Photo provided by LSU athletics
Over the past couple decades, Tennessee and LSU have played some memorable games. The contest that took place on this day 15 years ago certainly qualifies.
In a match-up of top-15 teams, LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell atoned for early mistakes. His touchdown pass to Early Doucet in the final seconds was the difference as the Tigers left Knoxville with a 28-24 victory.
Setting the Stage
More than 106,000 people packed Neyland Stadium as LSU arrived on Nov. 4, 2006. Following losses to top-5 teams early in the year, the 13th-ranked Tigers arrived on a 2-game winning streak and 6-2 overall.
Since a 1-point loss to Florida early in the season, Tennessee had won five straight games. At 7-1, the Volunteers were ranked eighth in the country.
The Decisive Drive
LSU had overcome an early 10-point deficit to take a 21-17 lead into the final quarter, but the fourth turnover looked as though it may be too much for the Tigers to overcome. After Dwayne Bowe fumbled midway through the fourth quarter, Tennessee needed just one play to take advantage and the lead.
Jonathan Crompton, who had replaced an injured Erik Ainge, delivered the 55-yard touchdown strike to Robert Meachem. The bomb gave the Volunteers a 24-21. Little did they know that they would not see the ball again until it was too late.
The proceeding LSU drive took 15 plays, covered 80 yards and took more than seven minutes off the clock. Russell was 5-for-7 on the decisive drive, but it was the ground game that would move the Tigers into Tennessee territory.
After a 10-yard scramble by Russell and a 14-yard run by Trindon Holliday put LSU in Tennessee territory, the Volunteers buckled down. Down 24-21 and facing 4th-and-2 from the 37-yard-line, LSU elected not to try a long field goal with less than three minutes to play. A false start made that decision easier and the down 4th-and-7.
Russell and Doucet kept the Tigers alive with an 8-yard connection before hooking up again for 11 yards. Productive runs by Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams moved the ball inside the 10. Following an incomplete pass and a 2-yard run from Russell, LSU faced 3rd-and-goal from the Tennessee 4-yard-line.
On the game’s decisive play, Russell stood tall in the pocket. As Doucet came open, Russell delivered a strike. Doucet was able to stretch out to make the lunging catch for the touchdown. With nine seconds remaining, LSU had took the lead and eventual victory, 28-24.
LSU held a large advantage statistically with 478 yards of offense to 248 for Tennessee. Miscues however, allowed Tennessee to lead most of the way.
LSU scored first on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Craig Davis. The next 17 points however, belonged to Tennessee. 10 followed Russell turnovers.
After Crompton and Meachem connected for a 37-yard touchdown to tie the game, Jonathan Hefney’s interception of Russell thwarted a scoring opportunity. Tennessee took its first lead with three seconds to go in the first half on a short James Wilhoit field goal.
Russell’s first pass of the second half resulted in Tennessee pushing its lead to 10. Demetrice Morley was able to pick off the future No. 1 overall pick and return it 30 yards for a touchdown.
The next two LSU drives covered 129 total yards and both ended in touchdowns. After Russell found Bowe on a 5-yard scoring strike, Williams’ 8-yard touchdown run put the Tigers back in front, 21-17.
Wilhoit missed a long field goal on the next drive before the next three possessions resulted in turnovers, including interceptions by Tennessee’s Antwan Stewart and LSU’s Darry Beckwith.
Russell finished with 247 yards passing and a team-high 71 yards rushing in addition to the three touchdown passes and three picks. Crompton passed for 183 yards, an interception and the two touchdown tosses to Mechem, who led all receivers with 121 yards.
From that contest on, the schools headed in different directions. For Tennessee, it began a stretch of three losses in five games to end the season. The Volunteers finished 9-4 and No. 25 in the AP Poll following an Outback Bowl loss to Penn State.
LSU proceeded to close the year on a 7-game winning streak. The Tigers closed the year with a 41-14 thrashing of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. During that streak, LSU twice rallied from fourth-quarter deficits. It did so in front of more than 106,000 fans on this day 15 years ago.