Forgettable beginning: LSU blows 21-point lead against Tennessee

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BATON ROUGE — Weary LSU fans forced by nature’s wrath to wait nearly a month to watch their team play at home hoped for better as the first Monday night football game in LSU history became more memorable for the opponents’ comeback overtime win than the respite provided.

Tennessee, who had been outscored by LSU 21-0 in the first half, outscored the home-standing Tigers 23-3 after halftime to claim a 30-27 victory in front of 91,986 stunned fans.

LSU’s record shrank to 1-1 with the loss while Tennessee improved to 2-1. Both teams have short weeks to prepare for Southeastern Conference games with LSU traveling to Mississippi State and Tennessee preparing to host Ole Miss.

The Volunteer’s game-winning second-half charge was led by an unlikely hero in quarterback Rick Clausen, who completed 21of 32 mainly second-half passes for 196 yards and one touchdown. Claussen, once a back-up quarterback for LSU, was taken out of the starting line up last week by Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer in favor of Erik Ainge. He was forced into action when Ainge was injured late in the first half.

Clausen said after the game he was so upset by losing his starting job he didn’t want to make the trip to Baton Rouge for Monday’s game.

To the chagrin of Tiger fans, Clausen swallowed his pride enough to pick apart a Tiger defense that allowed just 90 yards in the first half but 205 in the second. Tennessee negated the same LSU blitz that confused and perplexed the Vols in the first half with a second-half barrage of short passes and well executed runs.

Meanwhile, the Vols’ defense staggered LSU in the second half allowing just 44 yards after the Tigers gouged 200 passing and running in the first half.

Tennessee won the coin toss to start the overtime period and chose to play defense in the north end of the field. After Jospeh Addai ran 11 yards for a first down on LSU’s first overtime play, the Tiger offense shut down again and Colt David was forced to give the Tigers a 27-24 lead with a 31-yard field goal.

But that lead was tenuous at best as the Tennessee offense, spurned by the monumental second half comeback scored a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by Gerald Riggs on the sixth play of its possession.

Riggs finished the game with 74 yards and his winning touchdown. Addai was LSU’s leading rusher with 73 yards and one touchdown. Tiger quarterback JaMarcus Russell finished the game with 14 completions on 26 attempts and one especially costly interception that allowed the Vols to cut the LSU lead to 24-21 with 7:15 to play. Tennessee tied the score 24-24 on a 28-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the contest.

Clausen awakened the Tennessee offense on its first drive of the second half, leading his team 61 yards down the field with an array of short passes. The time consuming-drive ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Bret Smith in the back of the north endzone to cut the lead to 21-7 with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter.

Clausen completed six of the seven passes attempted during the drive and finished the third quarter with nine completions in 12 attempts.

LSU took back a chunk of its halftime advantaged at the end of the third quarter when Chris Jackson line-drove a 42-yard field goal with 13 seconds to go in the quarter. Jackson’s boot extended the Tiger lead to 24-7 and capped a six-play 25-yard drive highlighted by 10 and 11-yard runs by Addai.

Clausen responded with another relentless attack of short accurate passes that kept the Tiger defenders on their heels. He ended the 13-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard leap on fourth and goal to cut the Tiger lead to 10 points with 9:35 remaining in the game.

The Vols whittled the lead further just 1:20 later thanks to a Russell interception that set up a first down and goal for Tennessee at the LSU 2-yard line. Two plays later, Riggs skipped untouched into the endzone and the Tiger lead was cut to 24-21 with 7:15 to play.

LSU again was markedly unproductive on offense on the ensuing drive and punted the ball to the Vols after losing two yards. Tennessee took over at its 37-yard line with 5:24 remaining in the game.

Riggs opened the drive with a 32-yard run and the Tiger fans gasped loudly on the next play as a wide-open tight end dropped a sure pass at the LSU 30-yard line with open field ahead of him. The Tennessee advance stopped at the LSU 11 but that was plenty close enough for Wilhoit to launch the tying field goal that sailed into the south endzone with 2:02 remaining

LSU won the coin toss before the game and elected to defer, unwittingly setting up the first score of the game for LSU. The Vols were stopped at the 12-yard line on the kick return and needed just three plays to fumble the ball to LSU. Ainge rolled left out of the shotgun and was stripped from behind by a blitzing Jesse Daniels from his safety position. Tiger linebacker Ken Hollis quickly jumped on the loose football at the Tennessee 19, giving Addai the chance to score his third touchdown of the season on the next play.

Addai first ran into a crowded line off-tackle before bouncing to the outside and outrunning two Tennessee defensive backs to the endzone. David’s extra point gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 12:44 to pay in the quarter.

LSU started the second quarter with the ball at the Volunteer 30-yard line. Four plays later, Russell was lying in the South endzone. Addai started the drive with a 21-yard run through the heart of the Tennessee defense. The Tigers followed that with a 47-yard flee-flicker pass from Russell to Craig Davis, setting up a first and goal at the 5. Addai powered to the 1-yard line on first down then Russell followed left guard Brett Helms into the endzone on second down, giving the Tigers a two-touchdown lead with 13:31 left in the half.

LSU’s special teams set up the next Tiger score as Jackson lofted a spiraling punt that Ronnie Prude wrangled dead at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, with linebacker Cameron Vaughn hanging from his shoulders in the back of the endzone, Ainge, trying to avoid a safety, lobbed the ball underhanded to the 3-yard line where Hollis was waiting. Two big strides later, Hollis gave the Tigers a three-touchdown lead. David’s extra point ran the tally to 21-0 LSU with 6:55 remaining in the half.

Ainge was replaced on the ensuing drive by Clausen on the ensuing drive, who piloted the Vols past midfield. But, that drive ended when Riggs fumbled at the LSU 47- yard line. Chevis Jackson hopped on the loose ball and LSU took over on offense again.

The Tigers threatened to score again at the end of the half, but Russell was forced to scramble out of the pocket from the Volunteer 13-yard line to the 5 with less than 25 seconds remaining. The half ended with the umpire holding the ball as LSU attempted to line up for a field goal.