theknightswhosay

Rivalry Series: LSU-Kentucky

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on October 15, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Series facts (updated after the 2014 game)

LSU leads, 40-16-1
In Baton Rouge, LSU leads, 24-5-1
In Lexington, LSU leads, 16-11

Currently, LSU has won three in a row at home and five of six in the series overall. Also, in three of the last five and four of the last eight games in the series, four points or fewer separated the two teams in regulation.

Longest home/away streaks
Home winning streak – LSU, 12 games, 1955-1975
Home unbeaten streak – LSU, 13 games, 1953-1975
Road winning streak – LSU, 5 games, 1978-1986

Kentucky won two in a row at home 3 times, 1954-6, 1974-6, and 1993-5. The Wildcats never won consecutive games in Baton Rouge.

Highest-scoring games:
LSU 63, @Kentucky 28, 1997
@Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3 OT), 2007
Kentucky 39, @LSU 36, 1998
LSU 33, @Kentucky 30, 2002
LSU 29, @Kentucky 25, 2001

Lowest-scoring games:
@Kentucky 3, LSU 0, 1960
LSU 7, @Kentucky 0, 1962
LSU 9, @Kentucky 0, 1959
@LSU 10, Kentucky 0, 1972 and 1985

Largest margins of victory:
@LSU 49, Kentucky 0, 2006
@LSU 41, Kentucky 3, 2014
@LSU 34, Kentucky 0, 2000
LSU 30, @Kentucky 0, 1966
LSU 37, @Kentucky 10, 1969
@LSU 41, Kentucky 14, 1996
LSU 34, @Kentucky 7, 1952

Largest Kentucky wins over LSU:
Kentucky 33, @LSU 13, 1977
Kentucky 19, @LSU 0, 1949

Historical Narrative (skip to the last section for recent games)

I mentioned in the last blog that I had done this same basic blog before on TSN. I believe that blog was done before the 2007 game. That will be one of three specific games I’ll talk about in detail, but first I just wanted to cover the major developments in the history of the rivalry.

Before the SEC went to the 5-1-2 scheduling system (I’ll explain) in 2003, LSU had played Kentucky in 51 consecutive seasons. There were only two games before that streak began, but I suspect the annual nature of the game was because neither team had particularly clear rivals in the SEC. Kentucky’s closest rival is Tennessee, but the Vols have bigger rivalries with both Vanderbilt and Alabama.

That LSU-Kentucky streak of games began in the waning days of Tulane’s membership in the SEC. The only other must-play conference rivals for LSU were Mississippi St. and Ole Miss, at that time the only SEC schools in neighboring states. Florida and Alabama didn’t become annual series for LSU until 20 years later.

The head coach of Kentucky the first time the Wildcats played LSU was none other than Bear Bryant, who always seemed to give the Tigers trouble. His teams shut out the Tigers the first two times he faced them, before LSU beat Kentucky in his second-to-last season there and tied them in his last.

Bryant’s successor had three decent years after he left (I guess until the talent dried up), and the Wildcats beat the Tigers two of the next three seasons to go out to a 4-2-1 series lead in 1956.

The 1950s were not particularly good for LSU until 1958 though. LSU was #1 again for most of 1959, so they beat Kentucky for the third straight time that year. Kentucky got one back in 1960 (both teams were barely above .500 that season) but then lost the next 13 games in a row in the series. The Tigers have had a commanding lead in the series since then.

LSU had a winning record every year during that time, but Kentucky only had one.

The Wildcats won three out of four from 1974 to 1977, but the Tigers lost 4 games or more in each of those years. Kentucky also had a little bit of a revival during that time, building up to a 10-1 season in 1977.

Ten of the next 11 were won by LSU. while Kentucky went back into the pattern of having a losing record almost every year (although not as badly). The Wildcats beat the Tigers during one of only two winning records over that period, 1983, one of the worst LSU seasons since that 1958 national championship.

LSU’s next 4-7 season was in 1989, and that was the next loss to Kentucky (who had a relatively good 6-5 season). The following loss to Kentucky was in the 1992, the worst LSU season since 1910.

