Monday Night Madness: LSU-Tennessee matchup moved due to Rita
Published 12:00 am Monday, September 26, 2005
By Billy Gomila
BATON ROUGE – Falls in southeast Louisiana are always all about Saturday nights in Tiger Stadium. It’s normal. It’s what people are used to.
Of course for the last few weeks almost nothing in Louisiana has been the way residents are used to.
This newest brush with a Hurricane has led to even more history, as for the first time in its history LSU will play a football game on a Monday night.
That’s right, it’s Monday Night Football, live from Baton Rouge as the no. 3 LSU Tigers take on the tenth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers (6:30 p.m. to be televised on ESPN2).
No Al Michaels or John Madden (although Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer certainly has the girth to qualify as Madden’s stand-in), but this night will be special enough as it is the home debut of not only new Tigers head coach Les Miles but also his 2005 squad.
After a gutsy, come-from-behind win in another hurricane-affected “home” game at Arizona State, the 2005 Tigers are still somewhat of an enigma.
Sophomore quarterback JaMarcus Russell appears poised to lead a balanced and explosive offense with speedy backs and receivers. But LSU’s defense hardly looked up to the standards fans came to expect under former head coach Nick Saban. Arizona State’s Sam Keller passed for 466 yards on LSU, a game eerily reminiscent of the late 1990s Gerry DiNardo/Lou Tepper defenses that were routinely scorched.
Given the circumstances, with some players having as many as 20 family members staying in their apartments, its understandable that the team may not have been on its mental Ps and Qs. This week the team has had more of a routine preparation, at least until Rita pushed the game back again.
Tennessee won’t exactly be playing in their comfort zone either though, as the Vols will be flying in the day of the game then leaving almost immediately after as opposed to coming in a day or two ahead of time.
The Tigers are also fortunate to be facing a team with a passing game that is in the same state of uncertainty as LSU’s pass defense. Tennessee has scored 24 points combined in its first two games, with Fulmer rotating sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge with (former LSU transfer) Rick Clausen. The old saying goes that if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one – and if Tennessee is to meet the top-five expectations one passer will have to emerge. Ainge will get the start Monday. A 6-6 talent and nephew of ex-college and pro basketball star Danny Ainge, has the arm and passing skills to lift Tennessee’s offense to a higher level, but has yet to show the consistency or leadership skills of Clausen.
Look for the Vols to rely on their running game and stud back Gerald Riggs, Jr. LSU wasn’t really tested on the ground against the Sun Devils, so Tennessee will present a very different challenge in that regard.
Another area of the game that seems tilted in LSU’s favor is special teams. In last week’s 16-7 loss at Florida Tennessee had a kick blocked, a punt return muffed and punter Britton Colquitt pull up to throw a pass on fourth down only to see his intended receiver not even turn around for the ball. Against Arizona State the Tigers blocked two kicks for touchdowns and also pulled off a similar fake punt in their own endzone (a play Miles now said was called by punter Chris Jackson without his knowledge or approval). But most importantly the team showed consistency in the kicking game, nailing all five of its extra points and booting several nice punts.
But ultimately, what everybody wants to see is the emotion LSU will come out with. The Bayou Bengals have seen what a lift victory can give to this state, no matter how brief. For all the charity work the team did for Baton Rouge evacuees following Katrina, winning is ultimately what fans want to see. No matter the outcome, expect LSU to play as hard as any Tiger team ever has.