The Miami Redhawks came into Death Valley in 1986 and upset the 8th-ranked Tigers 21-12 just a week after LSU defeated No. 7 Texas A&M. In Nick Saban’s first season as head coach in 2000, the UAB Blazers kicked a late field goal upending the Tigers 13-10 in one of the more shocking losses in recent years.
Saturday it was Troy University.
The Trojans were self-proclaimed giant killers already coming into Saturday’s game. Troy, formerly Troy State, already owned wins over No. 17 Missouri and Marshall this season and was looking to add defending national champion LSU to the list. Few gave the Trojans a chance, especially after TU lost to an Arkansas State 13-9 a week earlier; the same ASU team the Tigers had already whipped 53-3.
But with four minutes left to play, the three-touchdown underdogs from southeast Alabama had Tiger fans looking on in horror. A 24-yard Greg Whibbs field goal had put the Trojans on top 20-17. And with LSU’s offense grounded for the entire second half, it looked as if the Tigers were on the ropes.
However, when LSU needed to make something happen – the Tigers came through.
A 37-yard kickoff return by freshman Xavier Carter gave LSU excellent field position at their own 46. A 13-yard pass from quarterback Marcus Randall to Dwayne Bowe and a pair of runs by Joseph Addai and Randall, set up LSU’s second straight come from behind victory, their third of the season.
On first down from the Troy 30, Randall aired a perfectly thrown pass to David Jones who had slipped behind the Trojans coverage. The 6-4, 259-pound junior tight end corralled the pass in the back of the north end zone for the game-winning touchdown saving LSU from an embarrassing defeat.
"You certainly have to appreciate every win that you have and I certainly appreciate the fact that we competed, that we came back in the game and found a way to win,” said an obviously flustered LSU coach Nick Saban. “I'd like to congratulate Troy's team for playing with a tremendous amount of true grit.”
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney beamed over the play of his defense, but also gave LSU credit for their ability to comeback and win the game.
"Our defense played their hearts out,” Blakeney said. “On the last drive they got a great match up on the outside linebacker with a wide receiver, and they got us on the wheel out. It was a great call by them. It was championship caliber for them to come from behind in the last three minutes to win game."
Troy (3-4) surely didn’t play like a team that just lost to Arkansas State a week earlier. The Trojans capitalized on four LSU turnovers and turned three interceptions into 17 points. Troy shut down the Tigers ground game holding LSU to just 57 yards rushing on 36 carries.
“We couldn't run a lick on their defense,” Saban said. “Obviously, the turnovers were a big factor in the game. I think someone told me we've give up something like 31 points in the last two games and 19 yards of drives.”
Troy’s first three scoring drives covered distances of 20, minus-1 and two yards. While the Trojans defense played well throttling LSU’s running game and forcing four takeaways, the Troy offense wasn’t so sparkling. The Trojans netted just 150 total yards of offense in the game and at halftime, trailing just 17-10, TU had gained just 37 yards of total offense.
For the first time this season, LSU (5-2) played just one quarterback. Saban had said early last week he was probably going to start senior Marcus Randall. Saturday he did, and despite throwing three interceptions, Randall played for the duration of the game.
While his resume had the three blemishes on it, Randall still had a career night completing 24-of-37 passes for 328 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass to Jones. It was the second straight game Randall had engineered a game-winning drive. He completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Addai with 27 seconds left to play in LSU’s 24-21 win at Florida two weeks earlier.
“That tells you a little bit about the actual competitive spirit that our players played with and what they've had to overcome in some of these games,” Saban said. “But after you shoot your foot off, maybe you learn you don't need to shoot it anymore.”
The LSU defense had a monster outing holding Troy in check most of the evening. The Tiger stoppers were placed in precarious positions most of the night, but did a good job of not allowing Troy to gather any sort of offensive consistency.
“It doesn't matter if they put the ball on the one inch line, it is up to the defense to stop them from scoring,” said LSU senior linebacker Lionel Turner. “We've just got to do a better job of executing when they get down that close to the goal line. We've got to do a better job of stopping them.”
Senior defensive end Marcus Spears had arguably the bets game of his career collecting nine tackles, six for a combined loss of 34 yards and a pair of sacks.
"Marcus played great tonight,” said junior defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “When we couldn't find a play, Marcus was there to make one for us. That's what big-time players like himself do. He kept us going there for a while. He is very valuable to our team."
LSU was the first to dent the scoreboard hitting paydirt on the initial drive of the game. After Troy won the toss and deferred, the Tigers took possession and drove 79 yards on nine plays before Alley Broussard went over the top on a 1-yard scoring run for a 7-0 LSU lead.
It seemed as if it was to be the blowout everyone expected after LSU stuffed Troy on its first offensive possession. But Broussard fumbled on the first play of the Tigers’ second drive and Troy turned it into points. True freshman quarterback D.T. McDowell hit James Earl Cray on a 4-yard TD strike four plays later and the Trojans had evened the score at 7-7.
Troy took its first lead of the game on the second play of the second quarter when Greg Whibbs connected on a 25-yard field goal attempt. That drive covered minus-1 yards on four plays, a possession setup by the first of Randall’s three-interceptions in the game.
LSU answered the bell on its first drive of the second quarter marching 65 yards on 15 plays to take a 14-10 lead on a 1-yard plunge by Joseph Addai.
After forcing the Trojans into a three and out situation, LSU regained possession just before the half and engineered a 75-yard drive that stalled at the Troy five. The Tigers settled for a 23-yard Ryan Gaudet field goal, which glanced off the inside of the right upright for a 17-10 LSU advantage at the break.
Troy was presented another gift on its second possession of the third quarter. Randall overshot his intended target and the pass ended up in the arms of Derrick Ansley, who returned the interception to the LSU two. DeWhitt Betterson rushed twice, each for one yard, and on the second run crossed the goal line tying the score at 17-17.
The teams traded possessions twice each to open the fourth quarter before Troy put together its most impressive drive of the game, a 9-play, 47 yard march resulting in the go-ahead field goal by Whibbs, a 24-yarder with 3:59 left in regulation.
However, the Trojan celebration didn’t last long. Carter’s electrifying kickoff return got things going for LSU and four plays later the Tigers had again seized the lead, this time for good on Randall’s touchdown pass to Jones.
"I thought we had a chance to play with them,” Blakeney said. “(I) didn’t know how long we could hold out. You measure them player for player, in the two deep or player for player through out the program, we don’t have a dying chance. We don’t stack up at all. Our kids gave it a tremendous try; we had them on the ropes. We had a chance."
While winning the game is the most important thing, it was obvious Saban was not happy with the way his team’s intensity sagged after the emotional win at Florida.
“We competed, we won, I'm happy about that,” Saban said. “For us to prove that we can consistently play great football and not be up and down is something we still have to prove. If we don't learn how to do it, we are not going to play with any consistency.”