Good times in the ATL for LSU football

LSU’s trip to this year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl to play Clemson on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta has been greeted by the most lukewarm response from Tigers football fans in years.

Perhaps if they thought about it a little harder, they might wish the Tigers played in Atlanta more often.

LSU has won all five of its appearances in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, including a 31-27 triumph over Florida State in the inaugural Peach Bowl and a tense 10-7 defensive struggle against Clemson in the 1996 classic.

In all, LSU is 9-1 when playing in the Georgia Dome, home of the Chick-fil-A Bowl since 1993, including a 4-0 mark in Chick-fil-A Bowls there, a 4-1 record in Southeastern Conference Championship Games and a win in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game over North Carolina.

Here’s a look at LSU’s trips to the Chick-fil-A Bowl:

Chiller thriller

LSU 31, FLORIDA STATE 27

Dec. 30, 1968

The inaugural Peach Bowl paired the Tigers and Seminoles on a rainy, windswept night at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field. The coaching matchup was between seventh-year LSU coach Charlie McClendon and former LSU assistant Bill Peterson, a pass-oriented coach whose name regularly came up every time LSU fans became unhappy with “Cholly Mac.”

FSU featured the pitch-and-catch combination of quarterback Bill Cappelman and wide receiver Ron Sellers, who helped the Seminoles build an early 13-0 lead. LSU made it a 13-10 game at halftime on a 39-yard punt return by Craig Burns and a Mark Lumpkin field goal.

Though Cappelman attempted 41 passes and LSU quarterback Mike Hillman only 29, it was the run-first McClendon whose team won the passing battle 229-221. Hillman threw a pair of touchdowns, the first to Bob Hamlett to give the Tigers a 17-13 lead in the third. Hillman then hit Bill Stober with an 11-yard TD pass, but a pair of Cappelman-to-Sellers touchdowns gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with just over six minutes to go.

LSU responded with a nine-play, 61-yard drive, with Maurice LeBlanc’s 2-yard run providing the game winner. The Seminoles had one last chance to score, but Barton Frye knocked a potential touchdown pass away from Sellers to seal the Tigers’ victory.

Dome defenders

LSU 10, CLEMSON 7

Dec. 28, 1996

LSU’s first trip to the Peach Bowl in 18 years marked its first game against Clemson since a 7-0 win in the 1959 Sugar Bowl that capped LSU’s 1958 national championship season. It was also the first of 10 appearances to date for LSU in the Georgia Dome, which earlier that year served as a venue for basketball and gymnastics in the Summer Olympics.

Being indoors, the game was a significant contrast to the wet and muddy inaugural Peach Bowl at nearby Grant Field. It was also a stark contrast in terms of style. That first Peach Bowl was an offensive shootout even by today’s standards, but the 1996 Peach Bowl was defined by defense.

A turnover deep in LSU territory allowed Clemson to score first, as quarterback Nealon Greene scored on a 5-yard keeper in the first quarter.

LSU responded in the second quarter. Sophomore Kevin Faulk, still LSU’s all-time leading rusher with 4,557 yards, capped an 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 12:43 left in the second quarter. With 4:35 left before halftime, Wade Richey drilled a 22-yard field goal.

The second half belonged to the punters and the defense until Clemson mounted one final threat. Clemson got as far as the LSU 35 before sending out Matt Padgett for a 52-yard field goal attempt, but Aaron Adams blocked the kick with 1:02 remaining.

Quarterback Herb Tyler earned MVP honors, throwing for 163 yards while rushing for 38 more. LSU finished 10-2 with the win, just the Tigers’ second 10-win season since 1961 and only their fifth 10-win season ever at the time.

Davey does it

LSU 28, GEORGIA TECH 14

Dec. 29, 2000

Looking for a spark with his team down 14-3 at halftime, first-year coach Nick Saban went to the locker room and found backup quarterback Rohan Davey, a 6-foot-3 tall can of lighter fluid.

