No. 10 Tennessee 30, No. 4 LSU 27, OT
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—Rick Clausen returned to LSU and refused to let Tennessee be part of the Tigers’ feel-good story.
The LSU transfer led the Vols back from a three-touchdown deficit and Gerald Riggs Jr. pushed into the end zone from a yard out in overtime to give Tennessee a 30-27 win Monday night in LSU’s long-awaited, hurricane-delayed home opener.
“Everybody makes comments and said, ‘I transferred to Tennessee because I wasn’t good enough to play here,”’ said Clausen, who threw the ball into the LSU student section after Riggs’ game-winning score.
Clausen finished 21-for-32 for 196 yards with a touchdown pass and a TD run and appeared to settle the 10th-ranked Vols’ quarterback controversy.
“Getting done what he got done, coming back here to win this football game at a place where he had been, I don’t know if there is a better story in the world than what this guy has done,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The Tigers had first crack in overtime, but managed only a 31-yard field goal by Colt David.
Riggs accounted for all the Vols’ yards in overtime with a 10-yard reception and four runs. He powered through the line and in for the score on third down to send the hurricane-weary Louisianans home with a bitter loss.
“I don’t know what happened out there. We played like a joke out there in the second half,” LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “It was nothing they did, it was everything we did. It was just an absolute joke in the second half. It was a complete and total breakdown.”
Hurricane Katrina forced the No. 4 Tigers to postpone their first home game, and move their second to Arizona State, where LSU came away with a dramatic win.
Then Hurricane Rita created another delay and set up the first Monday nighter in Tiger Stadium.
The crowd was a bit smaller than usual, but they were loud as ever and the Tigers (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) certainly looked like a team eager to play when they jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the Vols (2-1, 1-1) in the first half.
“There was no panic,” Fulmer said. “We challenged each other.”
Clausen started one game in his brief LSU career, and didn’t even finish it. He left after the 2002 season to follow his brother, Casey, to Tennessee.
Rick got the start in Tennessee’s last game against Florida but was pulled early for Erik Ainge. Then Fulmer decided Ainge would start against LSU.
“It was a tough week for myself,” Clausen said. “I called home a few times; I really didn’t want to be here.”
In his first game as a visitor at Tiger Stadium, he sparked an offense that looked lost in the first half.
His 1-yard sneak made it 24-14 with 9:35 left in the fourth.
Jonathan Hefney intercepted JaMarcus Russell and returned it 26 yards to the LSU 2 on the next possession. When Riggs scored from a yard out with 7:15 left in regulation, the crowd went silent as the lead was down to three.
Then Tennessee’s defense forced another LSU punt and Riggs’ 22-yard run helped get James Wilhoit in position for a 28-yard field goal that tied it.
Riggs finished with 89 yards on 24 carries.
LSU had one last shot in regulation when LaRon Landry intercepted a pass at the Tigers 45 with 17.7 second left. But all LSU could manage was a last-play heave into the end zone heave that was picked off as time expired.
“I actually thought we were going to win in overtime,” first-year LSU coach Les Miles. “I couldn’t believe that we didn’t win the game.”
Tennessee had managed just 24 points in its first two games, but was going nowhere with Ainge against LSU.
Ainge’s fumble set up the first score and his ill-advised desperation throw out of his own end zone turned into a 3-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kenneth Hollis.
Clausen relieved with the Vols down by three touchdowns halfway into the second quarter.
Ainge finished 7-for-19 for 54 yards.
The three-touchdown lead could have been even bigger for the Tigers. They lost two fumbles in Tennessee territory and watched time run out in the half with the ball at the Vols’ 5.
“I think we just had a couple of missed opportunities,” Russell said.
Clausen went 6-for-7 for 40 yards on the opening drive of the second half, hitting Bret Smith with an 8-yard TD pass to make it 21-7.
Chris Jackson’s 42-yard field goal made it 24-7 and seemed to give momentum back to the Tigers. But Clausen and the Vols’ defense would not let Tennessee lose two straight.
A moment of silence was held for the victims of the hurricanes before the game, and LSU’s band played “Walking in New Orleans before the alma mater and national anthem.
The stadium announcer welcomed the fans to the first major sporting event since the storms with these words: “On this evening we vow to move forward under a common flag because this is LSU football; this is Tiger Stadium; and this is Louisiana.”
With that, a deafening roar came from the crowd—one that was matched about 15 minutes later when Joseph Addai ran 19 yards for a touchdown on LSU’s first play from scrimmage to take a 7-0 lead.
Addai’s TD came one play after Jessie Daniels knocked the ball from Ainge and Hollis recovered at the Tennessee 19.
Addai bounced to the outside and sprinted to the end zone less than three minutes into the game.
Russell connected with Craig Davis on a 47-yard flea-flicker to the Tennessee 2 in the second quarter, and two plays later, Russell sneaked over the line for a 14-0 lead.