by Chris Macaluso
Special to LSUsports.net
NEW ORLEANS -- There are three young boys in Alabama who spent the last month thinking of nothing else. There's a fan in Chicago who has been sitting on the edge of his seat since the Southeastern Conference Championship game four weeks ago. There's a couple in California who bought their two-year old son his first purple and gold shirt for Christmas. There are hundreds of thousands of purple and gold die hards across this land, some who were alive in 1958, plenty who were not who have wished for little else.
With a mix of guts, will, heart and talent and spurred by a biased crowd that was the largest to watch a sporting event in the Louisiana Superdome, LSU (13-1) won its first football national championship in 45 years by pounding Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and topping his Oklahoma Sooners (12-2), 21-14.
"This is the best team character-wise that I've ever been associated with," said elated Tiger Coach Nick Saban. "I can't tell you how pleased I am that our football team can do something the entire state of Louisiana can be truly proud of."
LSU's speedy defense harassed and sacked White all night holding him to just 13 completions on 37 attempts for a mere 102 yards and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. The Tigers sacked the Oklahoma signal caller five times for 46 lost yards. White's last eight pass attempts fell incomplete, ending any chance for the Sooners to overcome a 21-7 early second-half deficit.
The Sooners, touted to have the best offense in all of college football, amassed just 154 total yards against the stingy Tigers. Oklahoma average just 2.2 yards gained per play.
LSU's offense, while not overwhelming, managed to gain more than twice the yards per play in comparison on its way to 312 total yards, splitting those almost evenly at 159 yards on the ground, 153 in the air.
Tiger quarterback Matt Mauck was competent in completing 13-of-22 passes for 124 yards and two interceptions. But it was freshman tailback Justin Vincent who amazed again with his speed and maneuverability. Vincent, fresh off of his most valuable player performance in last month's SEC Championship game, grabbed another MVP trophy by rushing for 117 yards on 16 carries and one stupendous touchdown run.
LSU set itself up for the opening score when Vincent took the first play from scrimmage off tackle for 64 yards giving the Tigers a first down at the Sooner 16-yard line. But that threat evaporated four plays later when Mauck bobbled the snap from center at the Oklahoma 2-yard line causing the Sooner faithful to let loose a long sigh of relief.
Oklahoma turned the ball right back to the Tigers, though, when White launched a long pass down the right sideline from his own endzone into double coverage. Tiger safety Jack Hunt tipped the ball in the air and cornerback Corey Webster picked it off at the Sooner 49 and returned it 17 yards to the 32.
Three plays later, Skyler Green took an end around handoff at the Oklahoma 24 and sped past the vaunted Sooner defense up the right sideline giving the Tigers the early advantage. Ryan Gaudet added the point after giving his team a 7-0 lead with 11:38 remaining in the first quarter.
"This was the most incredible game I've ever played in," Green said after the game. "It was the most high intensity game we've ever played in. We played hard on every play and came out on top."
The Sooners appeared to set themselves up for their first scoring chance with 4:43 to play in the first quarter when safety Brandon Everage intercepted Mauck at the Tiger 40-yard line. However, a defensive holding penalty kept the ball in LSU's hands for three more plays
Oklahoma tried to set up another scoring chance when Sooner punter Blake Ferguson pinned the Tigers at their 2-yard line with kick that landed at the 14 and bounced toward the endzone early in the second quarter. The Tigers managed to lose one yard on three running plays forcing Donnie Jones to punt from the back of the endzone and giving the Sooners a first down at the LSU 35.
But White took a 9-yard loss on the first play of the drive when defensive tackle Melvin Oliver sacked him with little resistance. The Sooners failed to gain a yard on the drive and were forced to punt again with a little less than 11:00 left in the first half.
Ferguson's next punt backed the Tigers up inside their own 25 to start a drive for the fifth time in the first half. LSU was able to gain just one yard on the short, ensuing drive forcing Jones to punt deep in his own territory again. This time however, Jones was not able to come away unscathed as two Sooners stormed in to block the kick with a little less than 9:00 left in the first half.
