’13 Tigers similar to ’03 champs
Saturday in Tiger Stadium, LSU will honor its 2003 BCS National Champions on this the 10-year anniversary of their momentous achievement. It was that team, after all, that erased 45 years of anxiety and doubt as to whether or not LSU belonged in the same room as the college football hierarchy.
It is also fitting that they be honored during this season because the symmetry between that 2003 team and the 2013 Tigers is uncanny.
In 2003, Matt Mauck was in his third year with the LSU program, but his second season as a starter. Like current Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Mauck saw his production swell in year three when he set the LSU single-season record with 28 passing touchdowns. Now in his third season in Baton Rouge and second as the starter, Mettenberger is on pace to shatter Mauck’s touchdown record along with Rohan Davey’s passing yardage mark.
Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson were the most productive receiving duo LSU has ever seen in one season. That is, until Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry shot out of the gate on a torrid pace in 2013. Both juniors are on pace to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark—something that has never been accomplished in LSU history.
Just as Mauck had the benefit of handing off to Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard, Shyrone Carey and Joseph Addai, Mettenberger’s quartet of Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrance Magee might be more talented.
Andrew Whitworth is still playing left tackle in the NFL, a place where he will soon be joined by current LSU left tackle La’El Collins.
Both teams battled Georgia in September in a matchup of top-ten teams at 2:30pm on CBS.
Both teams followed the UGA game with blowout wins at night in Starkville.
And both teams return to Baton Rouge for an afternoon game against the Florida Gators the second Saturday in October.
This is the spot where most LSU fans would like to stop reading or hope that somehow time has managed to change the narrative of the 2003 season in a “Back to the Future” sort of way. As special as the 2003 season was, there will always be that inexplicable blemish from when Florida defeated a favored—and uninspired—LSU team in Death Valley.
The Gators were working in a green freshman quarterback named Chris Leak that day. Tyler Murphy might not be a freshman, but he has about as much experience as Leak did in 2003, and seemingly more poise as well.
Defensive-minded head coach Ron Zook dialed up a masterful game plan which kept the LSU offense—which averaged 34 points per game—out of the end zone. Florida’s Will Muschamp will attempt to do the same with a defense that leads the SEC in every major statistical category. Yes, the same Will Muschamp that happened to be the defensive coordinator of that 2003 LSU team.
There are obvious differences between the two teams, but two clearly stand out. First, the 2013 LSU defense is not in the same hemisphere as the 2003 group that yielded the fewest points in the nation that season. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the 2013 Tigers lost that September game to Georgia, leaving their title hopes with no margin for an uninspired effort against any team, let alone a talented conference rival.
If the 2013 LSU Tigers do the improbable, they will have to take the unbeaten path to Pasadena and the BCS title game, like the Tigers did 10 year ago. After all, the 2003 champions had a great offense, but the current group is on pace to be the best in LSU history.
Mauck was a 7th round NFL pick. Mettenberger is now a consensus Top 60 pick.
Hill is the best running back on either team and ’03 BCS MVP—and current LSU staff member—Justin Vincent would probably agree.
As dynamic as Clayton and Henderson were, Beckham and Landry are better.
When the 2003 Tigers opened their run toward destiny on a rainy night against Louisiana-Monroe, nobody in Tiger Stadium realistically believed that team would end their season beneath a shower of confetti with a crystal ball above their heads. Why
would anyone have felt that way? For nearly 50 years, LSU football experienced some fantastic moments, but even more heartbreak on the national stage. Billy Cannon and the 1958 national champions were merely characters in a history book, a beacon light from a distant and different era.
When Florida left Tiger Stadium with a 19-7 win on October 11, 2003, Tiger fans chalked up another promising season to their inability to escape the “also-ran” status. It is a good thing the players on that team thought otherwise. LSU traveled to South Carolina the following weekend and delivered perhaps its most dominant performance of the year in a 33-7 win over the Gamecocks and the march to the title had resumed.
For the 2013 Tigers, the blueprint to a title may be different that that of the 2003 team, but all they have to do is look on the field Saturday when the 2003 National Champions are honored to know it is possible.
Not only did that team change the mindset of LSU fans and the national perception of the LSU program, it will continue to serve as a reminder for future LSU teams that the ultimate goal is attainable.
For the 2013 Tigers, their march begins Saturday afternoon in a familiar setting against a familiar foe.
Matt Moscona is the host of “After Further Review” weekdays from 3-6pm CT on 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge / 104.9FM and 1045espn.com