LSU won the BCS National Championship in 2003.
Its next season – Nick Saban’s last as a Tiger—had a drama-filled month of September.
The Tigers opened that season ranked No. 4, which placed lofty expectations onto a group that lost countless players to both graduation and also the NFL Draft after the 2003 season.
The team’s youth showed.
In the 2004 season opener, LSU hosted Oregon State on Sept. 4, 2004—one of the wildest, craziest games in the modern history of the program.
The start of the game was delayed by lightning. Once clear, the heavily favored Tiger struggled mightily on a slippery Tiger Stadium field, falling behind 9-0 at halftime and then 15-7 late in the third quarter – a lead which held until the final 90 seconds of regulation. That’s when redshirt freshman quarterback JaMarcus Russell decided to make history.
Playing in his first-ever game as a Tiger in relief of starter Marcus Randall, Russell led the Tigers on a late-game, four-play, 64-yard drive for a touchdown to make the score 15-13.
He tied it himself with a scamper on the 2-point conversion, which tied the score at 15 and sent the game to overtime.
That’s when things got crazy.
Russell got injured in overtime, so Randall came back in and led LSU to the end zone, putting the Tigers on top 22-15 in overtime.
Oregon State answered with a score of its own and the game appeared headed for a second overtime, but Beavers kicker Alexis Serna badly missed the extra point, sealing a 22-21 win for the Tigers.
Serna missed three extra points in the game—his first as a collegiate player. He rebounded and later became one of the best kickers in the country.
“We were lucky,” Saban said after the win. “We have a lot of work to do as a team.”
“It was a crazy finish,” LSU All-American defensive end Marcus Spears added. “It was Tiger Stadium magic.”
A few weeks later on Sept. 18, LSU was on the wrong end of kicker hiccup in a one-point game, falling 10-9 at Auburn in one of the more controversial finishes in school history. Down by a point late in the game, LSU turned over the ball late, which allowed Auburn to secure a victory in a game that Louisiana fans thought should have gone to overtime.
LSU scored first to take a 6-0 lead. But kicker Matt Gaudet’s extra point was no good. Had LSU had the point they were missing, the teams would have gone to overtime. Auburn ended up using the momentum from the LSU win and pushing to an undefeated 13-0 season.
As for LSU, the Tigers finished 10-2 and ended up near the top of the SEC Western Division standings.
On Christmas Day, LSU history changed forever when Nick Saban announced publicly that he’d accepted an offer to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
The team went to the Capital One Bowl a week later and lost to Iowa on a last-second Hail Mary play.
Saban coached that game, but a day later, then-Athletic Director Skip Bertman announced that the university had hired then-Oklahoma State coach Les Miles, who coached the team for more than a decade—an era, which, of course, ended last season.
Image: LSU Sports Information