Speaking of the early ’90s, Bear Bryant wasn’t the only mutual coach between Alabama and Kentucky. I also mentioned Bill Curry in my Alabama rivalry post:

“LSU continued its losing ways almost throughout Curry’s tenure at Kentucky, but the Wildcats didn’t fare much better. 1992 and 1994 were probably the sorriest match-ups during that period. 1992 was Curry’s only win with the Cats in Baton Rouge, but LSU would finish 2-9 and Kentucky would finish 4-7. In 1994, Kentucky’s lone win of the season was over Louisville in the opener. They still managed to make it close against LSU, losing 17-13 in Baton Rouge. LSU finished 4-7.

“In 1993, Curry’s most successful season at Kentucky (6-6, with a loss to Clemson in the Peach Bowl), Kentucky won 35-17

“Although LSU would finish 7-4-1 in 1995, the Tigers lost to Kentucky, who would finish 4-7, anyway. LSU made the unfortunate decision to wear purple pants for the game. And rather than causing Kentucky to avert its eyes for the entire contest, it seemed to make the Tigers self-conscious. I don’t think LSU has worn purple pants since. The final was 24-16 in Lexington. Curry had another 4-7 campaign in his final year, but LSU, on its way to a 10-2 record, had no problem with the Cats this time, 41-14.”

Kentucky would go 5-3 against LSU from 1992 to 1999. The only one that was really an upset in hindsight was in 1995. LSU had its first bowl season since 1988, but they struggled on the road that year, going 1-3-1, the only win coming against a Mississippi St. team that would go 3-8. Kentucky only went 4-7 that season, but they did get the Tigers at home.

The Tigers have won 5 of 6 since then, but there was one major upset (the one loss) and a close call in another. 2002 wouldn’t have been a huge upset since that wasn’t a very good LSU season (thankfully 8-4 isn’t what LSU fans call a good season these days), but it was the second consecutive year that the Tigers won in the last 15 seconds. I will detail those three games below.

LSU-UK into the New Millenium

I mentioned the setback in 1995 above. The next four years had expected results based on the strengths of the teams. In 2000, after two losing seasons, a new coach named Nick Saban came to town. He had mixed results his first year, which included an early loss to UAB and a characteristic blowout loss at the hands of Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators.

Kentucky proved to be no problem that year (the Wildcats had two non-conference wins but would go winless in the SEC), but the following two seasons would be adventures.

In 2001, Kentucky started similarly: 1-4 with a win over Ball St. LSU had two convincing wins over non-conference opponents, followed by setbacks against Tennessee (in a close game on the road) and Florida (another blowout).

A loss at Kentucky would have meant an 0-3 start in conference and almost no chance of winning the sec west. (At this time, two losses to sec east teams were not fatal.)

LSU started out reasonably well, taking a 19-3 lead at one point and a 22-10 lead into the half. The tigers had scored in four of their first five possessions. The only failure to score had been a missed field goal. The two teams had exchanged interceptions late in the first half, but there was no major cause for concern.

Kentucky must have made some adjustments on defense though, because LSU just could not move the ball down the field in the second half. It was still 22-10 going into the final third of the game, so at less the LSU defense had kept the lead.

Not for long though. Kentucky, led by Jared Lorenzen, would engineer touchdown drives on consecutive possessions (he threw for 70 yards in the first drive alone) while all LSU could manage was a series of punts.

After the go-ahead Kentucky touchdown with just over 8 minutes remaining, LSU still could not get a drive going, giving the ball back to the Wildcats with about 7 minutes left. Kentucky, with a three-point lead, drove to the LSU 44 before their drive stalled with 3 1/2 minutes to go. With the lead and the defense playing well, the Kentucky coach Guy Morriss stayed conservative and opted to punt on 4th and 1.

Kentucky quickly got LSU into a 3rd and 4 situation, but LSU quarterback Rohan Davey all of a sudden had an answer to Lorenzen. Instead of throwing for 30 yards at once, he threw for shorter distances, but 14 yards on the third-down play was more than enough.

