After two weeks of dealing firsthand with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana State University players and coaches finally opened their season late Saturday night with a "home" game staged 1,500 miles from their campus.
"Our team has had the longest camp in the history of camps," LSU Coach Les Miles said after the fifth-ranked Tigers rallied to beat No. 15 Arizona State, 35-31, at Sun Devil Stadium. "It has been surrounded by a real-life trauma. This is not a made-for-TV movie. This was a real-life trauma where friends and family had to stay in the dorms and the town swelled to take the New Orleans evacuees.
"They wanted this game for the people back home."
No one was sure how LSU players would compete given how their lives had changed the past two weeks. Some players are housing upward of 20 family members. Black Hawk helicopters routinely fly over LSU's practices en route to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where a makeshift hospital for hurricane victims has been set up.
Miles, who had been the Oklahoma State head coach since the 2001 season, was scheduled to make his Tigers debut on Sept. 3 against North Texas, but the game was postponed. And Saturday's game against the Sun Devils was moved from Baton Rouge, La., to Tempe, Ariz.
"With all that stuff happening and plus us even having to come to Arizona State to play an away game, it was just a lot of stuff that we had to put behind us to bring the state together," LSU safety Craig Steltz said. "We just wanted to get the victory to take the people's minds off the hurricane and to have something to cheer for."
On a scale of dramatic victories, this one rates high. LSU rallied from a 10-point deficit and scored 28 points in the fourth quarter against Arizona State. Wide receiver Early Doucet made all three of his catches in the fourth quarter, including a 39-yard touchdown reception with 1 minute 13 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-wining score.
The game between LSU and Tennessee on Sept. 24 is still scheduled for LSU's Tiger Stadium. Tennessee officials have asked for the game to occur in the afternoon so fans can stay outside Baton Rouge to allow evacuees more hotel rooms.
At least in Tempe, LSU players did not have a problem focusing or finding inspiration to play. "We talked about our effort being what we really wanted to show our country," Miles said.
Still in the Running
Vince Young offered his best impersonation of NFL star Michael Vick in the first quarter against Ohio State, running for 56 yards and leading Texas to a 10-0 lead. Then the Buckeyes linebackers clamped down on his running game and forced Young to throw.
For much of the rest of the game, it looked like Ohio State would accomplish the goal set publicly by linebacker Bobby Carpenter: vanquish Young's Heisman Trophy hopes. Ohio State's senior linebacking trio allowed Young to rush for only 20 yards after the first quarter. He was once hit so hard, he landed on his head.
Young, who threw for 270 yards, recorded the fifth fourth-quarter comeback of his career and departed Ohio Stadium as he entered it -- a strong Heisman contender.
"Trash-talk always inspires me," Young said.
Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said yesterday that his meeting with players later in the afternoon would primary deal with two issues: the dangers of his team's next opponent, Michigan State, and constructive criticism based on watching tape of Saturday's victory over then-No. 3 Michigan.
The celebration was over, even as the Fighting Irish (2-0) earned a No. 10 ranking yesterday in the Associated Press poll, marking their first entry into the top 10 in three years. Weis said the first thing he was planning to tell players was that the Spartans have won four consecutive games at Notre Dame Stadium.
"It's easier to press [the players] to another level" after a strong performance, Weis said.
On another matter, Weis, the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, had a bet with his former quarterback Tom Brady, a Michigan alum, on Saturday's game. Weis said he has already spoken with Patriots Coach Bill Belichick to make sure Brady will live up to his agreement to wear a Notre Dame hat to his next news conference. . . .
One week after Texas Christian shocked Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., the Horned Frogs went belly-up against area rival Southern Methodist, losing, 21-10. The loss renders Thursday night's TCU-Utah game far less attractive than it would have been had both Mountain West Conference schools been unbeaten.