LSU Takes It Big, Easy
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7 -- All season, Louisiana State had the nation's most charmed team, winning tight games with gutsy fourth-down conversions and one inexplicable last-second heave into the end zone. On Monday night, LSU won the national championship with an uncharacteristically decisive victory that left little doubt about who is the nation's best and most resilient team.
LSU's dominating 38-24 victory over Ohio State provided vindication for its coach, Les Miles, and validation for the powerful Southeastern Conference, which can now claim the past two national champions. Much of the Louisiana Superdome crowd of 79,651 chanted "S-E-C! S-E-C!" during the final seconds.
After the most maddening regular season in memory, it was fitting that the national champion is a twice-beaten team that needed what its coach called "divine intervention" to even reach the national championship game. LSU (12-2) became the first two-loss team to win the BCS title.
"I have to give credit to some divine intervention and grace that allows us to be in this position," said Miles, whose team is the sixth No. 2 team to win the BCS title in the past seven years. "Certainly, there will be some debate as to who is the best team. I think the national champion was crowned tonight."
By winning a championship in his third season, Miles should finally emerge from the shadow cast by former Tigers coach Nick Saban, who won the national championship in the same venue four years ago.
After trailing 10-0 Monday, LSU scored 31 consecutive points to seize control. Quarterback Matt Flynn, who was named the game's most outstanding offensive player, threw for 174 yards and four touchdown passes. LSU's defense sacked Ohio State's Todd Boeckman five times and intercepted him twice.
"Down 10, there is no panic in this team," Miles said. "Are you kidding me? We've been down 10 before."
The Tigers' opening drive of the third quarter proved the most pivotal and epitomized LSU's thrilling, unpredictable season. On fourth and 23, the Tigers punted the ball away, but Austin Spitler ran into punter Patrick Fisher, a Hyattsville native, and was assessed a roughing-the-kicker penalty, giving LSU a first down. Another personal foul on the next play put the Tigers in prime scoring position. Moments later, Flynn hooked up with receiver Early Doucet, who scored from four yards out. Doucet slithered away from the arms of cornerback Donald Washington and strong safety Kurt Coleman, then eluded free safety Anderson Russell on his way to the end zone to give LSU a commanding 31-10 advantage.
"We were going after the punt," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said. "He kind of went right by the ball. The personal foul a little later, I didn't think it was an intentional loss of composure."
Top-ranked Ohio State (11-2) nearly played out a replay of last year's 41-14 loss to Florida in the national title game. In both games, the Buckeyes started strong but were ultimately run off the field by a faster SEC team.
"It hurts tremendously," said Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who rushed for 146 yards. "You really can't compare it to anything. To go to the national championship twice and lose, it's incredible."
Ohio State clung to a thread of hope late in the third quarter after cornerback Malcolm Jenkins intercepted the ball and gave the Buckeyes possession at the LSU 11. A fourth-down touchdown pass from Boeckman to wide receiver Brian Robiskie helped narrow the deficit to 31-17. But it did little to deter the Tigers, who controlled almost the entire game.
When LSU stormed out of the tunnel during introductions, it was clear Ohio State was not playing in a neutral venue. But the Buckeyes managed to stir their own fan base within the game's first two minutes, much like they did when now-departed Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kickoff 93 yards to open last year's national championship game.
On the fourth play of the game Monday, Wells raced through the middle of LSU's line, cut to his right and outraced strong safety Craig Steltz, who made a futile dive before the end zone. Wells's 65-yard touchdown run was the longest run in BCS title game history.
After early miscues, including a bad snap and a dropped pass, LSU settled down as Flynn led the Tigers on a 14-play drive that took more than six minutes. Colt David finished with drive with a 32-yard field goal.
After a 13-yard touchdown reception by Richard Dickson, LSU seized the momentum when Ricky Jean-Francois blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt. Ohio State found itself in more trouble when LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson ripped the ball away from wide receiver Ray Small for an interception, which he returned 24 yards to put the Tigers in scoring position again. Running back Jacob Hester barreled through Ohio State's defensive line for a one-yard touchdown run on third down.
That was LSU's eighth conversion in 10 third-down attempts in the first half. For a team that thrived on fourth down throughout the season, there was no need for LSU to live on the edge as it amassed 24 first-half points, the most Ohio State had allowed in a first half all season.
"We are a stubborn team," said Jean-Francois, named the most outstanding defensive player of the game. "We can get down by any amount and we're not going to give up."