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Thursday, January 8, 2004
LSU too much for USC

ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Armed with a defense stronger than a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane and an offense nearly as potent, No. 2 LSU stunned No. 1 USC 20-17 in the title unification game in the Superdome.

The much-anticipated matchup came days after LSU shocked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and USC dismantled Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

"Anyone else want a piece of us?" screamed Tigers DT Chad Lavalais as confetti poured onto the Superdome field. "Nobody ever said a word about us. No one ever believed. They talked about Oklahoma. They talked about USC. Well, now they have to talk about LSU. We're No. 1, baby."

What Is This?
Wondering what would happen if LSU and USC played for the undisputed national championship? You're not alone. So, we asked WhatIfSports.com to simulate a national title game based on the Tigers and Trojans statistics in 2003. The results were close. After simulating 50 games, LSU came out on top, winning 52 percent of the time, while 60 percent of the games were decided by seven points or less. The average score was LSU 24, USC 21.

Box score

Check out their NFL Playoff Game Simulations where they have picked 73 percent of the winners thus far this season.
And that is undisputable thanks to the Tigers' defense.

After Ryan Gaudet drilled a 34-yard field goal to give LSU a 20-17 lead with 3:56 left to play, the LSU defense stopped USC not once, not twice, but three times in the final minutes. Matt Leinart completed just two of his final eight passes, one being a meaningless 18-yard completion as time ran out when LSU was in prevent mode.

"We knew they were good, but this is the best defense we saw all year," said Leinart, who led the Trojans offense to nearly 40 points a game heading into the championship game. "We just couldn't get anything going."

Leinart, who threw 38 TDs and competed 63 percent of his passes this season, finished just 16-of-39 (41 percent) for 177 yards with one TD. He was hounded and harassed all game and sacked four times.

The Trojans opened the scoring when Leinart threw a three-yard TD pass to Mike Williams with 3:56 left in the first quarter capping a seven-play, 56-yard drive. Ryan Killeen's extra point made it 7-0.

Defense dominated for awhile, with the teams exchanging punts, LSU missing a field goal and USC causing a turnover. And like he has done much of the season, Reggie Bush gave USC the lift it needed.

Bush took a handoff from Leinart at USC's 24, escaped the grasp of Marcus Spears in the backfield, burst through the line, juked Lionel Turner and outraced the Tigers secondary for the 76-yard TD. Killeen's PAT made it 14-0 with 7:04 left in the first half.

LSU finally got on the scoreboard when, after a 25-yard USC punt, Mauck connected with Michael Clayton for a 36-yard TD pass. Ryan Gaudet missed the PAT to make it 14-6 with 1:51 left in the half.

USC, however, drove right back down the field and added a Killeen 22-yard field goal to go into halftime with a 17-7 lead.

"The great thing about this team is that it never gave up all season, it's never panicked," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "We knew if we just kept playing our game, we'd come out on top."

He was right. After a scoreless third quarter, Mauck throws a quick out to Skyler Green who raced 54 yards down the sideline for the touchdown. Mauck hits Clayton for the two-point conversion and the score is 17-14 with 13:15 left to play.

After LSU forces USC to punt, the Tigers move 34 yards on eight plays and Gaudet kicks a 25-yard field goal to tie the game with 11:03 remaining.

LSU once again forced USC to punt, but after 10-play drive, Gaudet misses a 39-yard field goal. Another three-and-out by USC and LSU gets the ball back. This time, after marching 37 yards on eight plays, Gaudet nails the eventual game-winning 34-yard field goal with 3:56 left to play.

From there, LSU's defense -- the strength of this team throughout the season -- seals the deal by shutting down USC.

"Defense wins championships, right?" said Turner. "We knew we could do it. We believed. Now everyone else does to, right?"

We'll see.

Note: This is not based on what we saw after drinking seven Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's. This is based off a computer simulation done by WhatIf Sports.