Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tigers Win SEC; Still Alive for National Championship

Reports of the death of LSU's defense -- and the departure of head coach Les Miles -- have been greatly exaggerated. LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon ran an interception back for a touchdown with under 10 minutes to play before linebacker Darry Beckwith picked off another inside the LSU 10 to cap the Tigers' 10th SEC Football Championship in school history.

The two plays put the LSU defense back on the map where they started the season -- among the nation's elite. More importantly, they gave LSU it's fifth Bowl Championship Game berth since 2001 and third conference title in that span.

On third-and-5 from the Tennessee 14, LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon stepped in front of wide receiver Quintin Hancock and picked off Ainge at the Tennessee 18. He ran untouched into the endzone for a touchdown, LSU's first defensive score of the season.

Leading 19-14, LSU went for the two-point conversion, this time using Hester as a decoy in the short-yardage situation and opting to allow quarterback Ryan Perrilloux to take it himself into the endzone.

LSU held the Vols with Beckwith's interception at the Tennessee 7-yard line with 2:42 to play to win, 21-14.

The victory was also the culmination of weeks of speculation about the future of LSU head coach Les Miles, who prior to the game debunked an ESPN rumor that he was taking another position and announced prior to the game that he will return to LSU for the 2008 season.

As SEC Champions, LSU's most likely destination is the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. However, a series of upsets could give the Tigers a shot at the National Championship game.

Meanwhile, Perrilloux, the LSU sophomore quarterback, earned championship game MVP honors by calling the finest game of his short career.

Starting for just the second time in place of Matt Flynn, Perriolloux was 20-of-30 passing for 243 yards and a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

He also rushed nine times for 14 yards and scored the two-point conversion that gave LSU the final margin after Zenon's interception.

The Tigers converted 10-of-20 third downs while holding Tennessee to 4-of-13.

LSU running back Jacob Hester, who went over 1,000 yards on the season (1,017), was again the force that powered the Tigers' rushing attack. He ran 23 times for 120 yards to keep the Vols' linebackers and safeties from coming after Perrilloux.

LSU's defense was stellar, especially considering its health.

Playing without Glenn Dorsey for more than half the game,

The Tigers finished the game with a 464-343 advantage in total offense, running 14 more plays than Tennessee and controlling the clock for more than 36 minutes.

LSU's defensive also pressured Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge more than most have all season. Though not recording a sack, they held Ainge to 20-of-40 passing for 249 yards with two interceptions.

The front four kept Arian Foster to 57 yards on 21 rushes. Tennessee totalled 94 yards on 26 carries.

LSU tried to catch Tennessee off guard on the opening kickoff, as placekicker Sean Gaudet hit a high kick to the Tennessee 40-yard line that was nearly caught by LSU's Chad Jones.

The Vols then drove 62 yards in six plays and took a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown reception by tight end Chris Brown from quarterback Erik Ainge. LSU defensive end looked to have the pass intercepted when Brown streaked across the middle of the field, reached in front of Pittman and snagged the ball before sprinting into the endzone.

After that, LSU's defense lived up to its early-season reputation. The Tigers gave up only 31 yards for the rest of the half, forcing four-straight punts and allowing only two first downs.

However, the Tigers entered the Tennessee red zone three times and came away with only a pair of 30-yard field goals in the first quarter.

David missed his third 30-yard attempt to the right with less than 10 seconds to play in the half. It was his first miss in 11 tries.

LSU outgained Tennessee 271-93 in the half, holding the ball for 21:20 of the 30 minutes.

The Tigers took the second-half kickoff and did just what the Vols did to them in the first half -- they drove 76 yards in six plays to take their first lead of the game, 13-7.

On third-and-3 from the Tigers 31-yard line, Perrilloux kept the drive alive by scrambling out of the pocket and finding Brandon LaFell behind the defense for a 46-yard reception.

Three plays later, on third-and-16 from the Tennessee 27, Perrilloux again fired a dart to Byrd inside the Vols 5-yard line for a touchdown.

David added the point after for a 13-7 lead with 11:52 left in the third quarter.

Tennessee's attempt to answer was unsuccessful as the Vols plowed to the LSU 13 before missing a 30-yard field goal.

However, LSU gave Tennessee another opportunity with their first turnover of the game. After Trindon Holliday, took an option pitch for 19 yards into Tennessee territory, he looked to have another long run into field goal range. However, the ball was jarred from his grasp and into the hands of Tennessee's Eric Berry.

The Vols needed nine plays to re-take the lead, 14-13, when Ainge hit Josh Briscoe for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:09 left in the third quarter.

Another LSU turnover, this time an interception by Berry, gave Tennessee excellent field position at the LSU 37. But the Vols couldn't take advantage of this gift, missing a 51-yard field goal to give the ball back to LSU.

