The 2003 Tigers may be among best ever

On the same night in which Louisiana made political history, LSU reconfirmed its position near the top of the school's rich football lore. <br><br> Rarely have the Tigers fielded such a dominating team. Had the offense not misfired so often, LSU would have beaten Alabama much worse than 27-3. As it was, the Tigers never were threatened and still amassed 470 yards total offense.

Junior wide receiver Michael Clayton dropped a touchdown pass, and yet still caught a career-high 12 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Two more regular-season games like that, and he'll have to be LSU's second Biletknikoff Award winner in three years.


Savvy junior quarterback Matt Mauck completed 24 of 36 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Mauck's rapid development over the last two years is a testament to his ability, and adaptability, as well as to the instruction of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher.


In that short time, Mauck already has thrown 30 touchdown passes, moving him past Rohan Davey and into fifth place on the school's all-time list. Mauck also improved his career record to 14-2.


What really sets LSU apart, though, is a defense that's the best it has fielded since integration in the early 1970s. Junior ends Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill are playing to their high school All-American potential. Senior tackle Chad Lavalais is performing in the tradition of Leonard Marshall, Henry Thomas and all of the great linemen who preceded Lavalais.


It was only fitting that Lavalais recorded his first career interception. It came in the fourth quarter, when LSU already had put the game away, but any additional recognition he gets is well-deserved. He also batted down a pass, as did several others in a technique the Tigers used to disrupt Georgia

quarterback David Greene earlier this season.


"I was really pleased with the way the defense played," Coach Nick Saban said after the game. "Chad's been a good leader for us. He sets the tempo up front."


LSU has such athleticism and speed throughout its defense that it can disrupt an opponent in so many ways. Disguised blitzes are the most obvious benefit, but there are many others. Defensive backs can be beaten and still make up ground in almost no time to deflect passes. Linebackers, converted from the secondary, are at least as fast as the running backs they pursue. Linemen crush ball carriers, and quarterbacks, to the point where the continued punishment takes its toll and eventually induces mistakes.


LSU's offense scored on its first two possessions, but it sputtered so often it continually placed the defense in taxing situations. Time and again, the defense slammed down Alabama, particularly after the Tigers gave the Crimson Tide an opening with a fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.


Alabama couldn't capitalize and only avoided a shutout with a fourth-quarter field goal. With the Crimson Tide unable to move effectively, LSU found enough offensive punch to win its fourth consecutive game.


Three different players scored touchdowns, including freshman tailback Alley Broussard of Lafayette, also the hometown of governor-elect Kathleen Blanco. The state's lieutenant governor, Blanco was chosen to become the first woman governor in Louisiana history.


Blanco's race with Bobby Jindal was close throughout the night. LSU, on the other hand, only made its game competitive through its series of miscues. LSU might not be able to overcome such self-destruction this Saturday when it visits Ole Miss  in a Southeastern Conference Western Division showdown. First-place Ole Miss holds a one-game lead over LSU with two remaining. The winner will be the odds-on favorite to represent the West in the SEC Championship Game next month.


Ole Miss had an open date this past weekend, which from LSU's point of view might be a good thing. The Tigers have discovered that coming back from bye weeks aren't so easy. The first time they tried it, they suffered their only loss in falling flat against Florida, 19-7. The Tigers were idle again before playing Alabama, and the rust accumulated during that time was evident.


"Maybe that's what happens when you come off a bye week," Saban said of the Tigers' sometimes-sloppy execution.


Still in all, LSU held Alabama to its lowest point total of the season, 65 yards rushing and 219 yards of total offense. The Tigers enhanced their reputation as the national leader in fewest points allowed per game, and reconfirmed their season-long stinginess against the run. They strengthened their image as a defensive stalwart and showed how far they've progressed since last year's 31-0 loss to the Crimson Tide.


"We made plays when we had to on both sides of the ball," Saban said. "We stopped ourselves a lot.....We have a lot to improve on, but that may be a good thing."


LSU clearly didn't play its best and still won easily. That's why history will judge these Tigers well.

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