68th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~
January 1, 2002
#12 LSU 47 (Final: 10-3, #7)
#7 Illinois 34 (Final: 10-2, #12)
2002 – How LSU and Illinois Met in the Sugar Bowl
This Sugar Bowl was one for the books – the record books.
In a game being played more for poll position and the old-time bowl goal of pure fun than anything else, LSU was rollicking in the first 30 minutes, by halftime sending press box statisticians flipping furiously through the records.
By then the one faint doubt of the outcome was whether Kurt Kittner would once again manage to bring his team a come-from-behind victory, which he had done five times during the regular-season.
In that opening half the Illini simply could not slow down the Tigers. After a couple of self-inflicted miscues (both by tight ends – a flag on Robert Royal that killed one drive and a drop by Joe Domingeaux that could have gone the distance), LSU scored touchdowns on five of its next six possessions. That span included the biggest scoring spurt in Sugar Bowl history, with 27 Tiger points in the second quarter.
It came down to this: Tiger receivers were running helter-skelter across the Superdome rug almost unimpeded, through an Illini secondary that featured three All-Big Ten athletes.
“There came a point in the second quarter when Coach had to tell me to settle down,” Davey said. “I was trying to hit a home run on every play. It was just pitch-and-catch.”
After Domanick Davis (pictured at left), on his way to an unprecedented four Sugar Bowl touchdowns, scrambled in from the 2 in the opening period; he added two more in the second quarter – reaching the end zone on a quick-hitter from 25 yards out and then scoring from the 16. Both times Illinois was trying to shoot the gaps with its cornerbacks and both times Davis ran into the vacant spaces untouched.
In the air, even when Davey was missing his mark, Illinois was unable to cover the Tiger wideouts, which showed in the first-half stat sheets: 33 Davey passes and 19 completions, covering 246 yards. As it turned out, Davey’s two touchdowns came when LSU was at point-blank range, and both came on third down with Illinois playing zone defense. First, from the 5-yard line after Josh Reed found his way to the back of the end zone where Davey speared him. Then, from the 7, Royal did the same thing for the final points of the half.
The LSU defense was no less spectacular. Illinois simply couldn’t hold out the Tiger rush, coming at Kittner with hands high to disrupt his low passing trajectory. It was a successful strategy, making a basket case of Kittner, who was trying to throw over a picket fence of outstretched limbs and digits. He had more first-half passes batted down at the line of scrimmage than completed ones. At one point he was 1-for-13 for a grand total of one yard.
One play told the story of Illinois’ frustration: Illini go-to receiver Brandon Lloyd’s only catch of the first half resulted in an LSU touchdown, when corner Randall Gay stripped him after a four-yard gain, picked up the fumble and returned it 19 yards to the Illini 5. Moments later the score was jacked to 27-0 when Davey hit the embarrassingly open Reed.
Kittner finished the first half 5-of-17 passing for 80 yards and a touchdown. But 75 of those yards came on a three-play scoring drive, leaving Illinois’ best quarterback in history 2-for-14 for five yards the rest of the half.
“The best way I can describe their defense is ferocious,” said Lloyd, who eventually finished with two touchdown receptions and passed for another score. “They kept coming 100 miles per hour and never relented.”
At intermission the Tigers had a commanding edge in total offense, 344-134, and led 34-7.
The Sugar Bowl was over, but Illinois showed its mettle by making it respectable in the second half. Kittner completed 7-of-10 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the third quarter, and he ended the night 14-of-35 for 262 yards for four touchdowns and one interception.
“We found some offense in the second half, but it was too little, too late by then,” Lloyd said. LSU linebacker Trev Faulk said, “We did everything we could to stop them in the first half. It would only be a matter of time before Kittner got going in the game.”
When the smoke cleared, no fewer than a dozen records were set in the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl in history, including 595 yards of total offense, 444 passing yards by Davey, and 239 receiving yards by Reed on yet another record 14 receptions.
“I was in a zone,” Davey gushed later. “There was no pressure on me. I was going to make the most of my opportunity. I was going to go out there and have fun.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.