LSU Notebook: Opening play sets the tone

NEW ORLEANS — Looking to jump on Oklahoma as quickly as possible, freshman running back Justin Vincent made quite a splash. <br><br> The Lake Charles freshman was a shoestring tackle away from giving the Tigers a 6-0 lead taking the first play from scrimmage 64 yards before Sooner defensive back Derrick Strait tackled him from behind.

LSU head coach Nick Saban said Vincent's run was one of many plays that gave the Tigers momentum in the ball game, which was key throughout the contest.


"I think any time you make big play in a game they have a lot to do with momentum," Saban said. "Unfortunately for us we did not convert on that score, but it certainly changed the field position. We were able to get a turnover back and actually score a touchdown based on that change of field position. So any time you make big plays I think it has a tremendous affect of the outcome of a game.


"You could talk about every 100 yards that you make of them and convert them into six points. It almost worked out perfect; a 64-yard run and we got six points on an extra point on that. I think the most important drive was when Oklahoma blocked a punt, we took the ball 80 yards and scored and answered the bell. That changed momentum of the game. I think that was critical."



Already thinking about repeat


After securing the first ever 13-win season in school history and the school's first national championship since 1958, Saban said he was happy to see the joy and excitement on his players and fans faces. However, he was already concerned about what he and his coaching staff will face in the offseason heading into the 2004 campaign.


"You know, you really don't want to know what I'm thinking," Saban said. "Because what I'm thinking is how are we going to get this done next year. Because this year's accomplishments are next year's expectations. Dealing with success and all that kind of stuff. I'm happy for everybody else. What makes me happy about doing something like this is that it's made so many people happy and just like winning the SEC Championship, when you look in someone's eyes and see the pride that they have in what you've accomplished, that's the real gratification that you get for what we have accomplished here.


"To see the players' hard work, resiliency, character and how they competed, to see them as happy as they are, and have a life-long accomplishment and a lot of lessons to be learned from this competitive season that they have gone through that hopefully will help them be more successful in their life. Those kinds of things to me mean more than anything. I guess it's something that you can be proud of and take wit you forever more."



Saban hopes Mauck will return for senior season


Already with a passing score on his dental school entrance test, junior quarterback Matt Mauck must now decide whether for forgo his senior year of eligibility and entered dental school, or return to LSU for his senior season.


Saban said he hopes his quarterback will return, but understands the 24-year-old must prepare for his future.


"We definitely want him to return," Saban said of Mauck. "I asked him to come back and told him we wanted him to come back, but we want what's best for our players. And when it comes to Matt Mauck, I think the has to make a decision whether he want to go off and got o medical school or dental school, or wait and spend another year developing as a player so he has a chance maybe to see if he has a career at the next level.


"However, that just keeps postponing what he's always wanted to be from the time we recruited him in high school years ago at Michigan State. He always wanted to be some kind of a doctor or dentist. So we want what's best for him and we're going to support him in what's best for him."



Saban questions 30 yards of penalties on field goal attempt


Up 21-7 in the third quarter and looking to put the game out of reach, redshirt freshman place-kicker Ryan Gaudet lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt.


Gaudet split the uprights on the kick, but officials penalized the Tigers 10 yards for holding and 15 yards for a personal foul resulting in Gaudet's attempt being pushed back to 50-plus yards.


Ultimately, the Tigers faked the 53-yard effort and holder Blaine Bech's pass attempt was nearly enough for a touchdown as tight end David Jones was tackled at the six.


Saban said after the game that he still doesn't understand how one team can be penalized that severely on a simple field goal attempt.


"I still don't understand how we got a 30-yard penalty kicking a field goal," Saban said. "That may be the first time in the history of ball, any ball that I've seen, that that's happened. We got a dead ball personal foul and got hands to the face. Which, when you block on field goals and everybody's going up in there and jumping over the pile, that happens.


"I'm going to be very interested to watch the film to see if those were really penalties that should have been called that should have something to do with changing the outcome of what could have been a National Championship game. But two penalties? We haven't played a game for a long time so sometimes you get more penalties. They (Oklahoma) got lots of penalties too."



A 24-hour rule extension?


Throughout the season, Saban has preached the 24-hour rule to his players and coaches. The team had 24-hours to celebrate a victory or think about a defeat. After winning the school's first championship since 1958, Saban said he may extend the 24-hour rule a little longer.


"We had 14 football games this year and have been fortunate to win 13 of them," Saban said. "My wife and kids have made a lot of sacrifices for me with me never being there and never being around. So I'm going to enjoy them for a few days, but life does go on. We are going to enjoy this.


"We're proud of what we have accomplished. We're going to have 24 hours to really enjoy what we have done here. Then we are going to go on and try to keep building for the future."



Saban happy for entire program


When he was hired at LSU four short years ago, many said Nick Saban had the chance to wake a sleeping giant in Baton Rouge.


Saban credits the rabid LSU fan base for the enthusiasm throughout his tenure at LSU and said his enjoys being able to reward the fans with a championship.


"We appreciate the support and we love it," Saban said of the fans. "I could never imagine the enthusiasm and the support and the passion that the people of this state has given our football team ever since I've been here. I think that's something that you really appreciate; that so many people have so much passion for what you do.


"I don't think there's a better atmosphere to play a football game than Tiger Stadium I don't think there's a better atmosphere to play a football game than what was out there in that Dome. It's all because of the fans and the support that we have."



Tigers full of character


When he arrived in LSU four years ago, Saban brought with him the philosophy of "Playing for 60 minutes."


Saban credits this year's squad for truly practicing that philosophy and their resiliency to overcome obstacles throughout the season.


"I think for a long time we tired to start out telling players you have got to play for 60 minutes in the game and never look at the scoreboard," Saban said. "I think that's hard sometimes for fans to understand because that's exactly how they look at the game. When you're in the process of being a competitor, you have got to play, play-to-play. Everyone has got to win their individual battle on every play and you can't let the last play good or bad affect the next play.


"I think that's something that our players have bought into. Over a four year period I've never seen a team develop that kind of competitive character that we have so much resiliency to anything that happens in the game and nothing affects us."



Daniels and Webster lead brilliant pass defense


Going up against the top-ranked scoring offense in the country, the LSU defense showed why it may be the greatest defense in school history and perhaps one of the best in the history of college football. LSU held the Sooners offense to only 14 points and 154 yards. Saban credited his entire defense, specifically starting cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels.


"There's nobody on our defensive team tat has a more demanding task than our tow corners," Saban said. "(Mark) Clayton is an outstanding receiver for Oklahoma. We play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Randall Gay goes in and plays the fifth DB sport and Jessie (Daniels) goes in and played the sixth and our safeties do a good job as well. We didn't make very many mistakes, but we had a lot of close coverage in some critical situations."

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