The contention that LSU defenders played distracted in the 2014 Music City Bowl are not true, defensive linemen Frank Herron says.
None of them knew for certain that their defensive coordinator, John Chavis, planned to leave for Texas A&M before that 31-28 loss to Notre Dame on Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tennessee. They only learned of Chavis’ move the next day. He did not fly back to Baton Rouge with the team.
Later that day, media members reported his departure via social media — just hours after his defense allowed more than 260 yards rushing and gave up a 14-play, 71-yard game-ending drive, capped by a game-winning 32-yard field goal.
“There was a lot going on, but we can’t blame that,” said Herron, then a redshirt freshman. “It was big when ‘Chief’ was leaving and coaches were changing. It hit us out of nowhere.”
LSU meets Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 for the first time since that duel in Nashville. The 14th-ranked Irish (9-3) and 16th-ranked Tigers (9-3) clash with identical records, similar rankings and a somewhat lengthy series history. They’ve played 11 times (ND leads 6-5) and will meet for a third time in a bowl game in the past 11 years.
LSU hasn’t seen an offensive line as good as Notre Dame this season.
None of them were quite as entertaining as the last.
For many, it is forever marked as Chavis’ final LSU game in which his defensive unit collapsed down the stretch and struggled throughout. Three Notre Dame runners gained at least 75 yards, including dual-threat QB Malik Zaire, now at Florida. The Irish converted 11 third downs, amassed 23 first downs and hogged the ball for 37 minutes.
“I think our team wasn’t as focused going into the game,” fifth-year senior nose tackle Greg Gilmore said last week.
Said Orgeron, then out of football in 2014 and hired by LSU just two weeks after that bowl game: “I don’t think LSU could stop Notre Dame’s run game. I didn’t watch every play. Very good outing by Notre Dame.”
Over the next two years, details of Chavis’ situation surrounding that bowl game came to light in court documents tied to LSU’s lawsuit against him over a buyout the school claimed he owed. The two sides settled out of court earlier this fall.
The details included a letter of agreement from A&M to Chavis, dated Dec. 27, 2014, three days before the bowl game. Also, in a deposition in the summer of 2016, then-coach Les Miles admitted to making a final push to keep Chavis on the night of the bowl game from the team’s hotel. Miles offered him a three-year deal worth $1.8 million per year after Miles’ agent, George Bass, convinced athletic director Joe Alleva to remove a clause in Chavis’ contract — the ultimate reason for his departure.
“It was too late,” Miles said in his deposition. “John made that very clear.”
So, did you get everything your heart desired for Christmas, or are you still waiting for someone to invent a combo drone-and-espresso machine…
So much more unfolded during the game.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette had what many believe was the breakout game of his freshman season, lifting him to that sensational sophomore year. He averaged 13 yards per carry, ran for 143 yards, scored two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score.
“LSU was known for that great running back, and they’ve got another now in (Derrius) Guice,” ND coach Brian Kelly said earlier this month, a nod to Fournette. “(This is) a different team than that 2014 team, but the talent is still there.”
One of the most dramatic plays of that game did not involve Chavis’ defense or Fournette. Down 21-14 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the 3, LSU failed to convert a fake field goal attempt late in the second quarter. Reserve quarterback and holder Brad Kragthorpe took the snap and bolted off tackle. Kragthorpe lunged toward the goal line, but officials ruled him down at the 1. A review of the play did not reverse a call that still, for a few LSU fans, lives in infamy.
After LSU’s bowl announcement earlier this month, the play bubbled to life again on social media. Still screen shots of Kragthorpe’s lunge circulated online, even with some current and former LSU players giving their opinions.
In one, a fully extended Kragthorpe is stretching out the football, his body completely off the ground. The ball, over the goal line, and his knee, above the turf, are circled in red.
“He was in!” snapper Blake Ferguson tweeted.
At a lot of schools, football is religion.