After three more passes and two more first downs, LSU was in reasonable scoring position at the Kentucky 27. On the next play, Davey was sacked for a loss of 9 and it looked like the Tigers might not even be able to tie the game. He then completed a pass to his favorite target Michael Clayton for 18 yards, bringing up a third and 1. A pass to Clayton worked on the last third and less-than-5, so that’s what they did again, this time for 8 yards, bringing up a first and goal at the 10.

Davey nearly ran it all the way in on first down, but that would have been scoring too soon, so he waited until third and six (after an illegal procedure and threw to Clayton yet again for the go-ahead score with 13 seconds left.

After beating Vanderbilt to end its 15-game SEC losing streak, Kentucky would once again finish with only two wins.

LSU was still inconsistent the next two weeks: a blowout win over a weak Mississippi St. team, followed by a disappointing home loss to Ole Miss, but then something happened the following week at Tuscaloosa. LSU beat a comparable Alabama team by 14 and would not lose again.

The Tigers snuck into the SEC championship game, where they knocked off #2 Tennessee. Then LSU beat Illinois to finish 10-3 and win its first Sugar Bowl since 1967 That was an improvement of seven wins over two seasons before. But none of it likely would have happened has Kentucky won that game.

LSU would learn pretty quickly in 2002 that you don’t just magically keep your spot in the pecking order. The Tigers lost their opener at Virginia tech convincingly. Then, the week before the Kentucky game, LSU was walloped by Auburn, 31-7.

Kentucky, however, was much-improved and entered the game with 6-3 record, only two wins shy of their highest season win total since 1984. Also, they were to play LSU at home.

The Tigers seemed to recover well to the loss to Auburn and played reasonably well on both sides of the ball. LSU’s offense wasn’t the greatest, but it went up 21-7 at the beginning of the third quarter, which isn’t bad against a winning team on the road.

The Tigers still held onto to 24-14 lead with around 12 minutes left. Kentucky was driving in LSU territory and faced a fourth and 1. Not knowing how many chances they would get (and likely not wanting to repeat the mistake of 2001), Morriss went for it.

Kentucky’s go-to back Artose Pinner easily ran for the first down, and this put the Wildcats within easy striking distance for Lorenzen, who completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to put Kentucky within 4. For some reason, they unsuccessfully tried for two.

The craziness was only beginning. When LSU went three and out and punted, the Wildcat returner fumbled, allowing the Tigers to take over at the Kentucky 19.

LSU got the ball to the two, but played it safe with a 19-yard field goal to go back up 7.

Aided by three different first downs resulting from penalties, Kentucky drove right down the field for the tie with 2:24 to go.

LSU then went backwards in its next possession and punted. A 21-yard punt return and face ask penalty for good measure put Kentucky back in scoring position.

Another LSU penalty made it just a 29-yard attempt, which gave Kentucky the lead with just 11 seconds left.

The Tigers took over at their own 13, and then seemingly in an effort to delay the inevitable, got a delay-of-game penalty.

Randall completed a modest 17-yard pass to Clayton, and everyone thought it was over. It wasn’t over on the clock, but still, that’s not good field position for any type of scoring play. If you haven’t seen what happens next, just watch the video at the beginning of this blog.

Kentucky didn’t play LSU again until 2006. The Wildcats were having another fairly good season and actually would win 8 games this time (new {from LSU’s perspective} head coach Rich Brooks would lead the Wildcats to four consecutive bowl games starting in 2006), but they had to travel to LSU and were coming off a tough loss to South Carolina. LSU had lost on the road to a very good Florida team (which would eventually beat Ohio St. for the BCS championship). I guess they had opposite reactions to losses, because LSU seemed hungry for blood, and Kentucky seemed to be looking forward to its bye week. The Tigers absolutely destroyed the Wildcats, 49-0, and would not lose another game that year. In fact, they would not lose again before their trip to Kentucky in 2007

The winning streak had pushed LSU to a #1 ranking, which they had not held in the regular season since 1959 when the Tigers lost by a single point at Tennessee.

