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Countdown to Kickoff: 16 Days

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The first time you knew that 2004 was going to be special.

The 2004 Auburn-LSU game was just another entry in the long and bizarre history of games between the SEC West’s two Tiger teams.

We’d already have Earthquakes, Interceptions, Phantom Whistles, Fire, Cigars, and the Band before this early-season tilt, and in 2004, hurricanes were added to the mix. On September 16th, just two days before the game, Hurricane Ivan blasted through Alabama. I remember lying in my bed early that morning listening to the wind gusts and hearing transformers go down around my neighborhood. I knew we were in for at least a few days without power in most areas, and there was even a smattering of talk about moving the game from Saturday to a possible Sunday night kickoff.

No need. Saturday, September 18th dawned warm, sunny, and beautiful, and you knew after two machine-like demolitions of Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State that Auburn was on a path to right some of the wrongs of 2003.

LSU, meanwhile, had escaped Oregon State on opening weekend thanks to THREE missed extra points by kicker Alexis Serna, and the defending national champions stayed in the top five despite a shaky start.

As they came to the Plains, LSU looked much better. The Tigers drove right down the field on the opening possession, scoring on a quick slant to Dwayne Bowe, but they would miss the extra point to take a 6-0 lead. Auburn answered with a John Vaughn field goal to cut the margin in half, then the defenses took over. Auburn allowed LSU to notch a field goal of its own in the second quarter, but the score stuck at 9-3 for nearly three quarters as we wound down to the final moments.

Auburn had its shots, but LSU stood tall and rebuffed the Tigers at the goal line in the third quarter, and Auburn’s chances wore thin as Jason Campbell took control for one final possession. Facing a 4th-and-12, Campbell found Courtney Taylor for the biggest play of the game (at the time). Then, just three plays after that, the same connection resulted in a 16-yard touchdown for the tie. Just needed to make that extra point.

It was missed, but a leaping penalty by LSU gave Auburn another shot, and Vaughn converted the kick to give the Tigers a 10-9 advantage with barely a minute to play. Junior Rosegreen’s interception of Jamarcus Russell a few plays later sealed the deal, and Tommy Tuberville got a great birthday present with this win over 5th-ranked LSU.

Afterward, the irony of the missed PAT and the penalty that was called is that Nick Saban served on the rules committee that voted to enact the leaping rule. In addition, this was one of the most closely-played games you’ll ever see. Check some of the numbers:

TOTAL YARDS

Auburn: 301

LSU: 308

PASSING YARDS

Auburn: 170

LSU: 168

RUSHING YARDS

Auburn: 131

LSU: 140

FIRST DOWNS

Auburn: 16

LSU: 18

PENALTIES

Auburn: 5 for 60 yards

LSU: 6 for 37 yards

In the end, LSU’s last-ditch drive was the only time that an opponent would have the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead. That stat alone shows exactly how dominant Auburn was in 2004, even with Tommy Tuberville’s favorite strategy of utilizing his defense to preserve a win, and totally eschewing style points.