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College Football | SUGAR BOWL

LSU Scores Early Knockout

January 02, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana State ripped its way through the Illinois defense Tuesday night, and, along the way left cleat marks all over the Sugar Bowl record books.

The Tigers, who rolled up a record 595 yards of offense, built a huge first-half lead then held on for a 47-34 victory before a crowd of 77,688 at the Superdome.

"Everything we were doing was just clicking offensively," Tiger quarterback Rohan Davey said.

"There came a point in the second quarter when Coach [Nick Saban] had to tell me to settle down because I was out there trying to hit the home run on every play."

Illinois, confronted with a 27-0 deficit late in the second half, battled back with four touchdowns in the second half but never recovered from its stumble out of the gate.

Given a month to dream up ways to slow LSU's offense, Illinois presented just one dilemma for Davey: too many options.

Josh Reed caught 14 passes for 239 yards, and Domanick Davis rushed for four touchdowns--all Sugar Bowl records--and Davey, named player of the game, scribbled his own name in the books with 31 completions and 444 yards passing.

The 47-point effort set an LSU bowl record, surpassing the previous mark of 45 against Michigan State in the 1995 Independence Bowl. It was the highest scoring Sugar Bowl in history.

"It's been a long two weeks," Davey said. "The last 20 minutes of meetings, we were pretty much going to sleep. That's how comfortable we were with the game plan."

Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner, a four-year starter, seemed to fall asleep for the first two quarters. He wallowed through a five-for-17 first half and at one point was one for 14 for one yard.

"We came out and were tight offensively," Illinois Coach Ron Turner said. "We couldn't make anything happen. We dug ourselves too deep a hole and couldn't get out of it."

Kittner was jarred out of his slumber late in the second half, completing three consecutive passes for a total of 75 yards and putting the Fighting Illini on the scoreboard with a two-yard pass to Brian Hodges.

Kittner was a different quarterback in the second half, throwing three touchdown passes and finishing with 262 yards on 14-of-35 passing. He threw another touchdown to Walter Young and two to Brandon Lloyd.

"The big plays were what hurt us in the second half," Saban said. "I don't think they ever truly drove the football on us."

Kittner, a four-year starter who completed 55% of his passes this season, left about 30 newspaper and television reporters waiting for him Sunday at a news conference. He never showed. Turner later said his quarterback made a mistake by not attending the event, although it was partly Turner's fault.

"Kurt called me and said, 'Coach, I just don't want to do it,' " Turner told reporters. "I said, 'Kurt, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do.' His family is here and he said, 'Coach, I need to focus in.' "

But it was the Tigers who were focused in the first half, batting down four Kittner passes at the line of scrimmage and just missing on three interceptions.

Illinois could do little to stop the Tigers, who led 27-0 late in the second half and sauntered into the locker room up, 34-7.

"I was telling them, 'Guys, I know it's 34-7 but we're not that far off,' " Turner said. "We were throwing passes and guys were just tipping them or dropping them. We weren't that far off."

LSU's first four touchdown drives began in Illinois territory, including one that started at the five after Randall Gay stripped receiver Lloyd and returned the fumble 19 yards.

Davis scored the first three touchdowns on runs of four, 25 and 16 yards. He also returned three punts and a kickoff, a reminder of his impressive versatility.

The Tigers have worked to find creative ways to get Davis on the field. Not only is he a return specialist, but he started a game this season as an extra defensive back. He moved into the No. 1 running back role when sophomore LaBrandon Toefield, an All-SEC selection, suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter of the conference title game against Tennessee.

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