Baton Rouge, 2006. Final score LSU 49, Kentucky 0.
Sitting at 3-4 after that loss to LSU, Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks’ team, while showing improvement, still seemed miles apart from an SEC elite. But after the LSU debacle, Kentucky fortunes really started to change.
Led by quarterback Andre Woodson, Kentucky won five of its last six games in 2006, including a Music City Bowl triumph over Clemson. In those last six games, Woodson threw for 1,878 yards and 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and linebacker Wesley Woodyard and corner Trevard Lindley led a defense that steadily improved.
By the time of their matchup with No.1 LSU in 2007, the Wildcats had a 10-2 record dating back to the 2006 nightmare in Baton Rouge. While LSU was the favorite, Kentucky had made significant strides since the 49-0 embarrassment.
The 2007 LSU team started out ranked No. 2 in the country, but after six games was the unquestioned top team in the nation. A 48-7 beatdown over eventual ACC champ Virginia Tech showed how lethal the Tigers were. In the week prior to traveling to Lexington, LSU survived a deathmatch with the No. 9 Florida Gators led by Tim Tebow. In one of its most physical games in its history, LSU ground its way to a 28-24 victory on the back of Jacob Hester. But the Tigers’ defense was the group that made headlines. Led by eventual 2007 Outland, Lombardi, and Nagurski award winner Glenn Dorsey, LSU came into the Kentucky game rated Top 10 in every major defensive statistical category in college football.
In Baton Rouge, head coach Les Miles had taken over for Nick Saban in 2005 and guided LSU to a 28-4 record in his first two-and-a-half years. LSU was the best program in the SEC and Top 3 in the country.
With LSU having an overwhelming advantage on the interior, many wondered how Kentucky could slow LSU’s run game and establish its own without leading rusher Rafael Little, who was out with bruised thigh. With LSU allowing less than 60 rushing yards per game and without the threat of the run, Kentucky faced an uphill climb.
After a slow start, Kentucky took a 7-0 lead when Woodson found backup tight end T.C. Drake on a 2-yard pass that Steltz tipped and almost intercepted. With momentum on the Cats’ side, LSU running back Charles Scott galloped 55 yards, putting the Tigers at the Kentucky 1. Scott finished the drive with a plunge from there and the game was tied 7-7.
LSU’s offensive and defensive lines started to have their way, and it soon jumped out to a 17-7 lead with a Colt David field goal and another Scott touchdown. An ill-advised Woodson pass that was intercepted by Chevis Jackson led to Scott’s second touchdown of the day, and Kentucky found itself down 10 with 2 minutes to go in the first half with LSU getting the ball to start the second half.
With all the momentum on the Tigers’ side, Woodson heaved one downfield and receiver Stevie Johnson made a great adjustment and hauled in a 51-yard pass in the LSU red zone. Later in the drive, Woodson dropped back and then ran up the middle untouched for a 12-yard score to make it 17-14 at the half.
Trindon Holliday opened the second half with a 47-yard kickoff return that put LSU in great position. From there, Flynn finished the 11-play scoring drive with a 4-yard pass to Dickson and LSU was up 24-14.
Facing a third-and-8 inside his own 30, Woodson was hurried by safety Curtis Taylor and lobbed a throw that Chad Jones intercepted at midfield. LSU capitalized on Woodson’s second pick of the game with a short Colt David field goal to extend the lead to 27-14.
Kentucky was down 13 and facing a fresh LSU defense when the Wildcats came out for their next offensive series. This drive would be the start of Kentucky establishing a ground game. Running backs Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke accounted for 32 rushing yards of the 82 yards on the Wildcat drive that culminated in Woodson finding tight end Jacob Tamme on an 8-yard touchdown pass. At the end of three quarters, LSU held a 27-21 lead.
After an LSU punt, Kentucky put together a 13-play, 48-yard drive on which Locke picked up 32 yards rushing. Placekicker Lones Seiber made a 33-yard field goal and what was once a 13-point Tiger lead was down to 27-24.
On his next possession, Flynn lofted a pass that was intercepted by Lindley, and another Seiber chip shot tied the game at 27 with 4:21 left in regulation.
With a combination of a Flynn third-down scramble for a first and Hester bullying his way through the Kentucky front, LSU found itself at the UK 45 with 55 seconds to go. Flynn missed a wide-open Lafell with a pass that would have put the Tigers in excellent position for a game-winning field goal, and David was left to attempt a 57-yarder that sailed wide left.
After 60 minutes, Kentucky was headed to overtime with No. 1 LSU.
In the first overtime, on third-and-8 from the LSU 13, Woodson found Johnson for 12 yards and a Kentucky first down. Locke finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge, and the Wildcats had the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 34-27.
With LSU facing defeat, it turned to seldom-used tailback Richard Murphy, and he gained 12 of the 25 yards, then scored on a misdirection pitch from 2 yards out. Both teams then exchanged field goals which left the game tied at 37 after the second overtime.
In the third overtime, Woodson found receiver Dicky Lyons in the flat, and he converted a third-and-3 at the LSU 6-yard-line. After a couple of incompletions and a holding call on Taylor, Woodson and UK were facing a third-and-goal from the 6. Woodson dropped back and, with pressure coming, found Johnson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 43-37 Cats lead. The two-point attempt failed, but Kentucky had the lead.
LSU began its next drive needing a touchdown to tie and a two-point conversation to win, but after three Hester runs, the Tigers found themselves 2 yards away from a first down. Hester came up limping after three successive carries, and LSU put Scott, who had 94 yards on the day, back in for the fourth-down attempt. Flynn gave Scott the ball trusting the stout LSU offensive line and the hot hand, but Wildcat linebacker Braxton Kelly met him head on and stuffed him for a gain of 1 to clinch the Wildcat victory.
With the loss, LSU became the seventh Top 5 team of 2007 to fall in the season’s first seven weeks. Kentucky had its first triumph against a No.1 team since the Wildcats upended Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss Rebels in 1964.
LSU rebounded and went on to win the 2007 national title while the Wildcats stumbled down the stretch to finish 8-5 after starting 6-1. Woodson threw for a league-leading 40 touchdowns and led the SEC in pass completions and passing yards.
While the Wildcats came back to earth the next week against Tebow and the Gators, for one day, they took mighty LSU’s best punches and lived to tell about it.
The improvement from a 49-0 pasting in Baton Rouge one year to upsetting the eventual national champion the next can not be measured. Under Brooks, for a 13-game stretch Kentucky was as formidable as any team in America. H&A