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Fresh legs

LSU freshman Vincent leaves Sooners feeling purple

Posted: Monday January 5, 2004 12:48AM; Updated: Monday January 5, 2004 1:37AM
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  Justin Vincent
With his big day in the Sugar Bowl, Justin Vincent eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season ... by one yard.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Justin Vincent made a statement in the Sugar Bowl without saying a word.

The freshman running back ran for 117 yards and a touchdown Sunday night in LSU's 21-14 victory over Oklahoma, beginning with his razzle-dazzle 64-yard scamper on the first play of the game.

As a freshman, Vincent has been off limits for interviews all season -- coach Nick Saban does not allow freshmen to talk -- but he was eloquent on the field, winning the MVP award.

"I couldn't have dreamed up this ending for any of us," Vincent said in his first postgame statements. "To do what we did here at home, it's better than a dream."

Vincent got the Tigers started with a quick side step and then just turned on the speed, making it to the Oklahoma 16. The big gainer was wasted when quarterback Matt Mauck bobbled a snap at the 1 and All-America defensive back Derrick Strait recovered it.

"He gave us a big boost when we needed it," offensive tackle Rodney Reed said of Vincent's first big run. "It got us over those early-game jitters."

In the second quarter, Vincent capped an 80-yard scoring drive with runs of 12 yards and 18 for a score to put the Tigers up 14-7.

After the TD, Vincent ran toward the stands that were awash with purple and gold and held his index fingers aloft, signaling No. 1, as the happy Tigers fans cheered.

The No. 1 ranking may have been only in the Bowl Championship series, but it was enough for LSU, which rose 14th in the preseason poll.

It was also enough for Vincent, who Saban at one time considered switching to defensive back because of the depth at running back for the Tigers.

"I already had my mind set that I was going to be the best special teams player LSU ever had," Vincent said.

Vincent went from fifth-team practice player to starter after he was pressed into service Oct. 18 against South Carolina when injuries sidelined Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey. Vincent, who was used at defensive back for nine practices in the spring, responded quickly with 77 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was sad the way I got it," Vincent said. "But I'm proud of what we did. And Joseph and shyrone helped me every step of the way."

With the big night, Vincent finished with 1,001 yards on the season and passed Dalton Hilliard (901) for the most yards rushing by an LSU freshman. Vincent finished the season with three straight 100-yard games, then rushed for record 201 yards on 18 carries in the Southeastern Conference title game.

"Things just out really well for me, I was able to jump up to No. 1 and keep it that way," Vincent said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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