The win sends LSU (9-3) to the Sugar Bowl against Illinois on Jan. 1 for the first Bowl Championship Series appearance in school history. With the loss, Tennessee (10-2) missed the chance to play for the national championship against No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl.
"Obviously I like the way our team played," said LSU coach Nick Saban, who earns an SEC Championship in just his second year in charge of the Tigers. "I am pleased with the commitment of our team all season long. The opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl is well deserved, especially for all the players who helped make it happen.
"We came out well in the second half and beat a very good football team. Beating Tennessee is great for this team. The players believed in themselves all season and wanted to show the country that we are a good football team."
Mauck, the Tigers' second-string quarterback, took over for injured senior Rohan Davey in the first quarter and led the Tigers on the game's first scoring drive. Davey, who had suffered a rib contusion, returned to the game but took another hard shot late in the second quarter and did not return to action. He was brought to a hospital in Atlanta as a precautionary measure.
Davey had completed 9 of 20 passes for 84 when he left the game, and Mauck finished the night with 5-of-15 for 67 yards. But Mauck inflicted his real damage on the ground, where he rushed 12 times for 43 yards and two scores, including the Tigers' go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
"I was pretty nervous in the beginning," said Mauck. "As the game went on, I started to forget about everything and played my hardest."
Clutch plays from Mauck and penalties on Tennessee helped the Tigers move in for their first score. The redshirt freshman from Jasper, Ind., who gave pro baseball a try before walking on at LSU, ran a quarterback draw on his first play in the game and picked up five yards on the third-and-3 call.
The Tigers advanced to Tennessee's 31 when Mauck threw into the end zone for Josh Reed, who could not get to the ball with Tennessee defenders draped on his back. The Vols were called for pass interference, allowing LSU to get to the 11. An offsides penalty on third down put the Tigers at the 4, where Mauck called his own number again for the score.
The Volunteers tied the score, 7-7, with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Casey Clausen to Kelley Washington. The two paired up for 256 yards in Tennessee's 26-18 win over LSU on Sept. 29, and Washington was once again Clausen's favorite target with nine receptions for 140 yards. Clausen finished the game 27-of-43 for 332 yards with two touchdowns.
On the Tigers' next drive, LSU starting running back LaBrandon Toefield suffered a sprained knee as he fell to the turf when being tackled on a screen pass play. He immediately went to the sideline and did not return to the game.
After LSU was forced to punt the ball away, Clausen led the Vols on a 4-play, 68-yard drive that allowed Tennessee to take its first lead. A play-action pass to fullback Troy Flemming from 3-yards out moved UT ahead, 14-7, after Alex Walls' extra point.
A huge door of opportunity opened up for Tennessee when LSU gambled with a fourth-and-1 attempt at its own 22. The play crumbled when Davey failed to take the snap cleanly from center Ben Wilkerson and went down without picking up the first.
Tennessee took over at the LSU 21 but moved backward on its first play when Clausen was called for grounding, and the Vols ended up having to settle for a 51-yard field goal from Walls that tied his personal best and gave his team a 10-point edge.
John Corbello hit the first of three field goals, a 44-yarder, with 29 seconds to go before half to cut Tennessee's lead to seven points.
LSU's defense forced Tennessee to punt after three plays on its opening possession of the second half, and the Tigers' drew closer with a 47-yard Corbello field goal that made the score 17-13.
The Volunteers moved into LSU territory on their ensuing possession but failed to convert on fourth-and-1 from the Tiger 38. LSU took over on downs and moved into possession for a 44-yard Corbello field goal that reduced the Vols lead to one with 2:45 to go in the third quarter.
"After the first one, I got into the flow a little bit," said Corbello. "I was really showing some confidence."
Tennessee was heading back into LSU territory on its next drive when running back Travis Stephens had the ball knocked from his grasp by Tiger defensive lineman Byron Dawson. Damien James recovered for LSU and returned the ball to the Tennessee 38.
Stephens, who had rushed for 226 yards in Tennessee's 34-32 win over then-No. 2 Florida the week before, was held to 37 yards on 14 carries in the SEC title game.
