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January 7, 2008
Tigers win special teams battle
NEW ORLEANS — Ricky Jean-Francois atoned for a season-long suspension by getting his big right hand on the ball for LSU.
If only Austin Spitler could have gotten a piece of it for Ohio State.
Everyone wants to talk about offense and defense, but it was a couple of little-known players - both of them putting in time on special teams - who played pivotal roles in LSU's 38-24 victory over the Buckeyes in the BCS national championship game Monday night.
Start with Jean-Francois, who sat out the first 12 games for an off-the-field issue, presumably related to academics, before finally getting on the field in the Southeastern Conference title game early last month.
The Tigers were sure glad they had the 281-pound sophomore from South Florida when Ohio State lined up for a 38-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, the game tied at 10, the Buckeyes poised to go back in front after squandering an early 10-0 lead.
Ryan Pretorius had been money all season, but there was nothing the Ohio State kicker could do when Jean-Francois bulled his way up the middle, stuck up his hand and batted the ball down before it ever had a chance to clear the line.
Darry Beckwich scooped up the loose ball, and the Tigers went off the other way for an eventual touchdown and their first lead of the night.
LSU went on to score 31 straight points, but Ohio State might've had a chance if not for Spitler's blunder on the first possession of the third quarter.
A 15-yard penalty for intentional grounding left LSU in a fourth-and-23 hole, the Buckeyes readying themselves to get the ball for their first second-half possession. But Spitler, a sophomore linebacker and native Ohioan, had even bigger plans.
He sliced through the line and set his sights on punter Patrick Fisher, crashing into his right leg a split-second after he punted the ball away. If Spitler had just taken a little better angle, maybe kept his eye on the ball a little longer, he surely would have made a crucial block - maybe even given Ohio State a touchdown.
On the replays, Spitler looked so well-positioned that no one could figure out how he missed the ball. But miss it he did, resulting in a 15-yard personal foul that gave the Tigers an automatic first down.
LSU sure took advantage of the miscue, driving 45 yards for a touchdown that made it 31-10 and essentially finished off the Buckeyes.
Both of them very special in their own way.