War Eagle, everybody! Today, amid recruiting frenzy and BCS nay-saying, we take a look back, at another one of Tommy Tuberville’s greatest games. On October 26th, 2002, Tommy Tuberville’s back was against the wall, and top ten-ranked defending SEC champ LSU was coming to the Plains.
Auburn’s season was on the brink, coming into the LSU matchup. The year before, Tommy Tuberville’s team had lost 4 of their last five games, including a 24 point beatdown at home against Alabama. Tommy had been forced to fire both coordinators, and re-tool for 2002. In 2002, Auburn had not been very consistent. Sandwiched around thrashings of Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Western Carolina, the Tigers had struggled. There were episodes of clueless defense against Southern Cal, Arkansas and Florida. There was a 3-overtime win at home over a Syracuse team that would not finish with a winning record. The offense was inconsistent under quarterback Daniel Cobb. Even returning All-American senior kicker Damon Duval was struggling, coming into the game having hit only 4 of 8 field goal attempts, including a miss in overtime against Syracuse, and a miss of a short, potential game-winner late in regulation, at Florida. The SEC’s leading rusher, Carnell Williams, had broken his leg in a loss to Florida a week ago.
Auburn came into the game with a 4-3 record, and Tuberville’s future looked dim. With LSU, then a Manning-led Ole Miss team on the road, undefeated Georgia, and potent Alabama left on the schedule, it was tough to figure how Auburn would manage to pick up seven wins and become bowl-eligible. We’ve seen the scenario played out repeatedly in coaching: Embattled coach fires staff, loses again the next year, and is fired. It sure seemed likely, before the LSU game. Tommy Tuberville didn’t stand pat, though. He benched quarterback Daniel Cobb, and kicker Damon Duval. A ferocious blitzing strategy was adopted. If Tuberville was going to go down, he was going down swinging!
Nick Saban’s LSU squad was ailing, as well, but they were still considered the best of the SEC West. LSU had struggled in their opener against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but had reeled off six straight mauling wins since. That included a stunning 36-7 blowout of Florida in Gainesville! Starting quarterback Matt Mauck had gone down to injury, the week before in Baton Rouge, in a tight struggle with South Carolina. The LSU Tigers didn’t panic, though, and sophomore backup Marcus Randle exploded on the Gamecocks for a 38-14 win. Randle was getting his first start on the road in the SEC, though, and Tommy Tuberville had a heck of a welcome planned out for the young quarterback.
Game recap, after the jump!
The 2002 Auburn LSU game was played under a cloudy late October sky; with a cool 60 degree temperature, and a chance of rain. It was an early 11:30 Jefferson Pilot kickoff, but that was before the days of the Auburn early-morning jinx. The homestanding Auburn Tigers won the toss, and elected to defer to the 2nd half.
Damon Duval kicked off to the goal line, and Domanick Davis slithered all the way out to the 31, where LSU would start on offense. On the first play, LSU ran Davis off right guard, where he was met in the hole by Auburn defensive end Jay Ratliff, who jolted the ball out, and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas recovered the fumble at the LSU 32!
Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino opened up with the pass, trying to boost the confidence level of Jason Campbell, who was getting his first start of the season. The play was a play-action bootleg throw to the tight end in the flat. It was executed perfectly, except that the wide-open Robert Johnson couldn’t get the handle on it, and it dropped incomplete. On second down, Ronnie Brown slashed for 3. On third and long, Campbell’s pass was batted down at the line, by Lionel Turner. In came Phillip Yost, to try a 46 yard field goal. It wasn’t even close, and LSU had survived their opening fumble.
From the LSU 29, Marcus Randle fired a quick screen out to Michael Clayton, who stepped out at the 32. Domanick Davis was sent back up the middle, and ran into Mark Brown and Junior Rosegreen. That brought up 3rd and 5. Randle fired on the out to Clayton, for a first down at the 41. On first down, a quarterback draw picked up five, with Jay Ratliff hanging on to save a big play. Davis took another give up the middle, and it took both of Auburn’s safeties to bring him down after bulling for 8 and another first down. Randle fired another pass for 7, then Joseph Addai slashed for another first down at the Auburn 35. Domanick Davis took a carry to the 32, then Randle was flushed out and sacked for a yard loss by Carlos Dansby and Mark Brown. On third and long, Auburn sent the blitz, and Randle threw it up for grabs. Free safety Tavarious Robinson came up with the wounded duck and was off the other way! After a stellar interception return, lineman Ben Wilkerson made a touchdown saving tackle on Robinson at the LSU 28!
The LSU defense tried to rise to the occasion, after the second turnover. Ronnie Brown was stuffed for nothing. Campbell hit Marcel Willis on the hitch, and it was third and 4. This time, Petrino dialed up a quarterback draw, and Campbell sprinted all the way down to the LSU 5 yard line. On the next handoff, Ronnie Brown bashed up the middle for the score! Auburn was on the board. Phillip Yost knuckle-balled the PAT in, and it was Auburn 7, LSU 0, with 6:56 left in the first quarter.