The Tigers capitalized on the turnover five plays later when Mauck rushed into the end zone from 13 yards out on a quarterback draw at the 14:20 mark of the fourth quarter.
"Mauck did a fantastic job for (LSU)," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. "We saw him on film during the week and we knew that he was mobile. I was very impressed with his poise. We hit him a lot and he kept getting back up. He showed a lot of composure in a big time game."
Mauck's second score was set up with a clutch third-and-5 play that saw Mauck find Reed on an out pattern and Reed break away from three tacklers for the first down.
Electing to go for a two, the Tigers converted with a Mauck pass to Reed and took a 24-17 lead. Facing double coverage most of the night, Reed made just four catches for 60 yards – with much of his yardage coming after the catch.
It looked as though Tennessee was going to tie the score again, moving down to the LSU 4 with the Tigers' help on a defensive holding penalty. But the LSU defense stiffened and forced the Vols to settle for a 21-yard field goal with 9:55 left in the game.
LSU had to punt after three plays on its next possession but then got its biggest break of the game on the first play after the punt. Tennessee took over at its own 48 and tried to set up for its next score with a Clausen pass to Dontae Stallworth down the middle of the field. But just two steps after making the catch inside the LSU 40, Stallworth lost the ball on a jarring hit from Tiger cornerback Demetrius Hookfin. Ryan Clark recovered for LSU at the 34-yard line.
The Tigers looked to put away the game and keep the ball away from Tennessee for as long as possible with just over eight minutes to play. Davis provided sizeable chunks of yardage on the ground to keep the clock moving, and Mauck converted a crucial third-and-7 play from the UT 45 with a 22-yard pass to Michael Clayton.
After a Mauck draw play lost 6 yards, the Tigers got another break when Tennessee was called for pass interference on a pass intended for Reed. The penalty moved LSU to 13, and Davis took the ball to the 4 on the next play. It took another five plays for the Tigers to score, getting a 1-yard plunge from Davis on fourth-and-goal with 2:26 remaining.
"I thought it was important when the ball was inside the 1 to score a TD," said Saban. "I didn't want to kick a field goal and give the ball back to Tennessee. It was hard for me to kick a field goal down there on the 1. When we scored it was the icing on the cake.
"When you score on a play like that it's a good idea, and when you don't succeed it's a bad idea."
Davis finished the game with 16 carries for 78 yards and added another 42 yards on three kickoff returns.
Tennessee did get not the miracles it needed to get back into the game and turned the ball over on downs, allowing LSU to burn the last minute off the clock and win the game, allowing Tiger fans to make plans for New Year's in New Orleans. As for Tennessee, Vols fans will await to see their bowl destination when the BCS pairings are officially announced Sunday afternoon.
"I am very disappointed in the game," said Fulmer. "You can't expect to win with all the mistakes that we made. We picked a bad time to play our worst game of the year. We did have a good year, but we did not finish well. We had good practices all week. We had a lot of energy and excitement but we came out flat and didn't finish the job."
· LSU wins its first SEC Championship since 1988 (8-4, 6-1) and first outright conference title since 1986 (9-3, 6-1). The Tigers tied with Auburn in 1988.
· The Tigers clinch their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the 1986 season (1987 game).
· LSU became just the second team from the SEC Western Division to win the SEC championship since the conference began playing the SEC Title game in 1992. Alabama (1992, 1999) is the other team.
· LSU won for the first time when being outgained in total yards since Oct. 14, 2000, when the Tigers beat Kentucky 34-0. In that game, the Wildcats had 397 total yards to LSU's 339.
· LSU won for the first time since a 28-13 win over Houston on Sept. 9, 2000, when amassing fewer than 300 total yards. The Tigers had 297 in that contest.
· LSU recorded its second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and their fifth in the past two seasons. The Tigers trailed Tennessee 17-16 heading into Saturday's fourth quarter. LSU trailed Kentucky 25-22 in the final minutes earlier this season in Lexington before scoring with 13 seconds remaining for a 29-22 win.
· The Tigers moved to 3-0 all-time in the Georgia Dome. LSU won the 1996 and 2000 Peach Bowls over Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively.
