This, after all, was a game most observers expected to be a rout of 2000 Western Carolina-like proportions.
As the LSU players and coaches filed into the Tiger locker room after the game, media types began to question weather the team's Top 25 ranking was in jeopardy. LSU coach Nick Saban, though, saw the outcome of the rain-plagued affair in a brighter light.
He saw it as a victory.
"I am happy because we won and I was really happy with the way we played today," Saban said. "I think we played aggressively today. I think we wanted to establish the fact that we were going to be a tough, physical, get-after-you type team ... I thought it was the most important thing for our team to do."
In last Sunday's 26-8, season-opening loss at Virginia Tech -- a game filled with mental breakdowns by the Tigers -- Saban pointed to LSU's lack of intensity as a key stumbling block. He addressed the team throughout the week about bringing a more aggressive mindset to the game against The Citadel (0-1), a Southern Conference team whose last victory over a Division I-A opponent came with a 38-35 defeat of South Carolina in 1990.
LSU running back Domanick Davis breaks up the middle against Citadel defenders Marcus Carter (24) and James Green (48) during the first quarter for the Tigers' first touchdown on this play. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
From the farmlands outside Monroe to the office buildings in downtown New Orleans, Tigers fans throughout Louisiana wondered how LSU would respond from the shellacking Virginia Tech handed the reigning Southeastern Conference champions in the season opener. How, everyone wondered, would the Tigers prove themselves worth of their preseason billing?
When the Tigers (1-1) returned to the field against out-manned The Citadel, they played well enough to put most of the crowd back at the tailgate party before the fourth quarter. Still, this wasn't the asleep-behind-the-wheel kind of victory that many figured it would be.
"It was a big improvement from the last game," said sophomore quarterback Matt Mauck. "It was a win, and that was the most important thing. I think we will improve next week. I promise we will work as hard as we possibly can."
Mauck, scrutinized by LSU fans after completing just 15 of 35 passes against Virginia Tech, led LSU to three scores on its first four possessions, but he badly under threw Jerel Myers on a deep route in the first quarter and was intercepted by Bulldogs safety Kevin Corley. That play was a microcosm of his night: Though he finished 8 of 18 for 90 yards, he failed to connect with open receivers down field.
Of Mauck's eight completions, the longest was on a bubble-screen that Devery Henderson turned into a 14-yard gain.
"When we ran the ball well, it took a lot of pressure off the passing game," Mauck said. "There were a couple of plays that I overthrew that I wish I would have hit the receiver. The wet field was not much of a factor."
Much of the Tigers' damage was done on the ground, with LSU's running backs finding the end zone three times in the first half. Dominick Davis had two scoring runs, including a 22-yard jaunt in which he broke three tackles on the way to paydirt, and LaBrandon Toefield added a 59-yard TD off right tackle.
From the opening kickoff -- when Adrian Mayes' clothesline of returnman Marcus Cohen gave the Bulldogs possession at their own 15 -- LSU was in control of The Citadel. After The Citadel's first three plays put them within a chain link of a first down, the Tiger Stadium crowd roared as the Bulldogs lined up to go for it on fourth-and-inches.
But Bulldogs right tackle Daniel Blary surged through the defensive line before the ball was snapped, costing The Citadel five yards for illegal motion. On the ensuing punt, Domanick Davis found an opening along the right sideline and rolled to an apparent score, but, for the second time in as many games, the return was nullified by a penalty on the LSU return team.
LSU running back LaBrandon Toefield (22) breaks away from Citadel defenders Shawn Grant (18) and Marcus Cohen (45) for a 59-yard first quarter touchdown run. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
A week ago in Blacksburg, Va., when an 81-yard return by Davis was called back, the Tigers never recovered. This time LSU, with little resistance from The Citadel, marched 51 yards for the game's first points and was in cruise control for most of the half.
Even as the Bulldogs reeled off a 14-play, 81-yard touchdown-scoring drive -- and then added a 12-play, 28-yard march that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Travis Zobel -- to pull within 28-10 early in the fourth quarter, Tiger Stadium was half-empty. Judging by the early departure of the LSU faithful, the Tigers did enough in the game's first 40 minutes to rest the minds of their fans.
Nonetheless, The Citadel still had a glimmer of hope when backup quarterback Joe Call entered the game with just under 11 minutes remaining and the ball deep in Bulldog territory. Damien James put the game to bed, however, when he stepped in front of receiver Bud Pough, recorded LSU's first interception of the season and returned it 32 yards for a score.
"There is a lot of men on this team," said Bulldogs starting quarterback Jeff Klein, an Auburn transfer making his third appearance in Tiger Stadium. "They are going to fight till the end. Regardless of what happens, they are going to come back ... I am glad to be a part of this team right now."
For Saban and his Tigers, they're glad to walk away with a win. A win, after all, is a win.
"You never feel bad after a win," said LSU linebacker Bradie James, "because that's just the nature of the game."
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