LSU entered the 2010s after its football program’s most successful decade from 2000 through 2009. The Fighting Tigers had finished with the eighth highest winning percentage (76.15) among Division 1-A programs. They had won three Southeastern Conference championships in 2001, 2003 and 2007. Additionally, the Bayou Bengals were crowned as the national champions in 2003 and 2007. LSU had ascended among the elite of college football. We take our first look at the decade of Tigers football with LSU Highlights 2010-2014.
Despite the successful span of ten years, causes for concern loomed in the future. Urban Meyer had also clinched two national titles in the previous decade. His Gators remained as a permanent cross-over opponent from the SEC East. The new head coach at Auburn, Gene Chizik, and his offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, were lifting those other Tigers in the SEC above the status of an occasional contender for the national championship that always falls a bit short. More imposingly stood LSU’s former head coach, Nick Saban, at Alabama. He had taken over the program which had crushed LSU’s hopes for an SEC title so many times in the 60s, 70s and 80s then dominated the Tigers during the nightmarish seasons of the 90s. He closed out the single-digit years with undefeated national championship season. That title foreshadowed much frustration for LSU.
The season opened with a 30-24 decision in Atlanta over a North Carolina. The Tar Heels were weakened by suspensions of 13 players. Nonetheless, the game ended with a defensive stand six yards short of the Tigers’ end zone. The narrow win began a season full of nail-biters.
In total, LSU won six of eight contests decided by single-digits. The most memorable occurred at home in October as Tennessee was penalized for illegal participation on the final play of the game. That gave LSU a second chance to score from the Volunteers’ one-yard line which Stevan Ridley did. After dropping a game at Auburn, the eventual national champions, by seven points, LSU returned to Tiger Stadium to upset Alabama, the defending national champions, by three points. An eight-point loss to the Razorbacks in the regular-season finale cost the Bayou Bengals a probable invitation to the Sugar Bowl. LSU settled for a trip to the Cotton Bowl where they dominated Texas A&M, 41-24. LSU finished ranked eighth in both the final Associated Press’ and coaches’ polls.
This season started as the greatest in the history of LSU’s football program then ended in a catastrophe whose repercussions endured for most the decade. What this squad accomplished ranks among the most impressive feats in a year by any team. These Tigers defeated eventual Pacific 12 champion Oregon in Jerry World. They also traveled to Morgantown and dominated West Virginia who later shared the Big East title. Both of those teams closed their season by winning BCS bowl games. Those were also the only opponents to score more than 17 points against the Bayou Bengals before the BCS Championship Game. Additionally, LSU swept through the SEC undefeated, including a second half rout of Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
The re-match with Alabama in the BCS Championship Game ended in a program-altering fiasco. Les Miles and his coaches recycled their gameplan from the 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. The Fighting Tigers’ defense played tenaciously, holding the Tide to five field goals on seven attempts until late in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the offense turned over the ball twice and compiled only 92 total yards. Jordan Jefferson and the offense did not enter into Alabama’s territory until less than eight minutes left in the game. That drive ended with Jordan being sacked and fumbling the ball on fourth down. That Jarrett Lee, the starting quarterback for most of the season, never appeared in the game remains one of the most perplexing mysteries in LSU’s football history.
The home date against Alabama dominated the Tigers’ focus as they stood 7-1 at the end of October. The lone loss occurred at Florida as the turnover-plagued offense could only muster two field goals, both in the first half, while the defense allowed two touchdowns in the second half. Nevertheless, LSU remained in the top ten of the polls in part to the demolition of Washington, 41-3. They upset top-five ranked South Carolina and downing a ranked Texas A&M squad on the road in consecutive weeks.
A two-week crescendo ended with the top-ranked and undefeated Crimson Tide arriving in Death Valley. LSU grabbed the lead with a field goal in the first quarter. Alabama answered with two touchdowns in the second. Meanwhile, LSU botched a pass on a fake field goal call and missed a field goal attempt. The Tigers scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions in the second half to grab the lead, 17-14. Following LSU’s second missed field goal attempt, Alabama drove 72 yards on five plays to score the game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game.
The Fighting Tigers finished out the regular season knowing that their pre-season goal could not come to fruition. They escaped with a victory at home over Ole Miss when Jeremy Hill scored a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the game. After jumping out to a 10-0 advantage at Arkansas, they held off the Razorbacks just enough to escape with a 20-13 victory.
After being snubbed by the BCS bowls, LSU dropped into the Peach Bowl against Clemson on New Year’s Eve. LSU held a 24-13 lead with ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter quarter. They had not trailed at any point. Nevertheless, Clemson connected on a game-winning field goal as the clock hit all zeros. A 10-3 finish with two SEC losses felt like abject failure.
This season continued the downward trajectory of the program. LSU finished with a 5-3 record in SEC games. The Tigers lost at Georgia by allowing a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. A few weeks later, they dropped a game on a last-second field goal at Ole Miss. After tying the score early in the third quarter at Alabama, the defense surrendered touchdowns to the Tide on three consecutive possessions. Despite starting an inexperienced quarterback, the Tigers outlasted Iowa on New Year’s Day in Tampa.
Despite falling behind 24-7 early in the third quarter to Wisconsin in Houston, the Tigers scored on four straight possessions to escape with a 28-24 victory. Three weeks later, they lost to Mississippi State, ending 14 game winning streak against the Bulldogs. Two weeks later, they were embarrassed at Auburn, 41-7.
The Tigers nearly salvaged something of the season by going down to the wire versus Alabama. Tied at 10-10 with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kendall Beckwith recovered Bama’s fumble at the Tide’s six-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and three rushes for a net loss of a yard forced LSU to settle for a field goal. Alabama drove 55 yards in 47 seconds for the tying field goal. The Tide scored a touchdown in overtime while the Tigers threw four incomplete passes.
LSU’s season nosedived following the gut-wrenching loss at home. The next week, LSU looked completely disinterested at Arkansas as the Razorbacks ended their 17-game losing streak in SEC contests. The Tigers narrowly escaped College Station with a 23-17 decision and a 4-4 record in the SEC. The season ended with a loss in the Music City Bowl to finish 8-5.
Mid-point of the decade
The shutout in Alabama’s mulligan in the Superdome at the end of the 2011 season hung like a menacing cloud over LSU’s football program. Despite their determined efforts, they could not break the stranglehold of Alabama. Neither Les Miles nor anyone else in the program would admit that it was heading further into decline with each passing year.
Next, we will look at the remainder of the decade for the highs and lows of LSU Football.