Russell Dennison recovered the ball for Oklahoma at the LSU 2-yard line leading to a 1-yard Kejuan Jones scoring dive. The 2-yard drive and ensuing point after tied the score at seven with 7:31 to play in the half.
LSU didn't stay down long, though as the Tigers appeared more focused on their next possession than at any previous point in the game. Mauck connected on medium-range passes and Vincent dazzled again with his cutting and dashing abilities as the Tigers put together a masterful nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ran 3:14 off the second-quarter clock.
Vincent capped the drive with a magnificent 18-yard scamper, helped by a block from the umpire, and Gaudet again added the point after to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead.
The back-breaking Tiger defense extended the LSU lead with less than 1:00 gone in the second half by pressuring White until he cracked. Marcus Spears sacked the OU quarterback on the first play of the second half and picked him off on the second, returning the interception 20 yards before bounding into the Oklahoma endzone. Gaudet added the point after for a 21-7 Tiger lead with 14:13 left in the third quarter.
The Sooners moved the ball well behind White on the next drive but stalled again when the Heisman winner was slapped with a 17-yard intentional grounding penalty on third down at the LSU 45.
LSU took over deep in its own territory again but soon left the shadow of its own endzone, embarking on a 15-play 77-yard drive that ended with an apparent 27-yard field goal for Gaudet on fourth down and goal from the 10 yard line. However, the Tigers were flagged for both a holding and dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moving the field goal try out to 52 yards.
Gaudet lined up for the attempt but holder Blaine Bech rolled out with the snap instead and threw to a wide-open tight end David Jones on the fake who then ran untouched until he was knocked out of bounds at the Sooner 6-yard line. The ensuing drive netted two yards forcing Ferguson to punt out of his own endzone to Green who dodged and darted his way to a 28-yard return setting up first down for the Tigers at the 35-yard line.
The drive ended on a sour note, however, as Mauck launched a third down and six attempt into the hands of safety Brodney Poole at the LSU 20-yard line. Poole returned the pick off to the LSU 31-yard line giving White the chance to connect with Mark Clayton on a 19-yard pass on fourth down and 10 to extend the Sooner drive.
Oklahoma scored its second touchdown of the game five plays later when Jones plunged into the endzone from one yard out cutting the LSU advantage to one touchdown with 11:01 remaining in the game.
LSU failed to gain a first down on following drive and gave the ball back to the Sooners at the Oklahoma 42-yard line. Clayton picked up nine yards on the first play of the drive on an end around but the Sooners stalled after a false start penalty on the next play turned a second down and short into a second down and six. Two plays later, Tiger defensive end Marquis Hill batted back Whites third-down attempt forcing the Sooners to punt.
The Tigers struggled on their next possession and were again forced to punt giving the Sooners a first down at their own 39-yard line. Oklahoma then embarked on a 13 play, 49-yard drive that carried them all the way to the LSU 12-yard line. White attempted four consecutive passes but all sailed incomplete including a diving attempt by Clayton that bounced gingerly on the endzone turf.
The Tiger offense failed again to get a first down on the ensuing drive giving the Sooners another chance to score the tying touchdown. Oklahoma took over at its 49-yard line with 2:09 left in the contest. But again, White was harassed and bothered into throwing three incomplete passes before Tiger linebacker Lionel Turner slammed him to the turf on a fourth-down sack.
Mauck took the next three snaps to the turf cradling the ball before Donnie Jones lobbed a high punt that rolled untouched inside the 20-yard line while the purple and gold crowd counted the clock to zero before erupting with National Championship elation.
LSU vs. Oklahoma
Jan. 4, 2004 -- Louisiana Superdome -- Nokia Sugar Bowl
LSU Game Notes
- LSU's game captains are WR Michael Clayton, QB Matt Mauck, OT Rodney Reed and DT Chad Lavalais.
- Oklahoma won the toss and deferred. LSU will receive the ball to begin the game.
