“I blame me for the way we started that game,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “I felt like we didn’t show confidence in our quarterbacks, and we tried to hamstring them. We really played into our opponent’s strengths … That certainly was not the recipe for victory we prescribed, but victory is sweet.”
In a season that LSU fans will remember for sluggish performances, the Tigers turned in what may have been their most woeful first-half performance of the season. As 16-point underdogs, the Trojans raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead behind the arm of junior quarterback Levi Brown and yet another pick-six from LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee.
Trailing 17-3 with 6:46 remaining in the first half, Lee tossed a prayer down the near sideline, which was intercepted by Troy cornerback Terrance Moore and returned 22 yards for a score. As Lee trotted to the sideline following his 15th pick (seventh returned for a touchdown), the boo birds rained down on the redshirt freshman in full force.
In a decision cheered by Tiger fans, freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson saw his first significant playing time of the season starting late in the first half. The Destrehan product was 1-of-6 for 5 yards and ran for 17 yards.
At half, Troy had amassed 255 total yards to LSU’s 63.
Things got much worse before they got better. The Trojans took the ball after halftime and marched 79 yards in 10 plays, as Brown tossed his second touchdown of the night for the 31-3 lead.
After trading punts with the Trojans, Jefferson and Lee combined to get the ball rolling. Lee moved the offense into position with passes to junior tight end Richard Dickson and junior wide receiver Brandon LaFell. From the Troy three-yard line, Jefferson took a play-action bootleg into the end zone for what seemed like a consolation score and a 31-10 deficit.
“We’re going three-and-out and three-and-out,” LaFell said. “We just told Jarrett to make one play at a time and not to try to get the game back in one play. We got a few first downs, we got some rhythm going, and after that we just started rolling.”
What seemed like a consolation prize soon became a steam roller, and LSU fans once again saw the crunch time abilities of Lee. The same quarterback who was booed relentlessly in the first half went 18-of-26 for 205 yards and a touchdown after halftime, setting up running scores for Quinn Johnson and Charles Scott and completing a 33-yard strike to LaFell to cut the lead to 31-17.
“We talked about the quarterback decision to play in the second half,” Miles said. “Jordan Jefferson did a heck of a job for a freshman. We put him in a tough spot. There’s more playing time in it for Jordan Jefferson. But Jarrett Lee’s our quarterback, that’s just the way it is … Jarrett Lee was the only opportunity we had to win this game. We turned to him and said, ‘OK let’s do this.’ He responds.”
As the passing game finally found a rhythm, the Tiger defense dug in and made the necessary stops. The same unit that was shredded for 204 passing yards in the first half held the Trojans to just 125 total yards in the second half.
“We stuck together, especially in the fourth quarter” said sophomore cornerback Jai Eugene. “Our team had to come together and show them what we’re made of. This team is made of pride and courage and we never gave up.”
The Tiger faithful should be sure to send their love letters to the Jones household, as the dream of a comeback became a reality at the hands of the same family.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, junior defensive end Rahim Alem broke free and hurried Brown into a poorly thrown pass. As can only happen in the world of college football, Alem’s younger brother Chad Jones was there for the interception and return which would lead to a field goal and a 31-27 score line.
Asked about the play, Jones smiled.
“I guess it was a good play,” he said. “We needed a turnover.”
By the time the defense had forced its third three-and-out of the fourth quarter, it wasn’t a matter of if LSU would take the lead but when. It seemed the Trojans had stopped the bleeding, holding the Tigers to a punt with 6:30 remaining, but the LSU special teams arrived for the first time all night when junior safety Danny McCray dove on a loose punt that bounced off a Troy player.
Three plays later Scott rumbled into the end zone for a 33-31 lead. The junior tailback was stuffed all night long, but fought his way to 95 yards and broke the 1,000-yard mark on the year. On the first play following another stalled Trojan drive, Scott broke three tackles and carried another four defenders from the 33-yard line to the Troy four.
With 1:40 remaining in the game, Johnson plowed through the line for the game’s final score.
41-30. Comeback completed. Lead secured.