More so than any other sport, this game we are all so helplessly addicted to hinges almost completely on the emotions and confidence of 22 kids who have finals in three weeks. Watching this game, you could see all the swagger in the world ebb and flow from one team to the other and back.
Trojan receivers who killed LSU with third down catches in the second quarter dealt blows to their own hopes with crucial drops late in the game. The LSU defensive line, which was M.I.A. throughout the first half pressured the Troy passing game into overthrows, batted passes, and an interception.
"At halftime, they could have said 'No, coach. We're going to play defense, but someone else is going to have to win this one,'" said LSU coach Les Miles. "But they didn't. They played their tails off. I'm proud of them."
And the catalysts for all this drama? A true freshman quarterback who was cruising through the Louisiana high school playoffs 12 months ago, a junior wide receiver who was perhaps the most hated man in Baton Rouge for half of 2007, and another freshman quarterback has gone from hero to goat and back and forth more times in a season than any other player in recent memory.
Like I said, only in college football.
With the win, however unlikely it is, in the record books, there are basically two stances to take. You could be disturbed at the 31-3 deficit to a Sun Belt team, or you could be thrilled with a 37-point second-half output.
Personally, I'd take the latter. It's commonplace for top-tier teams to come out flat and get smacked in the mouth. It's not quite so common to roar back from down 28, regardless of the competition.
And it's no fluke. Whether it's a primetime showdown, a national title bout, or a 40 degree homecoming game against the Sun Belt, you can't deny Les Miles' penchant for adjusting and coming back. Whether you watch the game tape or you talk to the players, LSU always seems to maintain a calm and confidence that comes from the head man.
"He was so calm about it," said quarterback Jarrett Lee of Miles. "It helps us as quarterbacks that he was so calm, just telling us to focus and play like its practice. I'm going to be honest, you expect [a harsher reaction], and as a young player you really appreciate it in your coach when you're struggling and he's just so calm. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to play for that coach."
Regardless of your opinion of him, Lee showed his mettle to those that stuck out the game's waning minutes. With a handful of three-and-outs and another devastating pick-six as his only first-half highlights, the freshman repaid Miles' confidence by completing 70 percent of his second-half throws for 200 yards and a score and setting up all of the Tigers' scoring drives with critical completions.
Standing on the field as the Tigers took the lead, the same crowd which had booed him before struck up a spirited chorus of "Jarrett Lee, Jarrett Lee, Jarrett Lee."
And in a game that LSU trailed 31-3 before winning 40-31 could it really end any other way?
Only in college football.
Keepin' the streaks alive
The Tigers' improbable victory extends several streaks that LSU fans will be glad to hold on to. Firstly, the Tigers now extend their record against the Sun Belt Conference to 33-0. It also gives LSU 25-straight non-conference victories in Tiger Stadium. LSU's last non-conference home loss was Nick Saban's infamous 13-10 loss to UAB in 2000. It also gives Les Miles a perfect 18-0 record in non-conference games, including bowl games.
Perhaps most importantly, the comeback means the Tigers own a 30-game win streak in night games at Tiger Stadium. The last time LSU lost a night game at home was Nov. 16, 2002 in a 31-0 blowout loss to Alabama. This means the Tigers have not lost a home night game in six years as of Sunday, and since Nov. 22's game against Ole Miss kicks off at 2:30 and the season finale against Arkansas is away, the streak will extend until 2009.
You can't make 'em all
As thrilling a win as it was, senior kicker Colt David could not have been 100 percent happy with his night. As the team extended many of its streaks, David broke a rather impressive individual one. When Charles Scott scored to put the Tigers up 33-31, David was riding a streak of 104-straight converted extra points. But this time LSU's all-time leading scorer missed wide right and left the lead at two. Fortunately the Tigers' scored again, and David was able to convert and start a new streak.
Scott reaches milestone, LaFell reaching for his own
Scott's 90-yard performance gives him 1,071 yards for the season, making him the 12th Tiger in history to grind out 1,000 on the ground. Jacob Hester was No. 11 in 2007 with 1,103 in 14 games. With three games remaining, it seems safe to say 'Chuck the Truck' will pass his old teammate's total.
Brandon LaFell's 126 receiving yards against Troy gives him 772 on the season. If he maintains his average of 77 yards per game, he will become LSU's third receiver this decade to tally 1,000 yards. Josh Reed shattered the 1,000 yard mark in 2000 and 2001; Michael Clayton reached the mark in 2003. Dwayne Bowe fell 10 yards short in 2006 with 990.
What it's all about
In a sport followed as passionately as college football, with things like million-dollar coaching jobs, national titles, and NFL draft stock on the line every week, it's easy to lose sight of the sacrifices made by the college kids who dedicate their waking hours to preparing for the games we watch with bated breath. Senior defensive end Tyson Jackson, who passed on the NFL Draft last winter, put it into perspective when asked about his Senior Day against Ole Miss.
"It will be an emotional time," he said. "I have enjoyed it all. We have lost some and won some and I would not trade it for the world. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat."