It will go down as one of the most memorable games in LSU football history. Already a strange situation due to the setting for the game changing to Tempe, Arizona after Hurricane Katrina, the outcome may have been even wilder.
After the Tigers suffered through three quarters of ineptitude on offense, a couple of blocked kicks turned into special teams touchdowns that propelled LSU to a 28-point fourth quarter effort and a 35-31 win.
Les Miles' debut was a rousing success (despite some major questions on defense) as the Tigers now return home ranked No. 3 in the land. LSU has a week to shore up some issues in the secondary before hosting one of the games of the year in the SEC - a showdown with SEC East darling Tennessee.
LSU put up some mighty nice numbers versus Arizona State moving the ball up and down the field virtually the entire game. However, those gaudy stats didn't transfer into points.
The Tigers used a bruising rushing attack to wear down a suspect Sun Devil defense. LSU put together a pair of long drives in the first half. But a JaMarcus Russell fumble on first and goal from the ASU seven seemed to dash the wind from LSU's sails and the Tigers would hardly threaten throughout the second and third quarters.
But a pair of blocked kicks produced 14 points and Russell got on track leading the Tigers to a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns, including the game winner on a pass to Early Doucet on fourth down with 1:13 left to play.
Russell completed 16 of 29 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He was on the mark most of the night and suffered at least half a dozen dropped passes in the first half. Russell played with lots of poise and displayed a refuse to lose type attitude in the fourth quarter rallying the Tigers from a trio of deficits in the final stanza. When the time came, the sophomore signal caller delivered the perfect pass at the perfect pass to Doucet for the win.
Craig Davis and Doucet each struggled hanging onto the ball, but each vindicated themselves with Davis leading the team with four grabs and Doucet's game-winner. Xavier Carter dropped a sure touchdown when he slipped behind coverage in the third quarter. Kudos to Bennie Brazell, who mad a terrific catch in the fourth setting up A Joseph Addai five yard run.
Speaking of the running game, LSU grossed 246 yards rushing. However, the Tigers lost 56 yards, including 41 on sacks of Russell, to net LSU 190 total. Addai and Carey led the team in carries with Addai tallying 16 totes and Carey 11 carries. Addai tallied 109 yards on the ground while Carey netted 56. Justin Vincent showed flashes of his old self notching 31 yards on nine rushes.
The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part paving the way for LSU's ground attack. However, allowing four sacks of Russell was one of the sore spots with this talented unit.
In all, the offense could have played better, more consistent, but the fact is the offense won the game and made the plays when they needed to. Time will tell if all of the first game kinks get worked out. If so, look out.
Let's just say this, Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten are as good as advertised.
This defensive tackle tandem is without a doubt the best in the nation. Arizona State gained very little yardage up the middle on this tandem and logged most of its 99 rushing yards on the outside.
Williams and Wroten were in the Sun Devil backfield all night and Wroten made the play of the game, not on defense but special teams blocking a 47-yard attempt by Jesse Ainsworth early in the fourth quarter. Mario Stevenson returned the block for a touchdown.
As well as the front four played stopping the run, they, along with the secondary were bad against the pass. While many of the problems LSU had on defense was due to the fact Arizona State's offense – led by quarterback Sam Keller – was quite good, the Tigers failed to record a single sack and gave up nearly 600 yards (560) of total offense to the Sun Devils. Keller completed 35 of 56 passes for 461 yards, no doubt the worst showing of an LSU pass defense since the Tigers were thrashed by Rex Grossman and the Florida Gators in a 44-15 rout in 2001.
Let's just say, it was a far cry from the stingy defense of Nick Saban.
The Tigers were desperately missing cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels. Veteran Ronnie Prude and young buck Chevis Jackson got schooled most of the night by Keller, who constantly hooked up with all-everything receiver Derek Hagan. Hagan became ASU's all-time leading receiver in the game.
While Jackson and Prude gave Tiger fans sore memories of Demetrius Hookfin and Erin Damond, there will get cut a little slack considering they were up against (in this opinion) one of the best passing attacks in the nation. Keller has made Sun Devil fans forget all-time leader Andrew Walter and Hagan will no doubt be a Heisman candidate. Give them some credit for their ability to somewhat slow down this juggernaut and keep LSU in the game long enough to bail out the offense.
Place kicker Ryan Gaudet said in an interview on media day, "we are just trying to do a hell of a lot better than we did the last two years."
Gaudet, of course, was making reference to several missed extra points last season and blunders on kick returns (a la Xavier Carter at Georgia).
Les Miles said at a luncheon in Tiger Stadium back in June that he wanted to make a commitment to excellence on special teams.
Well, against Arizona State, Miles made good on his commitment. First and foremost, LSU converted every extra point attempt. But the difference maker in this game was a pair of blocked kicks that swung the momentum of the game heavily in LSU's favor. It all began when Claude Wroten got a paw on a Jessee Ainsworth field goal attempt. Mario Stevenson scooped up the loose ball and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.
On the next Arizona State possession, it was Jacob Hester, who broke through the line and hammered Sun Devil punter Chris MacDonald as he attempted to try a spring out pooch punt. MacDonald lost the ball, which Craig Steltz snared and returned 29 yards for another touchdown.
It was the shot in the arm the Tigers needed to fuel a 28-point effort in the fourth quarter.
While Wroten and Hester's blocked kicks will get the notoriety for changing the game, the special teams play of the game may have come on LSU's first possession. Facing a fourth and 10 situation from their own 10, the Tigers lined up for an apparent punt. Patrick Fisher had reportedly won the punting job over Chris Jackson, but Jackson trotted onto the field to punt he ball away. Standing in the middle of the end zone, Jackson took the pass from center, but instead tossed the ball to a wide open Ronnie Prude for a first down.
Jackson, who was a high school quarterback at John Curtis, had nice touch on the pass and the fake gave LSU more room to operate. While they did punt four plays later, the move was a gutsy call by Miles on his first possession of his career at LSU from his own 10.
And extra points go to Miles for sending Fisher out to on the next possession, but again used Jackson to punt later in the game to keep the opposition honest.
Due to the fact Miles was forced to open his career at LSU with a road game versus a top 15 team with no warm-up game, we would have to say the former Oklahoma State coach gets high marks.
Miles has aged 10 years in the last 10 days and should be given an exorbitant amount of credit for the way he handled his team in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
As stated above, Miles gets high marks for the fake punt as well as his ability to make things happen on special teams. The defense was lacking a bit, granted the Tigers were facing one of the top offenses in the land as well as the fact they were in that first game adjustment mode.
As a whole, considering what these Tigers have been through over the past two weeks, Les Miles and LSU earned not only the admiration of the Tiger faithful but the entire nation.
Having almost half of the team affected personally by Hurricane Katrina, the entire team faced the trauma of the storm firsthand by witnessing the happenings on campus. Having to deal with the fact they not only didn't get the tune-up game with North Texas, the Tigers had to surrender a home game to the Sun Devils and open the season on the road instead of with the hometown fans.
Great job team.
LSU vs. Arizona State: Report Card
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