"We knew when they lined up in that formation what they would run," LSU senior cornerback Jonathan Zenon said. "We had prepared for that situation and we knew they would run that play. That's exactly what they did. We fought back all day long, and our preparation was what made the difference. – especially on that play. It was all about preparation. That made that an easy play for me to make."
The play Zenon made was jumping a route, snagging an Erik Ainge pass for an interception, and returning it 18 yards for what proved to be the winning score.
"He made a good play," Ainge said. "I shouldn't have thrown the ball out there. I mean, just as much as he made a good play I made a bad decision. We played good; we protected all night. The guys played hard; I throw an interception for seven points when it's a tie game; it's going to get you beat. It's on me."
Actually, when Zenon crossed the goal line with 9:54 remaining in regulation, the Tigers had been down by one point. LSU added a two-point conversion afterwards and put up eight points total to take a 21-14 lead.
"They changed to a different kind of zone, but it shouldn't have mattered," Ainge said. "I saw them change to it. I should have thrown the ball to Austin Rogers, No. 21. We would have had a big play."
In a season where he has been picked on at times, Zenon nabbed his third interception of the season and the ninth of his LSU career. Additionally, he was third in team tackles with six total, four of which were solo tackles, and broke up a pass as well. Against Tennessee, the Tigers fooled Ainge enough to force mistakes, according to Zenon.
"Basically we did a lot of disguises, like we showed soft man but it was a hard man," Zenon said. "Making sure he didn't understand what coverage we ran. That's what we did, we gave him all kinds of disguises, and he couldn't pick up what kind of defense we were in."
LSU coach Les Miles stated he hopes Zenon gets picked on some more in the Tigers final game of the postseason.
"If you look at his play, you know, certainly when you play great teams, they have great players too," Miles said. "They're going to make plays. But the mark of a champion is the ability to keep playing, and it's about the next play, and it's about the play that you can make, and you keep the pressure on your opponent, and you work, and you work, and you find a way. That's Jon."
Like the 24 other seniors who will play their final game as Tigers in January, Zenon entered the Georgia Dome last Saturday with aspirations of winning an SEC Championship. A conference title had been lacking on the résumé of LSU's winningest senior class and, after losing to Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving, the SEC appeared to be the biggest goal remaining on the board for the Tigers.
Looking to make sure posting a 10-2 regular season mark wouldn't mean nothing more than another double-digit victory total, the last thing LSU needed was distractions. But there were plenty of those. In addition to having to enter the SEC Championship Game without their starting quarterback, the Tigers also had the nightmare headache of listening to nearly everyone with some manner of broadcasting ability announce that their head coach would be taking the head coaching job at Michigan early next week. That prompted a news conference a scant two hours prior to kickoff, during which time the claims were refuted.
Having his players see the morning of the conference championship game that he would be leaving them next week was a concern for Miles.
"You know what, it's interesting," Miles said. "Misinformation. I feel as sad for Michigan as I do for my team. They didn't deserve that. I don't know how that information got out. I'd challenge to find out exactly who said what. There should be some accountability when somebody says, ‘This is reported.' Let me tell you something, they ought to confirm it with me."
According to Zenon, the rumors never got in the way of the team's aspirations and desires.
"I think Ryan (Perrilloux) said it perfectly," Zenon said. "Basically that's our number one rule on our team is play for ourselves. We play for the coaches; we play for the fans, basically like he said; no distractions on us. When we're on the field, we're playing football. That's all we're doing is playing football."
The last time LSU won a game 21-14 with the winning score coming off of a pick-six was in the national championship game in 2004 against Oklahoma. Marcus Spears dropped back in coverage, hauled in a pass from Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, and sent the Super Dome into a frenzy. Like that score that won a championship, Zenon's pick-six preceded an extended period of time where points weren't to be had by either team. Zenon, however, was having no part of calling his play the game-winner. There was just too much to point to in the game.
"Anything could have been a winner," Zenon said. "Basically I think Darry's (Beckwith) interception sealed the game for us. Just going out and doing the things that we do through practice, we've got to carry over to the game, and coaches gave us great preparation, and that's exactly what we did. We took everything we learned throughout the week to the game and tried to be successful."
Zenon, and the Tigers, not only tried to be successful. They succeeded.
Zenon Humble About Game-Winner
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