Having lost 11 starters and so many key leaders and playmakers from last year's national championship team, some of LSU coach Nick Saban's worst fears were realized in Saturday's season opener against unranked Oregon State.
"Those guys that came in, they outplayed us and beat us all over the field," LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "We snuck one out."
If it hadn't been for three missed extra-point kicks by Oregon State's Alexis Serna, the Tigers wouldn't be feeling so fortunate.
The No. 4 Tigers trailed 9-0 and 15-7 before backup quarterback JaMarcus Russell came off the bench and forced overtime by throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe with 1:05 left in the game and then running for the 2-point conversion.
Russell left the game during the overtime with leg cramps, allowing starter Marcus Randall to return and give the Tigers the lead on a 5-yard touchdown run. Oregon State followed with a touchdown of its own before Serna missed his third PAT, letting LSU off the hook with a 22-21 win.
"We've got a lot of work to do as a team," Saban said. "I think everyone knows that. Maybe it's a good omen that everybody understands that now.
"I have been saying what a good team Oregon State has, what a great job they do in their program with their players."
After the Tigers won a share of last year's national championship with a talented team that also relied on chemistry, leadership and focus, Saban spent the past eight months trying to convince his team that it would take more of the same for the Tigers to continue to be so successful.
As late as last week, he worried aloud that some of his players were still living in the past and weren't getting the message. That may have been the case against an Oregon State team that did everything to win the game but kick extra points.
Surviving Oregon State's near upset and coming away with a win should help Saban and the coaches get the attention of the players this week as the Tigers turn their attention toward Saturday's home game against Arkansas State. While Arkansas State won't remind anyone of Oregon State, it's important for LSU to play well and prepare for a stretch of road games at Auburn, Georgia and Florida from Sept. 18 to Oct. 9.
"Well, obviously it was a great win for our team," Saban said. "I think it shows a lot of character on their part that we got back in the game. But we didn't play very well."
In the process, the Tigers must answer questions about a brewing quarterback controversy involving Randall, a fifth-year senior who struggled throughout the first half, and Russell, a redshirt freshman who brought the Tigers to life in the second half.
"I know you are going to ask me about the quarterback situation," Saban said, "and I'm going to tell you straight up: I don't know about the quarterback situation. I think we need to analyze what we did."
Copyright (C) 2004 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.
Audio & Video Coverage
LSU Tigers Youth Skip Bertman Field T-Shirt - Purple
$16.95 Shop Now!