Davey hadn’t played since Oct. 7 but he was as sharp as could be after such a layoff, completing 17 of 25 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns in relief of Josh Booty as the Tigers outscored the Yellow Jackets 25-0 the rest of the way.

Tech may have been stunned, but the eternally sunny Davey wasn’t.

“I told my teammates we were going to win,” said Davey, LSU’s offensive MVP. “All we had to do was relax, calm down and play our game.”

Davey’s signature sequence came just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter, as he found a high-leaping Josh Reed in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard TD pass as Reed managed to come down with his left foot just inside the end line. A two-point Davey to Reed pass gave LSU the lead for good 17-14.

“They say pressure busts a pipe, but if you’re a football player you want pressure,” Davey said. “I like to show people I can overcome it.”

Pressure wrecked Tech, though. The Jackets entered the game No. 2 in the nation in turnover ratio, committing just 12 all year, but gave the ball up six times against the Tigers, four in the first half alone.

The win gave Davey and LSU momentum going into the 2001 season, as they captured the program’s first SEC championship since 1988.

Knockout blow

LSU 40, MIAMI 3

Dec. 30, 2005

Four weeks after being routed 34-14 by Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, LSU was back in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Despite a No. 10 national ranking, the Tigers were passed over by the SEC’s New Year’s Day bowls — the Capital One, Cotton and Outback — and could have slipped farther had not the Chick-fil-A agreed to invite LSU back to Atlanta. The situation prompted an SEC edict that said the championship game loser couldn’t fall past the Chick-fil-A.

Before this one was over, the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes were wishing LSU hadn’t showed up at all. Despite being without quarterback JaMarcus Russell — left back in Baton Rouge after suffering a separated shoulder against Georgia — the Tigers played their most complete game of the season behind sophomore backup Matt Flynn. He was 13 of 22 for 196 yards and two TDs — including a 51-yarder to Craig Davis — while Joseph Addai’s 130-yard rushing effort keyed an LSU ground game that churned out 272 yards.

“We never doubted for a minute that we would have a calm and a comfort under center,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He had a great game, and obviously he was one of the major reasons that we won.”

Perhaps even more than the rout, the game is remembered for a huge brawl in and near a tunnel leaving the field after the game in which two Miami players were briefly knocked unconscious.

Eve of destruction

LSU 38, GEORGIA TECH 3

Dec. 31, 2008

LSU’s follow-up season to its 2007 BCS championship run was on the verge of being labeled a complete failure. The Tigers dropped three of their final four regular-season games, the only win a 40-31 frenzied rally over Troy in which LSU once trailed 31-3.

Limping back to Atlanta at 7-5, the Tigers turned to freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson to help LSU’s season end on a positive note.

Jefferson responded with one of the best games of his career, completing 16 of 25 passes (11 of 12 in the first half) for 142 yards with a 25-yard TD to Richard Dickson while eluding the Tech rush to net 25 yards on 10 carries in a New Year’s Eve rout.

Charles Scott keyed the ground game with first-half rushing touchdowns of 2, 4 and 1 yards as LSU lead 35-3 at the break. After an early field goal, the Tigers’ maligned defense bottled up the No. 14 Yellow Jackets’ vaunted triple-option attack.

“This football team came here to play,” Miles said. “This game was about us. It was a commitment by a team that didn’t want to lose again. They didn’t like the taste.”

The Tigers will try to taste victory again next week in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU (10-2) will be aiming for its sixth season of 11 wins or more under Miles and just the eighth in school history.

Notes

n This will be the eighth Chick-fil-A Bowl for Clemson, giving it the record for most appearances in the game. North Carolina was in seven Chick-fil-A Bowls, the most recent in 1995.

LSU’s sixth appearance will be the third most, breaking a tie with Auburn, which beat Virginia 43-24 in the game last year.

Since the SEC and ACC began playing annually in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in January 1993, the ACC holds an 11-10 lead.