· LSU coach Nick Saban became just the fifth coach, joining Florida coach Steve Spurrier, former Tennessee coach Bowden Wyatt, former Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught and former LSU coach Mike Archer to win the title in one of their first two seasons. Vaught is the only coach to win it in his first season.
· On a 15-yard reception in the second quarter, Josh Reed became the SEC's all-time leader in receiving yardage, passing Boo Williams of Vanderbilt, who recorded 2,964 yards from 1985-88. The catch gave Reed 2,968 yards at the time.
· Josh Reed moved into the top five in NCAA history in single season receiving yardage on the same reception, tying Troy Edwards of Louisiana Tech, who recorded 1,707 yards in 1997 for fifth place. He took sole possession of fifth place on a 9-yard reception in the fourth quarter. He finished the day with 1,720 yards this season.
· Rohan Davey broke the LSU single season record for completions on his second completion of the day. The throw gave him 210 at the time, breaking the previous mark of 209 by Jeff Wickersham in 1985.
· The 4-yard touchdown run by Matt Mauck was the first rushing touchdown of his career and was the first rushing touchdown by a Tiger quarterback since Herb Tyler ran for a 3-yard touchdown on Oct. 31, 1998 in a 37-31 overtime loss to Ole Miss. Mauck added a second touchdown on a 13-yard run in the fourth quarter becoming the first Tiger QB since Tyler on Oct. 17, 1998 against Kentucky to rush for more than one TD in a game.
· LSU scored first for the ninth time in 12 games this year and for the fifth straight week. LSU entered the game with a 7-1 record this season when scoring first, with their lone loss coming on Sept. 29 at Tennessee.
· LSU trailed at the half for only the third time this season – Florida and Ole Miss, both losses.
· LaBrandon Toefield left the game in the second quarter with an injury to his left knee and missed the remainder of the game. The injury left Toefield just eight yards shy of 1,000 for the season, as he will finish the year with 992 yards and 19 touchdowns (bowl stats do not count towards regular season stats). The 19 rushing touchdowns ties for the most in SEC history with Garrison Hearst of Georgia (1992) and Shaun Alexander of Alabama (1999).
· Rohan Davey also left the game in the second quarter after suffering a rib injury. Matt Mauck came into lead the Tigers the rest of the way.
· Domanick Davis went over 1,000 all-purpose yards for the third consecutive season on his 23-yard punt return in the second quarter. The return gave him 1,021 at the time. He posted totals of 1,052 and 1,435 in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively.
· John Corbello's 47-yard field goal in the third quarter matched his career long in a regular season game – also against Tennessee in the Tigers' victory over the Vols in 2000. The longest kick of his career was a 49-yarder in the 2000 Peach Bowl, ironically, on this same Georgia Dome turf.
· It also marked the first time in his career that he had more than one field goal of more than 40 yards in the same game. The last Tiger to hit two field goals of better than 40 yards in the same game was Andre Lafleur on Sept. 30, 1995 at South Carolina.
· It was the first time since the Georgia game in 1999 that Corbello had three field goals in the same game. It was the first time a Tiger kicker hit three field goals of better than 45 yards since David Browndyke hit field goals of 48, 49 and 50 in a win against Mississippi State on Nov. 18, 1989.
· Domanick Davis scores his third rushing touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter. He also scored last week against Auburn and earlier against Mississippi State.
· With a 12-yard reception in the first quarter, Josh Reed extended his team-leading streak of consecutive games with a catch to 26, dating back to the Alabama game in 1999, his first as a receiver. In addition, Jerel Myers extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 13 on the very next play, the second longest streak on the Tigers. Myers has now caught at least one pass in 34 of 35 career games with the lone exception being the Tigers' 20-9 victory at Ole Miss in 2000.
· Kyle Kipps' third quarter sack of Casey Clausen was his second in the last three games and third of his career.Free safety Ryan Clark made his 35th consecutive start dating back to the 1999 season opener against San Jose State. Trev Faulk made his 32nd consecutive start dating back to the Georgia game in the fourth week of his freshman season. Jerel Myers made his 34th start in 35 career games with the only exception being the 1999 season finale against Arkansas when the Tigers opened in a three tight end alignment.