Ohio State suffered the worst case of déjà vu Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game.
Just like last year, the Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead. Just like last year, that lead evaporated quickly. And just like last year, the team wound up on the business end of a 38-24 score, courtesy of another Southeastern Conference team.
LSU partied like it was Mardi Gras in the middle of the Louisiana Superdome field as the Tigers became the first two-loss team to capture the BCS championship. Conversely, Ohio State became only the second team to lose back-to-back title games since Oklahoma in 2004 and 2005.
In the end, the Buckeyes simply couldn’t find a way to stop the Tigers’ potent offense when it needed to most. After sprinting out to a 10-0 lead just 9:12 into the game, Ohio State’s defense fell back on its heels much the same way it did in last January’s 41-14 loss to Florida. Only this time, LSU scored 31 unanswered points to wipe out the early deficit and give OSU an insurmountable deficit.
“That was a tough football game,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. “I’m sure there were moments when we weren’t quite on cue. We got that lead but then they fought back like we knew they would.
“None of what happened was due to lack of effort. LSU made fewer mistakes than we did. But our kids played hard and I’m pretty darn proud of what we’ve done in 2007.”
The Buckeyes actually outgained the Tigers, 353-323, led by a 146-yard effort from sophomore tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells. That left him with 1,609 yards for the season, the most ever for an OSU sophomore.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Quarterback Todd Boeckman started well but was battered under a relentless LSU rush and finished the game 15 for 26 in the passing department for 208 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was also sacked five times and fumbled twice.
While Boeckman was struggling, his LSU counterpart was enjoying one of his finest games. Senior quarterback Matt Flynn, who was named the game’s most valuable offensive player after completing 19 of 27 pass attempts for 174 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
“I’m glad this is over,” a relieved Flynn said. “Obviously, I’m glad we came out on top. It just feels incredible.”
Incredible, however, is a relative term.
“To go to the national championship game and lose twice?” OSU receiver Brian Robiskie said as he shook his head. “That’s incredible. It’s unbelievable.”
On defense, LSU sophomore defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois overshadowed his more decorated senior counterpart Glenn Dorsey. Jean-Francois totaled six tackles, including 1½ for loss, assisted on a sack and blocked a field goal, and was named the game’s outstanding defensive player.
It took Ohio State only four plays to open the scoring. After Boeckman had completed a 7-yard pass to Robiskie for a first down at the LSU 35, Wells took a handoff and squirted through a hole at left guard. He motored ahead and then cut toward the sideline, running away from the LSU defense. Senior strong safety Craig Steltz made a dive for Wells at about the 20, but the tailback never broke stride.
The 65-yard touchdown romp, followed by kicker Ryan Pretorius’ PAT, was the longest touchdown run in BCS title game history. More importantly, it gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead only 1:26 into the contest.
OSU continued its excellent early play by forcing LSU to go three-and-out on its first offensive series. In fact, the Tigers went backward with minus-14 yards to show for that first series.
When the Buckeyes got the ball back, they immediately got back into the red zone when Boeckman dropped in a pass to Brandon Saine along the sideline that the freshman tailback turned into a 44-yard gain. Unfortunately, the drive stalled at the LSU 8 and Ohio State was forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Pretorius.
That made it 10-0 at the 9:12 mark of the first quarter and the Buckeyes appeared to be on their way to the upset.
But LSU got itself untracked on offense and marched 14 plays in 65 yards to get its first score, a 32-yard field goal from kicker Colt David. But that was only the beginning. Thanks to costly mental errors and physical mistakes, the Tigers totaled three touchdowns in rapid succession to turn their deficit into a 14-point halftime lead.
Two personal foul penalties on the Ohio State defense gave LSU an extra 30 yards on its next possession. That allowed the Tigers to get close enough for a 13-yard pass from Flynn to tight end Richard Dickson for a touchdown with 13:00 showing on the clock.
A personal foul penalty on the OSU offense crippled the Buckeyes’ next drive and they had to settle for a 38-yard field goal attempt by Pretorius. However, the kick was blocked and the Tigers took the ball the other way on a 10-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in another Flynn touchdown pass, this time for 10 yards to receiver Brandon LaFell.
That made it 17-10 in favor of the Tigers with 7:25 remaining until the half, and they went looking for more just three plays later when Boeckman was intercepted by cornerback Chevis Jackson. Jackson returned the pick 34 yards to the OSU 24, and five plays later, LSU running back Jacob Hester squeezed his way over the goal line from the 1.
LSU enjoyed a 24-10 halftime lead despite being outgained 234-198 in the first half. The Tigers enjoyed an advantage, however, in four key categories – they were 8 of 10 in third-down conversions while the Buckeyes were 2 of 7; the only turnover of the first half went LSU’s way; OSU had four penalties for 48 yards while the Tigers went unflagged; and of course, the score.
Another critical mistake cost Ohio State on LSU’s opening possession of the third period. The Buckeyes appeared to have stopped the Tigers after Flynn was called for intentional grounding on second down and threw incomplete on third down. But OSU linebacker Austin Spitler ran into punter Patrick Fisher, picking up a roughing penalty and giving the Tigers an automatic first down. On the next play, the Buckeyes were flagged again for a personal foul, pushing the ball to the Ohio State 29.
Three plays later, Flynn threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet and it was 31-10 LSU at the 9:04 mark of the third quarter.
Ohio State had its chances to get back in the game. Junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins intercepted Flynn late in the third quarter, setting up a 5-yard TD pass from Boeckman to Robiskie with 1:38 to go in the period. That made it 31-17 and gave the Buckeyes some hope.
But every time OSU looked to get back in the game, a drive fizzled on downs when the LSU defense came up with a big play.
The dagger came at the 1:50 mark when Flynn pitched a 5-yard floater to a wide-open Dickson in the end zone. David tacked on the PAT to make it 38-17.
A 15-yard touchdown pass from Boeckman to Brian Hartline with 1:13 remaining closed the gap back to two scores at 38-24. But when the Buckeyes tried an onside kick and LSU running back Charles Scott recovered, OSU was powerless to stop the clock more than once. Flynn knelt down on the game’s final play and raised the football in the air.
Several minutes later, Flynn kissed the crystal football trophy as he raised it in the air, symbolic of the national championship.