UAB upset of Saban, LSU wrecked Tigers’ homecoming
Only 32 yards of green stretched between Rhett Gallego and a UAB upset at Tiger Stadium on November 23, 2000.
The LSU homecoming night crowd was rocking as usual, but the Blazers defense had kept the notoriously rowdy Tiger fans humble for most of the game. The center fired the ball, and the hold was just right. Gallego took a step and booted it. The crowd fell silent and Tigers coach Nick Saban watched in dismay as the pigskin rocketed through the starry night. The refs’ arms went up signaling the kick was good as time expired. The Blazers had pulled off the 13-10 upset on one of the most intimidating stages in college football.
That 2000 LSU game is one of the most memorable in UAB’s short history. A win of that caliber in the program’s ninth year of existence was incredible. And as remarkable as Gallego’s game-winning kick was, the rest of the game that led up to it was just as impressive.
LSU entered the game sporting a new coach and a 2-1 record. The Tigers were looking solid in Saban’s first year, with a thundering 58-0 shutout over Western Carolina, a 28-13 win over Houston, and an understandable 34-17 loss to a good Auburn team. Saban was not known as the greatest college coach of all time at this point in his career; nonetheless, he was still respected.
Speaking of respect, UAB was not receiving much of it before the game. The Blazers had handled their business in their opener with a 20-15 win over Chattanooga, but fell to Kansas 23-20 on a late field goal the following week. Coming off a difficult loss, UAB was faced with traveling to LSU for what was supposed to be a homecoming cupcake game for the Tigers.
Boy, did that plan backfire.
Instead of arriving in Baton Rouge shaking in their boots, the Blazers strode up to the scene with closed fists and clenched teeth, ready to take on any fight that was awaiting.
“We had a good team,” Gallego told The Daily Reveille. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re going to LSU. Oh no, intimidation factor!’”
Construction on a new upper deck at Tiger Stadium was finally complete, so plenty of fans were in attendance to see UAB jump out in front in the first quarter. Sentell Winston picked up an LSU fumble—one of five the Blazers would cause that game—which led to a 29-yard field goal by Gallego and a 3-0 lead. The next quarter, the Blazers drove 72 yards for a score on nine plays as Daniel Dixon floated a 24-yard pass to Leron Little for UAB’s only touchdown. All of a sudden, the Tigers were down 10-0.
LSU didn’t answer until late in the third with its only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Domanick Davis to cap an 8-play, 50-yard drive.
As the final quarter began, UAB’s defense was holding strong. LSU had managed only 107 rushing yards all game, which forced the Tigers to air it out more than they wanted. A fierce defensive effort pressured LSU quarterback Josh Booty into completing just 15 of 38 passes and throwing four crucial interceptions.
Still, Saban was not going to let his team lose so easily. An LSU field goal tied the game 10-all, and UAB’s hopes of pulling off the upset were in serious danger.
With 33 seconds remaining, LSU was trying to put together a game-winning drive, but Booty made a decisive mistake when he threw an interception on his own 42-yard line to Blazer cornerback Chris Brown who returned it all the way to the LSU 17. Three plays later, Gallego’s 32-yard kick was good, and the game was finally over.
“That was the game that let everybody know who I was,” Brown told AL.com. “I had a pretty good freshman year. I came on and started. That play put the spotlight on me. Defense we had was already monstrous, and I was just one of the guys on the defense, but I was able to get some accolades from that game.”
That was hardly the end for LSU. Saban, being Saban, found a way for his team to bounce back to finish the season 8-4 (5-3 in the Southeastern Conference) and ranked No. 22 in the final Associated Press Poll after beating then-ranked No. 11 Tennessee, No. 13 Mississippi State, and No. 15 Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl. The Tigers used the embarrassment of the loss as motivation, which led to the Golden Age of LSU football, just as Saban used Alabama’s humiliating home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 as a stepping stone towards the current Crimson Tide dynasty.
UAB finished 7-4 (3-4 in Conference USA) but did not receive a bowl invite despite being eligible. There were simply not enough bowls for everyone to receive an invite that year.
Nowadays, the Blazers are on the rise under coach Bill Clark, and Blazer fans seem to have good reason to believe they’ll post another milestone win over another SEC opponent in the near future. H&A
All photos courtesy UAB Athletics