If LSU wins the national championship this season, it may well be Eric Reid’s play against Alabama that will go down as the signature moment - like Demetrius Byrd’s touchdown catch with :01 left to beat Auburn in 2007, or Matt Mauck’s game-winning long pass to Skyler Green against Georgia in 2003.
In a showdown billed as the “Game of the Century,” Alabama faced first-and-10 at the LSU 28 in a 6-6 tie with just more than 11 minutes remaining.
The Crimson Tide had just peeled off a 24-yard battering run by Trent Richardson, but in a controversial decision elected to put in wide receiver Marquis Maze in the Wildcat formation.
Maze lobbed a pass near the LSU goal line intended for tight end Michael Williams. It looked as though Bama would at least be setup with first-and-goal at the 1 until Reid dashed back, went up with Williams and pulled the ball away at the 1 as they tumbled to the turf.
The pick helped Reid earn the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award - and the undying gratitude of his teammates.
“That was the play of the year,” strong safety Brandon Taylor said. “I thought they were going to score when I saw their tight end slip out. But he (Reid) went up and just wanted the ball more than him.”
The Tigers would go on to win 9-6 in overtime, keeping them on pace for a historic and to this point undefeated season. No. 1-ranked LSU takes a 12-0 record into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship game with No. 12 Georgia (3 p.m. CST, CBS) in Atlanta, aiming to win its 11th conference title and fourth since 2001.
That LSU could stay unbeaten last week without Reid - the Tigers rumbled past then No. 3 Arkansas 41-17 - speaks volumes about the team’s depth.
Reid went down with a quadriceps pull while playing kickoff coverage the week before at Ole Miss, prompting LSU’s coaches to shift Tyrann Mathieu from cornerback into Reid’s critical spot at free safety. As safeties, Reid and Taylor are responsible for setting the entire LSU defensive formation on each play.
“It was difficult (to watch), especially when we got down 14-0,” Reid said. “But after we started to rally back it was easy to stand there and cheerlead.”
Reid was proud of the job Mathieu did in his absence - he led the team with 10 tackles and recovered two fumbles - but doesn’t want the sophomore to get too comfortable in his spot.
“He’s going back down on that island,” Reid said with a smile, referring to Mathieu’s cornerback spot.
Reid was close to playing against Arkansas but feared he might aggravate his injury, prompting LSU’s coaches to hold him out.
Interviewed Monday, Reid said he was confident that he would be at practice Tuesday. Taylor indicated the expectation was that Reid would be limited in Tuesday’s drills, but said he practiced more than expected with the first- and second-string defenses.
Though they passed the aerial exam against Arkansas, the Tigers certainly can use Reid’s talents this week against the 10-2 Bulldogs.
Georgia is second in the SEC only to Arkansas with 243.1 yards per game passing. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown a school-record 32 touchdowns and leads the conference in passing efficiency.
“It’ll be a challenge,” Reid said. “I think as a secondary it’s a challenge we like to take. Put the ball in the air and see who comes down with it.”
A nationally ranked prospect out of Dutchtown High School, Reid is continuing the athletic legacy begun in Tigertown by his father. Eric Sr. was a three-time All-American hurdler for the Tigers and an NCAA champion in the 110-meter hurdles, achievements that landed him in the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s exciting that my dad did some stuff like that before I was born,” Reid said.
“Now it’s my turn.”
Reid will be turning heads on and off the field in Atlanta this weekend. He’s featured in an LSU “Love Purple/Live Gold” billboard campaign there that shows him in his purple No. 1 football jersey with a gold helmet on his hip accompanied by some of his more impressive career numbers.
“90 tackles ? 4 interceptions ? 3.3 GPA,” the billboard reads.
Taylor practically gushed when talking about his fellow safety’s achievements.
“He’s consistent week in and week out,” Taylor said. “He’s a great teammate.”
Who, when the final chapter of LSU’s 2011 season is written, may have been responsible for its greatest single moment.