Commentary

Gutsy call, perfect pass get LSU past pesky Auburn

Updated: October 21, 2007, 12:43 PM ET
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

BATON ROUGE, La. -- In a college football season that has defied logic every step of the way, LSU senior running back Jacob Hester can't imagine anything topping this.

In a word, it was … well, illogical.

"It's like a soap opera," Hester said. "I'm getting too old for this. These games are killing me. That's the way the SEC is, the way it's going to be the rest of the year."

The Tigers will wake up Sunday morning firmly in control of their destiny in the Western Division race, and even more important, one of the teams to beat in the BCS national championship picture.

A second longer Saturday, though, and who knows?

With a timeout remaining and only needing a field goal for the win, Matt Flynn uncorked an improbable 22-yard touchdown pass to a streaking Demetrius Byrd for a 30-24 victory over Auburn on Saturday night in what has become a blueprint game when these two teams get together. By the time Byrd had a chance to look up at the clock in a deafening Tiger Stadium, he realized there was just one second remaining.

That's right, one second.

A bobble and an incompletion, and the game's over with Auburn walking away with a one-point victory and LSU coach Les Miles being hanged in effigy in the Bayou.

Instead, he walks away in ecstasy with a football team that showed its grit, resolve and character in one of those games all teams have to win somewhere along the way if they're going to win a championship.

"This was a tough game to win, no question," said Miles, whose Tigers were coming off an emotionally draining 43-37 loss to Kentucky in triple overtime. "You have to find a way to win. You have to regroup. You have to get back on the field and play one play at a time and not worry about the 50th play or the next 10 plays, and I think they did that."

In rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit, the Tigers -- likely to move up to No. 3 in the newest BCS standings -- lived to see another day in the BCS race.

But Les, what about that last play? Why no timeout? And what happens if Byrd doesn't wrap around Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers for the winning touchdown?

"It was either going to be a touchdown or we kick a field goal, and that was the plan," Miles said, smiling and tugging at his ever-present cap.

"With one second, I think we timed it out perfectly."

Laughter erupted just outside the LSU locker room, and Miles could afford to be funny. His gamble paid off.

But the hearts of some of the players and coaches around him still had not stopped pounding some 20 minutes after the game. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini shook his head admiringly and somewhat in disbelief when asked about those final few seconds.

"I thought it was a heck of a call," said Pelini, whose defense put the clamps on Auburn in the second half until Brandon Cox engineered a clutch 83-yard drive to put the Tigers ahead 24-23 with 3:21 remaining.

"What makes you nervous is letting the clock run down that far. If the ball is incomplete, you're at the mercy of the clock operator. I know it seemed like that ball was in the air for about 25 seconds.

"But, hey, we won the football game. It takes a lot of guts. I'll tell you that."

Byrd had been lobbying for LSU to take a shot down the field the entire game. When he heard the call come in for three go routes into the end zone, he immediately motioned to Flynn that he was getting the kind of press coverage from Powers they were hoping for.

All the while, the clock was ticking. The ball was snapped with eight seconds remaining, and Flynn released the pass with six seconds left.

"I guess Matt read my little signal," said Byrd, who helped atone for a glut of drops by the LSU receivers earlier in the game.

After being mobbed, Byrd finally made it to the sideline, where one of his teammates told him to look up at the clock.

"As the play was going on, I didn't know the time was ticking like that," Byrd said. "But that's about how this whole season has been going, so I wasn't surprised. It's like, 'What's going to happen next?'"

Flynn, who had not played his best football the past few weeks and had absorbed his share of criticism, was at his best when it mattered most in leading LSU to its 19th straight win at home. He passed for a career-high 319 yards and three touchdowns and was the picture of efficiency on that game-winning drive.

"That was the Matt Flynn who played against Miami in his first start," Miles said. "Ten yards here, and then 10 more yards. He avoids the rush, makes a nice throw, throws the deep ball well. We needed him to get on track."

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Jerry Lai/US PresswireLSU Tigers quarterback Matt Flynn hit the game winner with just a tick left on the clock.
LSU played the entire last quarter without star defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was the victim of a nasty-looking cut block to his right knee at the 3:53 mark of the third quarter. Replays showed Auburn offensive guard Chaz Ramsey diving at Dorsey's knee as Dorsey was engaged at the line of scrimmage with another Auburn offensive lineman.

Dorsey, who also left the game in the first quarter for a few possessions, never returned. But in some ways, his exit seemed to energize LSU.

Miles said he will look at tape of the play and, if he deems it intentional, plans to send it to the SEC office for review.

"It's one thing if it's not intentional," Miles said. "That's one issue. If it's an intentional chop, that went out in the '70s. That's terrible."

Miles said the open date next weekend couldn't have come at a better time for his Tigers, who will travel to Alabama on Nov. 3 for what's sure to only add to the craziness. There's the whole Nick Saban reunion (if you want to call it that), and the fact that the Crimson Tide also control their destiny in the West after destroying Tennessee on Saturday.

But for now, Miles will take a second, appropriately so, to exhale and make sure his Tigers refuel for a stretch run that has them right where they'd hoped to be heading into November.

"I can't think of a football season that's been anything close to this," said Hester, who had a key blitz pickup on Flynn's winning touchdown pass. "This is crazy. Every week, it seems like there's something that goes on, some kind of highlight, some kind of upset.

"Luckily, we've been on the good end of all but one. Now we just have to keep it going."

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com.

Chris Low | email

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