The teams traded three-straight punts, including an LSU drive that featured a successful fake punt by LSU's Patrick Fisher.

Though LSU was unable to earn another first down after the fake, but Fisher's next punt pinned Tennessee at it's 9.

Three plays later, Ainge looked to his right for Hancock and was intercepted by Zenon for a touchdown.

LSU vs. Tennessee
Dec. 1, 2007 – Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.) – SEC Championship Game
Postgame Notes

Team Notes
1. LSU’s game captains were 16 Craig Steltz, 18 Jacob Hester and 72 Glenn Dorsey.
2. Tennessee won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. LSU received the ball to open the in the second half.
3. Tigers extending their consecutive starts streak today were: CB Chevis Jackson (39), LB Ali Highsmith (27), LT Ciron Black (26), CB Jonathan Zenon (26), LG Herman Johnson (23) and DT Glenn Dorsey (21).
4. DT Ricky Jean-Francois started today’s game, his first game action of the season after being reinstated after serving a year-long suspension.
5. LSU has scored on its first possession of the second half in 11 of 13 games this season. Six of those nine scores have been touchdowns.
6. LSU’s 475 points this season (including the 21 points today) tied the school record for point in a season. The 2003 team also tallied 475 points set.
7. LSU’s fake punt for a first down with 12:03 left in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard pass from Patrick Fisher to Quinn Johnson was the first by the Tigers since Sept. 10, 2005 at Arizona State when Chris Jackson converted a first down on a 12-yard pass to Ronnie Prude. Fisher’s toss was also the first completion by an LSU punter since Jackson.
8. The Tigers tallied their first defensive touchdown of the season when Jonathan Zenon picked off an Erik Ainge pass and took it 18 yards for a score with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter.
a. It marked the first interception for a TD by LSU since Zenon recorded one in a 41-yard return versus Arizona on Sept. 9, 2006.
9. LSU claimed its 10th Southeastern Conference Championship with the victory and its first since the 2003 season. The Tigers other league titles came in 1935, ’36, ’58, ’61, ’62, ’70, ’86, ’88 and 2001.
10. The Tigers improved to 3-1 in SEC Championship Games and 6-1 all-time in the Georgia Dome.
11. LSU advanced to a BCS bowl game for the fourth time in program history. The Tigers’ other BCS appearances came in 2001, ’03 and ’07.
a. The Tigers became the first SEC team to reach BCS bowls in consecutive seasons since Florida did so in 2001 (Sugar) and 2002 (Orange).
12. QB Ryan Perrilloux became the third LSU player in school history to be named SEC Championship Game MVP. Matt Mauck (2001) and Justin Vincent (2003) were the Tigers’ other MVPs.
13. LSU recorded its fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season. It was the ninth time during the Les Miles era the Tigers came from behind in the last period to win a contest.
14. The Tigers improved to 6-1 versus Top 25 teams with the victory.

Individual Notes
15. TE Keith Zinger’s 27-yard reception in the first quarter was a career-high for the senior.
16. PK Colt David kicked a 30-yard FG with 8:29 left in the first quarter and 30-yard FG with 3:07 left in the first quarter. The successful kicks were his 36th and 37th of his career and the 24th and 25th of the season. With his first quarter FGs, David moved into a third-place tie on LSU’s career made field goal list.
a. David’s successful field goals in the first quarter extended his streak to 10 straight field goals made. His streak was snapped on a miss late in the second quarter on a 30-yard attempt.
b. David’s extra point in today’s game was the 67th consecutive PAT made by the junior, the fourth longest streak in LSU history.
17. With first quarter tackles, S Craig Steltz, CB Chevis Jackson, CB Jonathan Zenon extended their streaks to 23 straight games with a tackle and DT Glenn Dorsey extended his streak to 29 straight. With a third quarter tackle, LB Ali Highsmith extended his streak to 39 straight games.
18. QB Ryan Perrilloux tossed his eighth passing touchdown of both the season and his career with a 27-yard strike to WR Demetrius Byrd with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
19. WR Demetrius Byrd pulled down his seventh touchdown reception of both the season and his career with a 27-yard catch from QB Ryan Perrilloux with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
20. CB Jonathan Zenon’s interception for a touchdown with 9:54 remaining in the fourth quarter was the senior’s third of the season and ninth of his career.
21. LB Darry Beckwith picked off his first pass of the season and second of his career late in the fourth quarter. Beckwith’s other interception came at Tennessee last season.
22. RB Jacob Hester eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season on his game-clinching 20-yard run late in the fourth quarter. The senior finished the game with 120 yards and now has 1,017 for the season.

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