The worst thing that could have happened to quarterback JaMarcus Russell may have been the best thing that could have happened to LSU on Saturday at Florida.
Russell, a redshirt freshman making his first start, threw two interceptions in LSU territory in the first quarter that opened the door to a 14-0 Florida lead with 4:28 remaining in the quarter. After he suffered a sprained ankle on LSU's next possession, he went to the bench and remained there the rest of the game.
That opened the door for Marcus Randall to come in and rally the Tigers to a last-minute 24-21 victory that helped LSU shake off the damaging effects of recent road losses to Auburn and Georgia.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team," LSU coach Nick Saban said. "I don't want to be harsh, but humiliated is what we all felt just one week ago."
The 20th-ranked Tigers (4-2, 2-2 SEC) appeared to be well on their way to a third SEC loss in four weeks when they fell behind by two touchdowns in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the game.
"I can list all the mistakes we made and penalties we had, but sometimes when you're playing really hard with a lot on the line, those kinds of things can happen," Saban said. "I think this team matured tremendously in this experience, and sometimes we need these kinds of experiences for young teams to grow up."
No one appeared to grow up more than Randall, an embattled senior who completed 18 of 27 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, led LSU to 464 total yards and all four of its scoring drives.
The Tigers trailed 21-17 with 2:06 left before Joseph Addai ran three times for 34 yards and then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass on third down with 27 seconds left, with Randall scrambling to avoid a heavy rush.
In the process, Randall not only saved the game, but he may have helped save the season.
"I really felt for the first time in the locker room before this game, and on Friday before we made this trip, that this is the first time that this team has been grounded," Saban said. "All year long it has felt like we were standing in a boat.
"This is the first time, after what happened last week, that I saw this team get grounded and get together and do the things to go back to what made us a championship-caliber team."
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