For LSU, it's sweet relief

21-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma earns Tigers share of title

Sooners' comeback falls short

Late drives end with drop of tipped pass in end zone, sack on fourth down

January 05, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Confusion reigned at the Louisiana Superdome last night. It seemed appropriate, given the state of college football regarding the way it determines the national champion with that quirky quagmire called the Bowl Championship Series.

First it was third-ranked Oklahoma, self-destructing its way into a 14-point deficit against the LSU Tigers and their hordes of rowdy fans who clogged the streets of the Big Easy before the Sugar Bowl before filling most of the 79,342 seats inside the building.

Then it was LSU's turn. The second-ranked Tigers nearly turned what looked like a blowout into a blew it, barely holding on for a 21-14 victory and gaining at least a share of the national championship.

It was LSU's first national title in 45 years.

Today, it will be college football's turn to scratch its collective head when there is likely to be a split national champion for the first time since 1997. Southern California, ranked first in both human polls but third by the BCS, is all but assured of receiving its share with the Associated Press media voters

But should LSU get the other half?

The uneven performance by the Tigers threw more fuel on this heated debate, plus the 37 coaches who vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll decided to fulfill their mandated contract by choosing the winner of the Sugar Bowl game.

The Sooners, ranked first in the final BCS poll, certainly made things interesting after sleep-walking through the first three quarters. They wound up waking up too late and making one costly mistake at the end.

After driving from its own 39 to the LSU 12 behind the powerful running of tailback Kejuan Jones, Oklahoma stalled. A fourth-down pass from Heisman Trophy winner Jason White was dropped by All-America wide-out Mark Clayton in the end zone.

The Sooners got one more chance after stopping the Tigers on downs and taking possession at their own 49-yard line with 2:09 left in the game. Four plays later - three incompletions and a sack by linebacker Lionel Turner - the Tigers had yet another chance to wrap up its victory.

This time, they did, running out the clock with quarterback Matt Mauck taking a knee three straight times and then calling a timeout with nine seconds left. The Tigers punted as the clock ran out and the pro-LSU crowd roared its approval.

After taking a 14-7 lead at halftime, LSU seemed to break the game open on the first possession of the second half.

On first down from his team's 20, White was sacked for a 3-yard loss by junior defensive end Marcus Spears. On the next play, Spears intercepted a short pass over the middle by White and rumbled untouched into the end zone. The Sooners looked as if they were repeating their Kansas State nightmare.

It appeared that Mauck was going to lead the Tigers on a scoring drive, but after getting down to Oklahoma 5, a double penalty against LSU negated a 35-yard field goal by Ryan Gaudet. The Tigers faked a 52-yard attempt and nearly scored, with sophomore tight end David Jones (Silver Spring) stepping out at the 6.

The Sooners got a reprieve, and mounted their comeback. After Mauck was intercepted by Brodney Pool, the Oklahoma safety returned it 49 yards to the LSU 31. After the LSU secondary made two acrobatic plays to swat away passes, White connected with Mark Clayton for a 19-yard gain on fourth-and-11.

Four plays later, Kejuan Jones scored from a yard out for the Sooners to help cut the deficit to 21-14 with a little over 11 minutes left in the game.

For a game that lacked some sizzle going into the night, LSU's Justin Vincent provided an immediate spark. Vincent took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage and cut twice before racing into the clear. Only a last-gasp ankle tackle by Oklahoma's Derrick Strait saved the Sooners from giving up the early touchdown.

Unfortunately for LSU, the match that Vincent provided didn't light immediately.

The Tigers couldn't capitalize on Vincent's 64-yard romp to the Oklahoma 16. In what set the tone for a mistake-filled first half, Mauck fumbled a snap after the Tigers reached the 2-yard line. The Sooners gave it right back, with White getting intercepted by LSU's Corey Webster after throwing into double coverage.

This time, the Tigers took advantage of Oklahoma's turnover and favorable field position set up by Webster's 18-yard return to the Sooners' 32. After another potential LSU turnover - a fumble by Vincent - was negated by an offside call against the Sooners, wide receiver Skyler Green took an end-around 24 yards for a touchdown.

Oklahoma's defense and special teams helped the Sooners get back into the game.

After the defense stopped the Tigers on downs deep in LSU territory, twice sacking Mauck, Oklahoma finally made a big play when Brandon Shelby blocked a punt by Donnie Jones and Russell Dennison recovered at the LSU 2. Three plays later, tailback Kejuan Jones scored from the 1 to help tie the game at 7.

It wasn't tied for long.

After the ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback, the Tigers needed just nine plays to go 80 yards in a little over three minutes. A 15-yard pass on third-and-seven from the Oklahoma 45 from Mauck to sophomore tight end David Jones of Silver Spring set up Vincent, who ran the last 30 yards and scored from 18 yards out with 4:21 left.

The Tigers had a chance to score again after stopping Oklahoma deep in its own territory when defensive end Marquise Hill stuffed Kejuan Jones twice and sacked White. Fittingly, a half that saw more turnovers (four) than touchdowns) closed with Mauck being intercepted with a little under minute left.

The opening half was dominated by the LSU defense.

Oklahoma managed just 16 yards on 15 rushing attempts against a unit ranked third against the run. LSU's pass defense, considered its weak link, held White, the Heisman Trophy winner, to 28 yards on five of 16 passing, but the Sooners didn't help their cause with seven penalties for 55 yards.

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