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Fans in the Bayou will tell you there is nothing like a night game in Baton Rouge.
In 2005 however, the LSU faithful was forced to wait. When the home opener finally did arrive, it was ended on a sour note.
On this day 15 years ago, the Tigers let a 21-0 lead slip away in a 30-27 overtime loss to Tennessee. The quarterback who engineered the comeback for the Volunteers had previously worn purple and gold.
Setting the Stage
After postponing its opener, LSU was initially set to take on Arizona State in Baton Rouge, but after the campus was used to house victims of Hurricane Katrina, the contest was moved to Tempe. Hurricane Rita forced LSU to push its SEC opener back two days from a Saturday to the Monday evening of Sept. 26, 2005.
With more than two weeks in between games, the Tigers finally arrived at home. It came in with a record of 1-0 after topping Arizona State in the opener.
LSU came in ranked No. 4. Tennessee was ranked 10th. At 1-1, the Volunteers were coming off a 16-7 loss at Florida.
Welcome Home, Tigers
For LSU, the home opener could not have started any better. With the help of three first-half turnovers by Tennessee, LSU raced to a 21-0 lead.
After quarterback Erik Ainge fumbled on Tennessee’s opening drive, Joseph Addai scored from 19 yards out less than three minutes in. A short touchdown run by quarterback Jamarcus Russell doubled the LSU lead before Kenneth Hollis returned an Ainge interception three yards for a score. Midway through the second quarter, LSU led 21-0.
A Familiar Face
Following an atrocious start, Tennessee replaced the struggling Ainge with a lefty who used to get dressed in the home locker room. An LSU transfer, Rick Clausen replaced Ainge, but early on, things were largely the same.
Running back Gerald Riggs Jr. fumbled in LSU territory on Clausen’s first possession and the Tigers recovered. Thanks to poor clock management by LSU, the half ended with the Tigers driving to build on a 21-point lead.
The opening drive of the second half for Tennessee resulted in the team’s first touchdown. Clausen found Bret Smith for an 8-yard touchdown, but a field goal late in the third period gave LSU a 24-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, Clausen capped a methodical 13-play drive with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal. A Jonathan Hefney interception of Russell on the ensuing LSU drive gave Tennessee new life.
Riggs scored from a yard out on the second play after the turnover. Following a 3-and-out by the Tigers, James Wilhoit drew Tennessee even. His 28-yard field goal with two minutes to go tied the game.
Following an LSU punt, Clausen and Russell exchanged interceptions on desperation throws. After 60 minutes of football, it was tied 24-24.
The first possession of overtime went to LSU. Addai rushed for 11 yards on LSU’s first play, but the Tigers could gain only one more. Colt David’s 31-yard field goal put LSU back in front, 27-24.
On the Tennessee possession, it was the Riggs show. Aside from one failed Clausen sneak, Riggs got the ball every play for Tennessee.
Following a 10-yard reception, Riggs broke off runs of seven and five yards. Two plays after a gain of two moved the ball to the 1-yard-line, Riggs scored from a yard out to end the contest. Tennessee had completed the comeback to win, 30-27.
The loss would not keep LSU from having a great season. The Tigers would win their next nine games and the SEC West. LSU was unable to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship, but blasted Miami in the Peach Bowl to finish 11-2 and No. 6 in the final AP Poll.
Clausen finished with 196 yards passing in the comeback win and moved himself into the starting quarterback role in Knoxville. Unfortunately for Tennessee, that would be one of the few highlights from 2005. The Volunteers followed up a win over Ole Miss with four straight losses during a 5-6 campaign.
Clausen finished the year with just six touchdowns and six interceptions. Still, his performance in Baton Rouge will long live in Tennessee lore. It happened on this day 15 years ago.