- OT Rodney Reed (48 straight), DT Chad Lavalais (35 straight), OG Stephen Peterman (33 straight), OT Andrew Whitworth (27 straight), WR Michael Clayton (27 straight) and DE Marcus Spears (19 straight) all extended their consecutive games started streak.
- LSU's sack by Marquise Hill with 2:46 left in the second quarter was the team's 41st of the season, breaking the single-season school record of 40 set by the 1994 team. The Tigers finished the season with 44 sacks.
- LSU won its second national title and first since the 1958 season.
- The Tigers finished the season with 13 victories, surpassing the school mark by two victories. The victory of Oklahoma was the Tigers' 10th straight win in a domed stadium.
- WR Michael Clayton's four-yard reception on the third play of the game extended his consecutive games with a reception streak to 40 games, every game of his career.
- RB Justin Vincent's 64-yard run on the first play of the game moved the freshman into first-place on LSU's single-season freshman rushing list, passing Dalton Hilliard (901 in 1982). Vincent finished the game with 117 yards and 1001 total yards this season. Vincent scored his 10th rushing touchdown of the season on an 18-yard run with 4:21 left in the second quarter. He is also over 100 yards rushing for the fifth time this year and of his career.
- CB Corey Webster's first-quarter interception was the 14th of his career and seventh of the season, moving him into a tie for third place in single-season interceptions.
- WR Skyler Green's 24-yard touchdown run with 11:38 left in the first quarter was the first rushing touchdown of the sophomore's career. With that touchdown Green has scored a touchdown three different ways this season ? by punt return, by reception and by rush.
- PR Skyler Green passed Eddie Kennison (438 in 1994) for third-place for punt return yards in a single-season at LSU on his 28-yard return with 1:10 left. He finished the game with 26 yards, totaling 462 for the season.
- DT Chad Lavalais recorded a tackle in the first quarter to extend his streak of recording at least one tackle in each of the last 43 games.
- DE Marcus Spears' interception returned 20 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter was the first touchdown of the junior's career. The pick was his first of the season and the third of his career. The touchdown scored by Spears was LSU's seventh defensive touchdown of the season (five interception returns and two fumble returns) and marks the third straight game LSU has scored a defensive touchdown.
70TH NOKIA SUGAR BOWL
SUNDAY, JANUARY 4, 2004
LSU 21, OKLAHOMA 14
ATTENDANCE: 79,342 (SUPERDOME RECORD)
MILLER-DIGBY AWARD (MVP): JUSTIN VINCENT, LSU RB
- Tonight's attendance is the largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in the Louisiana Superdome since the building opened in August 1975. The previous record for a Superdome sporting event was the 79,280 that watched Florida State defeat Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, the last time the BCS championship game was contested in the Sugar Bowl.
- The largest crowd for any event in the Superdome is 87,500 for a Rolling Stones Concert in 1981.
- Tonight's attendance is the largest attendance since a Sugar Bowl record crowd of 85,161 that watched Notre Dame defeat Alabama, 24-23, in 1973 at Tulane Stadium.
- The seven-point margin marks the first time since Florida State's 23-17 victory over Florida in January of 1995 that the Sugar Bowl has been decided by fewer than 10 points. Only two of the last 13 Sugar Bowls have been decided by single figures.
- The 35 total points are the lowest in a Sugar Bowl since Florida State's 13-7 win over Auburn in 1989.
- The team leading at halftime has now won nine of the last 10 Sugar Bowl games. The only team in that stretch to win when trailing at halftime was Virginia Tech, which overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat Texas 28-10 in December of 1995.
- Justin Vincent is the first freshman to win the Miller-Digby Award since Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1981. Since freshmen were once again ruled eligible to play by the NCAA in 1972, Walker and Vincent are the only freshmen to win the award.
- Running backs have now won the Miller-Digby Award in consecutive years (Georgia's Musa Smith won it last year) for the first time since four straight running backs won it from 1992-95. From 1996 through 2002, no running back won the award.
- The blocked punt by Oklahoma's Brandon Shelby in the second quarter was the first in a Sugar Bowl since Florida State's Jeff Chaney blocked a Virginia Tech punt and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown in 2000.