Damon Duval booted a touch back, and LSU went nowhere. Two short Addai runs, and a 2 yard pass on 3rd and long, and LSU had to punt for the first time. Roderick Hood’s 12 yard return set Auburn up at their own 41. Auburn came out in the shotgun, and ran the QB draw again, burning LSU for 14 more yards. A toss to Ronnie Brown picked up 7, but then Brown was stopped for a yard loss by Bradie James and Lionel Turner. Bobby Petrino went back to the QB draw well, but came up dry this time. No gain for Jason Campbell, and after an intentional delay, Duval was sent in to punt. Duval’s punt rolled dead at the 6, AND, LSU was called for the ubiquitous block in the back.
LSU started at their own 3 yard line, but Auburn let Marcus Randle out on a keeper, for a first down at the LSU 14. LSU then suffered a false start penalty. Jay Ratliff stuffed Domanick Davis after a yard gain, and that ended the first quarter, with Auburn leading, 7-0.
On 2nd and 14, Randle overthrew Michael Clayton. It sure seemed line Randle was looking Clayton’s way, every pass play! On third and long, a quarterback draw picked up six, and it was punting time. Was either one of these quarterbacks going to be a threat downfield, or was it going to be a draw-fest, all day? LSU jumped, on the punt, and was backed up five more. From the 11, Donnie Jones got off a short kick of 36 yards. Roderick Hood ran up on it, muffed it, and LSU recovered at the LSU 48. Two more LSU runs picked up 7. On third down, Randle had to hurry a screen throw, and Carlos Dansby picked it off, falling to the LSU 47!
Another successful quarterback keeper for Auburn, was called back on a holding penalty. A quarterback draw lost another yard. Then, Trey Smith got his first carry, for 4 yards. Campbell dumped it over the middle short, on 3rd and 17, and Robert Johnson only got 10. Damon Duval’s punt rolled all the way to the LSU 1 yard line.
Backed up again, LSU handed off twice to Domanick Davis, and faced 3rd and 5. Again under heavy pressure, Randle lobbed one up. Auburn’s Donnay Young snared the errant ball, and took it back to the LSU 19.
After a short Chris Butler run, Jason Campbell fired a strike on the slant, to Devin Aromashodu, and a first and goal at the LSU 5. Butler took it to the 4, then to the 1. On third and goal, Campbell lost the snap, and had to fall on it at the 2. Phillip Yost came in, and squibbed the kick through, for the field goal. With 6:07 left in the half, Auburn was up 10-0.
Duval booted another touch back, and Dominick Davis carried twice for 6 yards. On third and 4, Randle ran, and came up a yard short. LSU was called for a dead-ball personal foul, and were backed way up. Donnie Smith got off a boomer, for 47 yards. Marcel Willis leaned upfield for 7, and Auburn took over at their own 45.
This time, Ronnie Brown bolted off right end, for 19 yards, plowing over LSU defenders on the sideline, to the LSU 36. Brown then ran left, right into Lionel Turner, for only 2. On second down, Jason Campbell play faked, dropped way back, and fired on the deep out to Robert Johnson, all the way down to the LSU 15. Brown picked up 2 on the first down carry, then in came Trey Smith, who took the give, hid behind the line, then burst through. Smith bounced off several confused LSU defenders, and rolled into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown run! With Phillip Yost’s kick, Auburn advanced to 17-0, with 2:10 left in the half!
Even after an offsides penalty on the kick, Duval was STILL able to boom it for a touch back. Despite over two minutes left on the clock, Nick Saban elected to play conservative. LSU eeked out two first downs on QB keepers and short throws, and the clock ran out on LSU at the LSU 41. At the half, Auburn held a surprising 17-0 lead over the LSU Tigers!
Auburn did not start well in the second half. First, Trey Smith handled a short Corbello kick, and ran sideways, only picking up 3 yards, AND… Auburn was flagged for an illegal block. That left the Tigers starting at the nine yard line. Ronnie Brown had two rushes for a total of 2 yards, then on 3rd and 8, Campbell missed Jeris McIntyre on the square-in. Damon Duval got off a TOWERING 58 yard punt, which Domanick Davis returned 8 yards.
LSU started at their own 40, and went backwards. LSU got called for clipping, when Carlos Rogers blew past a receiver to make a tackle on Joseph Addai 5 yards deep in the backfield. Randle was unable to overcome the 1st and 25 deficit. After a couple of incomplete throws, Donnie Jones punted it away short, only 35 yards. Marcel Willis fielded it, and took it upfield to the Auburn 36.
