LSU shuts down White, Oklahoma in Sugar, wins half of national title
Posted: Monday January 5, 2004 4:05AM; Updated: Monday January 5, 2004 4:09AM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- They're the best in the bayou and on Bourbon Street.
The LSU Tigers hardly care if the rest of the country considers them co-champs in college football.
Boosted by thousands of purple-and-gold partyers, LSU held off Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and Oklahoma 21-14 at the very end Sunday night in the Sugar Bowl, proving they belonged in the Bowl Championship Series finale.
Too bad there's not one more game left for No. 2 LSU -- against top-ranked Southern California.
"It doesn't bother me," All-America defensive tackle Chad Lavalais said. "It's like winning the lottery, but you have to share the Powerball with another person. It's still a good deal."
The Tigers automatically received the Coaches' crown for winning this game over the third-ranked Sooners. (Complete Coaches' poll) But a split championship was the result because top-ranked USC won The Associated Press title with a 28-14 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. USC received 48 of the 65 first-place votes cast in the AP poll. (Complete AP poll)
"All I know is the powers that be selected us to be in this game," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said. "We just received the trophy."
Freshman Justin Vincent ran loose for 117 yards and was selected the Sugar Bowl's most outstanding player, defensive end Marcus Spears scored on an interception return and coach Nick Saban's team never trailed in bringing LSU its first crown since 1958.
And it was a rewarding win for Saban. He makes $1.5 million, but a clause in his contract said that if he won this game, he was guaranteed $1 more than the highest-paid college coach -- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, at $2.3 million.
"I'm just happy that we could make this state proud," Saban said. "We got tired at the end of the game, but we played from the heart."
Lavalais and his LSU teammates shut down the nation's top-scoring team for most of the game, extending the jinx that haunted previous Heisman winners such as Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta.
"It dampers it quite a bit," White said. "You win 12 games and that's extremely hard to do in college football and you end up with nothing to show for it."
Defensive end Marquise Hill and his LSU teammates blitzed White a lot, often putting him on his back.
"He's Mr. Heisman and we wanted to go at him all night. That's a big award and if you win it, you're going to pay for it," Hill said. "I said to him, 'Excuse me, Mr. Heisman. I'm going to be coming at you all night.' He just nodded his head at me."
White found his touch in the fourth quarter and led the Sooners down the field in the final minutes. But on fourth down at the LSU 12, White's pass was tipped and it trickled off the hands of star receiver Mark Clayton in the end zone.
Other Sooners argued, yet Clayton picked up the ball and shook it, knowing his chance had slipped away.
"I just tried to give somebody a chance to catch it," White said. "He almost caught it."
Oklahoma got the ball back once more, and White was sacked on its final play as the LSU band blared yet another version of "Hold that Tiger!"
"We had our opportunities, we just didn't convert," Stoops said.
White finished 13-for-37 for 102 yards with two interceptions.
Up to 1 million people were expected to swarm the French Quarter -- LSU's campus in Baton Rouge is only 70 miles away -- and the Tigers' victory brought in Mardi Gras about two months early for those fans wearing beads and painted faces.
Inside, a record crowd of 79,342 that slowly made its way through heavy security before the game went crazy cheering for the Tigers (13-1), who finished last season not even ranked in the AP Top 25.
The loss was a bitter one for the Sooners (12-2). They had seethed for nearly a month after their perfect season was wrecked in a humbling 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
"I wouldn't say we lost our swagger, guys just weren't making the plays they usually do," All-America defensive back Derrick Strait said.
Kejuan Jones scored on two short runs for the Sooners, but their hope for an eighth national title was ruined by 11 penalties and mistakes. Stoops, whose team won the unified championship in 2000, spent as much of the game shouting at the officials as his own team.
Stoops' brother, Mike, also was on the sidelines. The co-defensive coordinator for the Sooners, he spent one more game with the team before taking over full-time as Arizona's new coach.
Vincent gave a glimpse of what was to come on the very first play from scrimmage. The MVP of the Southeastern Conference championship game juked right, cut back left and galloped up the middle for 64 yards.
"Anytime you make plays, they have a lot to do with the momentum. That play did," Saban said.
LSU fumbled away its chance to score right away when Mauck bobbled a snap on first-and-goal at the 1 and Strait recovered. Mauck is known for having better hands than that -- he was a catcher in the Chicago Cubs' minor league system.
White gave the ball right back, though. On the Sooners' second play, he made an ill-advised throw that Corey Webster intercepted at midfield. And this time, LSU quickly took advantage.
Shifty receiver Skyler Green went in motion, took a handoff from Mauck and danced around the right side untouched for a 24-yard touchdown.
The top-scoring team in the country, Oklahoma was blanked in the opening quarter for the first time this season.
Then again, the Tigers were accustomed to such performances. LSU limited opponents to only 10.8 points, the best scoring defense in the nation.
Oklahoma broke through midway in the second quarter, literally, when two Sooners burst through LSU's punt-block formation and Brandon Shelby smothered Donnie Jones' kick. They took over at the 2, and Jones' 1-yard burst tied it.
LSU took the ensuing kickoff and zoomed down the field 80 yards behind Mauck and Vincent. Mauck completed passes to four receivers and Vincent carried three times for 43 yards, capped by a snaking, 18-yard TD run for a 14-7 lead.
When the third quarter began, the fans got even wilder because of Spears.
On the first play, he sacked White. On the next, Spears dropped back into coverage in the right flat and seemed to surprise White, making an easy interception.
The big defensive end barreled toward the end zone and no one was going to stop him, scoring standing up when White bounced off him at the goal line.