- Marcus Spears' interception return for a touchdown marks the second consecutive year an interception was returned for a touchdown. Georgia's Bruce Thornton returned an interception 71 yards for a score last year against Florida State.
- Spears is the first defensive lineman to score a touchdown in a Sugar Bowl since Virginia Tech's Jim Barron returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown against Texas in December 1995.
- Combined with its 2002 win over Illinois LSU has now won consecutive Sugar Bowl games for the first time since 1965 against Syracuse and 1968 against Wyoming. Those were coach Charles McClendon's only two Sugar Bowl appearances; current LSU coach Nick Saban has the same 2-0 Sugar Bowl record that McClendon posted.
- LSU is now 5-7 all-time in 12 Sugar Bowl appearances. The Tigers' 12 appearances is tied with Alabama for the most in the 70-year history of the game.
- LSU's win gives the Southeastern Conference three consecutive wins in the Sugar Bowl since Alabama won three straight from 1978-80 and Georgia followed that with a win in 1981. LSU defeated Illinois in 2002 and Georgia defeated Florida State in 2003.
- The SEC is now 34-29-1 all-time in the Sugar Bowl. This includes Georgia Tech's four appearances (4-0) and Tulane's two trips (1-1), but does NOT include Arkansas' 1-4 mark, as the Razorbacks were members of the Southwest Conference at the time of their appearances. Current SEC members are 29-32-1.
- The SEC finishes 5-2 in the 2003 bowl season. Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn were winners; Florida and Tennessee were losers.
- Oklahoma is now 4-2 in Sugar Bowl games on the field (the Sooners' December 1972 victory over Penn State was later forfeited).
- The Big 12 is now 0-2 in the Sugar Bowl. Texas A&M lost to Ohio State in 1999 in the conference's only other Sugar Bowl appearances.
- Current Big 12 teams are now 12-7 in the Sugar Bowl (11-8 counting Oklahoma's above forfeit). Oklahoma is 4-2, Nebraska 3-1, Texas 1-2, Missouri and Texas A&M 1-1, Baylor and Oklahoma State 1-0.
- The Big 12 finishes 2-6 in the 2003 bowl season. Texas Tech and Nebraska were the conference's only winners, with Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma falling short.
- LSU is now 5-9 vs. current Big 12 teams in bowl games, but the Tigers had lost their last six against Big 12 teams in the post-season prior to tonight.
- With Oklahoma's loss, Heisman Trophy winners are now 3-5 in Sugar Bowl games. The Heisman winners to emerge victorious in the Sugar Bowl were TCU's Davey O'Brien (1938), Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett (1976) and Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1996). The losers were LSU's Billy Cannon (1959), Auburn's Pat Sullivan (1971), Georgia's Herschel Walker (1982), Miami's Gino Torretta (1992), and Oklahoma's Jason White (2003).
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES
- LSU will claim its second coaches' poll national championship with the win. The Fighting Tigers were the AP (writers) and UPI (coaches) national champion in 1958.
- Since post-bowl polls became permanent in 1968, the Sugar Bowl has crowned 11 national champions. Two of those previous 10 were split, in 1973 (Notre Dame sharing with Alabama) and 1978 (Alabama sharing with USC).
- Since the BCS began in 1998, a different team has won the BCS title game each year. In order, the teams to win the BCS title are Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State and LSU.
- For the second consecutive year, the No. 2 team defeated the No. 1 team in the BCS championship game. Ohio State defeated Miami in last year's BCS title game in the Fiesta Bowl. In the first complete rotation of the BCS (1998-2001), the top team entering the game won.
- The SEC becomes the first conference to win two BCS title games, combined with Tennessee's 1999 Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State in the first BCS title game. Tennessee and LSU are the only two SEC teams to play in the BCS title game.
- LSU becomes the fourth team in the SEC championship game era (since 1992) to win the title. Alabama (1992), Florida (1996) and Tennessee (1998) also pulled off the feat.