It wasn’t the way Les Miles drew up his first head coaching victory at LSU.
But for his team, his school and his state, nothing has gone according to plan for quite some time.
Much like the city of Baton Rouge, which has doubled in size since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast two weeks ago, the fifth-ranked Tigers had to wing it Saturday in Sun Devil Stadium. They wiped out a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit and scored 28 points in the final 15 minutes — including a fourth-down, 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback JaMarcus Russell to receiver Early Doucet with 1:13 left to play to fight off No. 15 ASU 35-31.
"Within the scheme that we employed, our player just would not be denied," Miles said. "It was a specific effort that said ‘There is just no way we’re leaving here without victory.’ "
And the Tigers did it in spectacular fashion. Down 17-7 entering the third quarter, LSU’s Claude Wroten blocked a Jesse Ainsworth field-goal attempt and teammate Mario Stevenson returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Then just 1:20 later, Jacob Hester smothered a punt attempt by ASU’s Chris MacDonald and the ball again found a Tiger waiting — this time Craig Steltz — for a 29-yard touchdown. Suddenly, the stunned Sun Devils were down 21-17.
"I’d love to tell you that after we block a field goal, we have another guy ready to catch it and run it for the touchdown," Miles said. "And I’d love to tell you that after we tackle the guy on the fake punt, we always have a scoop-and-score guy ready to roll.
"It was our players. They would not be denied."
ASU rallied twice to regain the lead, the last time on a Sam Keller touchdown pass to Moey Mutz with 4:07 left to play. And when the Devils stopped three straight LSU passing plays from the ASU 39, it looked like the Tigers had run out of miracles. But Russell danced around the pocket to buy time before finding Doucet — who dropped three passes in the first three quarters — in stride near the corner of the end zone.
"I’d like to tell you we had the old double-roll called. It was an ad-lib from a guy with a very strong arm and a man who can get open in the end zone," Miles said. "Early Doucet had to have had the alltime bad first three quarters, and then he comes up with one of the great plays and great catches in LSU history."
Doucet said he hoped his big play and the win will uplift the spirit of a region desperately seeking good news.
"I think it will be a great uplift to the people back home — people who lost loved ones and homes in the hurricane and feel as if everything is gone," he said. "We want to dedicate this win to them. We stayed together as a team and a family, and when everyone pulls together great things can happen."
Miles talked about the lifelessons learned by his team over the past two weeks — when family members moved into their dorm rooms and apartments and parts of the LSU campus were turned into staging areas and triage hospitals. One game against North Texas was postponed and another with ASU was moved across the country with less than a week’s notice.
"We had the longest camp in the history of camps, and it was surrounded by a real-life trauma, not a made-for-TV trauma." Miles said. "We had a scrimmage with Black Hawk helicopters flying in patients so they can be triaged. It was a terrible distraction, but once this team stepped across the white lines, they played football.
"They wanted this game for the people back home. And they got it."