Even though no players and few (if any) coaches were in common, the game followed a similar pattern to 2001 and 2002. Kentucky did score first, but LSU would go up 17-7 in the first half and 27-14 with 3:49 to go in the third quarter.

The Wildcats would score almost immediately afterward. Led by QB Andre Woodson, UK did not even face a third down on the touchdown drive.

LSU had to punt on the next possession, but they nearly had a three-and-out defensively on Kentucky’s next set of downs. The Tigers were whistled for a pass interference that kept the drive going. The Wildcats would eventually reduce the margin to three points with just under 8 minutes to play in regulation.

Two plays later, LSU QB Matt Flynn threw an interception way downfield, setting up the Wildcats at their own 37.

After an incompletion on first down, the tired Tiger defense gave up passes of 11 and 35 yards. Kentucky tried to run down he clock a bit before kicking the tying field goal.

LSU got the ball back with time for a winning drive, but it took 2:45 just to get to the Kentucky 40. Colt David was a good kicker with the Tigers, but 57 yards was a bit out of his range, so the game went to overtime.

The Wildcats got the first possession, and the LSU defense shot itself in the foot again, it would have been second and 15 from the 30, but a roughing the passer penalty gave Kentucky a first down at the 15. Kentucky later faced a third and 8, but Woodson completed a 12-yard pass, which led to the touchdown.

The Tigers had little trouble responding. It took just four plays to find the end zone, and LSU didn’t even face a third down.

The next LSU offensive possession did not go so smoothly. The Tigers faced third and 19 after a penalty and a sack, but got back into comfortable field goal range. The Wildcats responded with a three-and-out followed by their own field goal, but then the LSU defense was expected to hold them again and could not.

Actually, holding was the problem. After a Woodson incomplete pass on third and goal from the 6, the Tigers were whistled for a holding penalty. This allowed Kentucky a new set of downs, which led to the touchdown.

LSU ran four straight running plays, and the game ended about a yard short of the first.

No accidental Gatorade baths this time, Kentucky fans stormed he field and stayed there awhile. Maybe the team enjoyed it a bit too much,as they would lose four of the next five games. LSU would win 6 of the next 7 (the only loss to Arkansas, another team that would finish 8-5, also in here overtimes) on the way to it’s second BCS championship.

In 2011, Kentucky, which was in the midst of a losing season under Brooks’ successor Joker Philips, did not spoil LSU’s next serious attempt at an undefeated season.

(LSU had started 7-0 in 2010, but that was before Alabama, Auburn, or Arkansas, the only eventual 10-game winners the Tigers would face that season.)

In 2014, Kentucky had a better conference record than LSU going into the game for the first time since 1999, but they fell behind early and could never recover. It was 17-0 after about 9 minutes of play. The Wildcats responded with a field goad and kept LSU’s offense under control, but LSU would score twice in the final minute of the half to increase the lead to 27-3.

LSU’s return trip to Lexington should have been in 2012, but that was Missouri’s and Texas A&M’s first year in the SEC, so it went to a 6-1-1 rotation, which means 6 divisional games (as a result of the seventh team being added to each division), one permanent opponent, and one rotating opponent. So rather than 2 spots rotating among five teams in that last number, one spot rotates among six teams.

I’m not sure why the 2014 game was in Baton Rouge rather than Lexington, but when a schedule change was made in 2002, Kentucky got two home games in a row, so maybe that’s part of the reason. Also, under the new format, one inter-divisional game is on the road and one is at home. It was clearly LSU’s turn to travel to Gainesville, so I guess having the Kentucky game at home was less problematic. Back-to-back games are not done under the new system, but there is still some uncertainty over the long-term scheduling format, so they didn’t insist that LSU and Kentucky wait until 5 years had passed. That may happen before the next game, however.

Other “Rivalry Series” entries:

Team List:
Alabama (Pregames: 2011, 2013)
Arkansas
Auburn (2010 post-game)
Florida
Georgia
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
(Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas A&M

Special editions:
Pac-12

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  5. […] List: Alabama (Pregames: 2011, 2013) Arkansas Auburn (2010 post-game) Florida Georgia Kentucky Mississippi St. (Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina Tennessee Texas […]

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