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January 7, 2008

LSU knocks off Ohio State to claim title

NEW ORLEANS Once again, Ohio State was victimized by SEC speed.

This time, though, it wasn't so much a matter of how fast the LSU Tigers could run, but the speed in which they could go on a run.

Having spotted the Buckeyes an early 10-point lead, LSU scored 24 points in a little more than 13 minutes and rarely slowed down en route to winning the BCS national championship with a 38-24 victory Monday night in the Louisiana Superdome.

Quarterback Matt Flynn threw two of his four touchdown passes while guiding the Tigers on four consecutive scoring drives in the first half. The run paved the way for LSU to capture its second national championship in four years and first in three seasons under coach Les Miles. The Tigers defeated Oklahoma 21-14 in the Superdome for the 2003 national title.

It was the fourth time this season LSU rallied from a 10-point deficit.

"We had to keep playing," Flynn said of the early hole the Tigers were in. "We knew they were going to come out with a big surge. We knew we just had to stay in there and keep playing our game."

Since last year's embarrassing 41-14 championship game loss to Florida, in which the Gators' speed produced 370 offensive yards and speed rushes produced five sacks that dismantled Ohio State's offense, the Buckeyes had endured questions about their running ability.

Yet it appeared they had emphatically answered those doubts as tailback Chris Wells outsprinted the LSU defense on a 65-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on Ohio State's first possession. On the second possession, quarterback Todd Boeckman found backup tailback Brandon Saine behind the Tigers' secondary for a 41-yard reception that set up a 25-yard Ryan Pretorious field goal. The kick staked the Buckeyes to a 10-0 lead and sent the scarlet-and-gray contingent in the Superdome into a frenzied celebration.

But LSU put an end to that in a hurry.

"We just got on the sideline and started to talk to each other and regroup," LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon said. "We were just playing hard and were too hyped. We had to settle down and refocus."

LSU did that on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Tigers, who netted minus-14 yards on their first three plays, quickly settled down and drove for a 32-yard Colt David field goal with 2:21 left in the first quarter. LSU then took advantage of myriad Ohio State mistakes - penalties, errors in pass coverage, a blocked field goal and an interception - to score touchdowns on three consecutive possessions for a 24-10 halftime lead.

The 24 first-half points were more than double what the Buckeyes had been allowing in games this season.

Chris Wells' 65-yard run on the game's fourth play was the longest ever in a Bowl Championship Series title game, eclipsing by a yard the run by LSU's Justin Vincent against Oklahoma in the Jan. 4, 2004, title game. Wells had 89 yards on six carries in the first quarter and 119 on 10 attempts by halftime. However, he could be seen hobbling around the sideline during the break. The sophomore tailback had ankle and foot problems much of the year, despite rushing for 1,463 yards during the regular season.
LSU All-America safety Craig Steltz sat out most of the BCS national championship game against Ohio State because of a stinger in his right shoulder. His replacement ended up being involved in a big play for the Tigers. Harry Coleman got free on a blitz up the middle, pressuring Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman into a slightly underthrown pass that was intercepted by Chevis Jackson. Coleman also recovered a fumble in the second half. Steltz was suited up with his helmet on for most of the second half, but didn't get back in the game.
Ohio State and LSU face tough tests next September. Ohio State takes on USC in Los Angeles on Sept. 13 after opening against Youngstown State and Ohio University. The Buckeyes also visit Wisconsin and Illinois, and they play Penn State and Michigan at home. After three nonconference home games, LSU opens the SEC schedule at Auburn. It's the first of three tough road trips in a four-week span, along with games at Florida and South Carolina.
Among the former players on the sideline for Ohio State was Miami Dolphins receiver/return man Ted Ginn Jr., who returned the opening kickoff 93 yards in the BCS final against Florida a year earlier. ... LSU's Patrick Fisher had a 62-yard punt in the first quarter that matched the longest for any BCS game. In the second quarter, Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso broke the record with a 63-yard punt. ... LSU converted eight of 10 third downs in the first half and 11 of 18 in the game.
After forcing a punt with the score 10-3, the Tigers benefited from two personal fouls - a late hit and a facemask - on a game-tying drive that ended with Flynn's 13-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Richard Dickson.

Ohio State almost regained the lead, but a 38-yard Pretorious field-goal attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois. Francois, named the defensive MVP, was playing in just his second game this season; he was suspended for the first 12 games for off-field issues.

Flynn then directed a 10-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a 17-10 lead with 7:25 left in the half.

"They were in position of adding three to their score, and instead we get the short field and come back and get seven," Miles said. "It was really a big play."

The Tigers weren't finished.

Three plays later, Beckman - under heavy pressure from Harry Coleman on a delayed safety blitz called by outgoing coordinator and new Nebraska coach Bo Pelini - was intercepted by cornerback Chevis Jackson. His 34-yard return put the Tigers at Ohio State's 24.

That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Jacob Hester, which put the Tigers firmly in control.

"We were down 10-0 and we've been down in big games before," LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black said. "Coach said we had to keep our composure, and that's what we did."

The Tigers extended the margin to 31-10 on a Flynn pass to Early Doucet on the first possession of the second half, a drive that was aided by a roughing-the-punter penalty on Ohio State.

The Buckeyes threatened to get back into contention after cornerback Malcolm Jenkins intercepted Flynn late in the third quarter. Ohio State cashed in with Boeckman hitting Brian Robiskie on a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Ohio State's offensive line, maligned so much for its work in last season's title game, allowed one sack in the first half. However, its protection problems resurfaced at the most devastating time. LSU sacked Boeckman three times in the fourth quarter, including one that led to a 16-yard loss and a lost fumble after the Buckeyes had reached LSU's 34 early in the period.

Coincidentally, the Buckeyes again allowed five sacks just as they did against Florida last year. They also lost three turnovers two interceptions and a fumble while forcing just one.

Ohio State surrendered five touchdowns; the Buckeyes had given up 11 offensive touchdowns all season.

"The defense just settled down," Miles said. "We blocked that field goal, got a turnover and an interception, and really stemmed the tide. Our defense started settling down, and they really couldn't score with us."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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