year of that era, the Tigers wouldn’t have needed a pass interference call to beat a team after scoring 41 points. It felt confusing at the time.
If you had told any LSU fan that the Tigers would drop 41 points with two receivers tallying more than 100 yards and Mettenberger tossing three scores with no interceptions, all while Georgia running back Todd Gurley missed more than half the game with an injury, they would have told you it must have been a landslide in the Bayou Bengals’ favor.
The loss took the sails out of the 2013 season. There were some good wins, but three weeks later, LSU gave one away against Ole Miss and then Mettenberger had to be helped off the field after a 38-17 loss to Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
I hope you’ll forgive me for this painful trip down memory lane of a season that LSU fans seem to willfully forget due to what could have been, but I promise this has a happy ending.
This past Saturday, the Tigers found themselves in a similar situation, engaging in a shootout against a team with much more experience playing in that type of game.
But the outcome couldn’t be more different. The Tigers felt like they belonged in that type of game, and while neither side of the ball was perfect, they made plays when they needed.
LSU’s defense came up big in the first half with two goal line stands that kept the Longhorns off the board far longer than expected, and its offense returned the favor in the second half, picking up slack left by a tired and injured defense struggling to keep up with the pace of the game.
“They bailed us out in the first quarter, and then we ended up bailing them out in the end,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow after the game. “That’s what teams do.”
Burrow exits the game as one of the nation’s hottest quarterback prospects, and to him, it’s about damn time. LSU has officially entered the College Football Playoff race and it seems as though there is no limit to what the Tigers can accomplish.
It’s easy to joke about Ed Orgeron’s use of clichés, but there’s more than a little magic he’s brought with him since taking over the program with his “one team, one heartbeat” mentality.
LSU is more than a collection of hyper-talented athletes. The Tigers have had that for the better part of 20 years now, and for the last 10 of them it’s left them short of their goal of national championship glory.
But this edition of the Tigers is a team in every sense of the word, and that was the difference on Saturday night. That team still has a long season ahead of it with plenty of challenges ahead, but right now, leaving Austin, the future sure does look bright, and 2019 has all the makings of a special season for the LSU Tigers.
Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information