Auburn went play-action on first down, and Jason Campbell loaded it up deep. Devin Aromashodu hauled in the throw on the go route, deep in LSU territory. Norman LeJeune pushed him out, at the LSU 16! 3 hard-nosed Ronnie Brown runs set Auburn up first and goal from the 3. From there, Jason Campbell hit tight end Robert Johnson in the flat, and Johnson took it in for the score! Phillip Yost added the PAT, and with 10:51 left in the 3rd quarter, Auburn now led, 24-0!
Another Damon Duval touch back later, Marcus Randle was scrambling for his life. Down 24-0, LSU had to throw, and the Auburn rush was coming for him hard! Randle would fumble on first down, and take a 6 yard loss. A second down 10 yard scramble set up 3rd and 6. Randle then was rushed on a crossing pattern, and Carlos Rogers knocked the throw away. Donnie Jones hit a 38 yard punt, and Willis brought it back to the Auburn 46.
Auburn came out running hard. Brown picked up a first down on a 14 yard gallop. Brown, then Trey Smith, got it to 3rd and 2, and Brown pounded LSU for 13 more. It seemed like LSU secondary folks were more concerned about avoiding getting hurt, than tackling Brown! Then, Lionel Turner jumped the snap count, and hit Brown while he was taking the handoff, loss of five. After a missed pass to Silas Daniels, Campbell took off on the QB draw, and got only half the necessary yardage. On 4th and 8, the Tigers called timeout, to think about it. In the end, they sent in Phillip Yost, who nearly missed the ball completely on the 34 yard kick. The ball fluttered harmlessly over the right pylon in the back of the endzone.
LSU then put together a long, 15-play drive, utilizing short runs and passes underneath. Auburn had dialed back the all-out blitzes, and was substituting freely with a 24-0 lead. The end of the 3rd quarter passed, with LSU at the Auburn 20 yard line. On 3rd and 8, Auburn went after Marcus Randle again. Randle tried to dump it off in the flat, where Carlos Dansby intercepted, and he was off and running. Wide Receiver Michael Clayton finally caught Dansby, but not till Dansby was down to the LSU 22!
Auburn ran the clock, and tried to extend the big lead. Two Chris Butler runs brought up 3rd and 6, then Campbell took off on the scramble for 9, and a first and goal at the LSU 9. Then Campbell was sacked by Marquise Hill and Jeremy Lawrence back at the 20. A draw followed, to Ronnie Brown. Brown split the tackle-end gap, and he was running downhill, plowing 20 yards for a touchdown! Phillip Yost booted in the PAT, and Auburn’s lead now stood at 31-0, with 11:14 left in the game!
Duval’s kickoff did not reach the end zone this time, but coverage was good, and Dominick Davis was stopped at the 19. Aided by a roughing the passer penalty, LSU would drive it, with Marcus Randle hitting Jerel Myers for 21 yards being the big play of the drive. Joseph Addai would power this drive, picking up 5-8 yards on each carry. Addai finished the drive on an 8 yard run for a touchdown. John Corbello added the PAT, and Auburn led, 31-7, with 7:19 left in the game.
LSU would not get the ball back, after trying a sky kick that was fair-caught by Jeris McIntyre at the AU 35. Chris Butler took the first carry for a yard, and then it was the Trey Smith show. Smith carried 7 times, picking up several first downs, then, Smith ripped off a 36 yard, somersaulting bolt down to the LSU goal line. It looked on the replay like he got into the end zone with no knees or elbows down, but there was no replay/challenge in those days. The officials spotted it at the two. Jason Campbell then took a knee, and the clock ran out on the game. Coming in a heavy underdog, Auburn had BLOWN OUT the LSU Tigers, 31-7!
LSU came out of this game reeling. After a 9 for 20, 4 interception performance, Marcus Randle’s confidence was shaken. LSU was seemingly beaten in Kentucky two weeks later, before the Bluegrass Miracle happened, and Randle hit a 75 yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game, to vault LSU to a 33-30 win. A blow-out loss to Alabama in Baton Rouge, a narrow home victory over Ole Miss, and a one point loss to Arkansas in Little Rock followed. After a 6-1 start, LSU finished 8-4, and in a tie for the SEC West title. Arkansas won the tie breaker over Auburn and LSU. LSU was shot down in the Cotton Bowl by Texas, 35-20 and would finish 8-5.
Auburn turned their season around with the LSU win. Now at 5-3, the Tigers would hold off Ole Miss in Oxford, 31-24, and blow out Louisiana Monroe at homecoming to become bowl-eligible. A heartbreaking, last minute loss to eventual SEC champ Georgia at home, was followed by another shocker. Auburn went into 9th ranked Alabama’s stadium, and beat the heavily favored Tide by 10. Then, Auburn enjoyed a bowl trip to Orlando, and beat Penn State 13-9. Auburn had won five of their last six games, most over top-ten opponents, and had finished 9-4, Western Division co-champions, and ranked 15th in the nation. The 2002 finish would set up great expectations for 2003…