LSU ends Tide's magical run -- but it didn't come easy
Posted: Saturday November 12, 2005 10:25PM; Updated: Sunday November 13, 2005 1:52AM
LSU's Dwayne Bowe (80) had seven catches for 98 yards and the game-winning TD.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Was there really any other way it was going to end?
In this year's defensive-dominated SEC, it figures the biggest game of the season would be decided in overtime, when the punters become irrelevant and someone has to score. And for the 2005 LSU Tigers to stake their claim to first place in the conference's West Division, it's only fitting they would have to scale another mountain to do it.
A "predictable circumstance" is how first-year coach Tigers coach Les Miles chose to describe his team's 16-13 triumph over previously undefeated Alabama here Saturday. He wasn't trying to downplay the significance of the victory, which vaulted his 8-1 squad into the driver's seat in its division -- and, from a national perspective, ensured that if both USC and Texas run the table, they'll play in a controversy-free Rose Bowl. Nor was Miles trying to diminish the drama of a stirring second-half comeback and an 11-yard JaMarcus Russell touchdown pass on the game's final play.
The unpredictable thing for LSU would have been if this momentous win actually came easy.
The Tigers' unusual season began against a backdrop of tragedy -- their campus turned into a refuge for Hurricane Katrina victims, and many of the players' families' Gulf Coast homes ruined -- and quickly turned to chaos (their first three games were moved or rescheduled due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita). On the field, the high of a come-from-behind 35-31 win at Arizona State on Sept. 10 was quickly erased by the embarrassment of a 21-point collapse in an overtime loss at home to Tennessee on Sept. 26.
The dejected team that walked out of Tiger Stadium after falling to the Vols has not lost a game since, and, quite fittingly, its two biggest wins -- Oct. 22 against Auburn and Saturday night's affair against the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide -- have come in overtime.
"My gut feeling going into overtime [Saturday night]," said Miles, "was we would win the game. Because that's the kind of team we are. This team has character and grit, and when put in a tough situation, they know how to handle it."
Their opponent Saturday has shown more than its own share of grit this season, and on Senior Day in electric Bryant-Denny Stadium, the 9-0 Crimson Tide looked like the tougher team for the first 30 minutes. Alabama's ferocious defense dominated the first half like it has nearly every half this season, holding LSU to just 1 rushing yard on 14 attempts. And the Tide's much-maligned offense came to life to the tune of 207 yards and their first offensive touchdown -- an 8-yard pass from Brodie Croyle to D.J. Hall -- in 14 SEC quarters. At halftime, the Tide had outgained LSU 207 yards to 72, and a 10-0 lead looked like it might be an ample cushion.
In the Tigers' locker room, however, furious defensive tackle Kyle Williams made an impassioned speech to his defensive teammates to step up their effort. "I was pretty fired up," said the all-conference senior.
Miles, meanwhile, reminded his players they'd overcome harsher adversity before. "With the things that have transpired since the start of this season, no one in that room knew any other way but to keep on fighting," said the coach.