TEMPE, Ariz. – LSU came a long way to start its season, and JaMarcus Russell made the trip worthwhile.
Russell threw a 39-yard pass to Early Doucet for a climactic touchdown that handed the No. 5 Tigers a 35-31 victory over No. 15 Arizona State on Friday night, giving coach Les Miles a victory in his LSU debut.
Doucet went high to pull down Russell’s pass on the left side of the end zone and got one foot in at landing. It was the Tigers’ fourth TD in a furious fourth quarter that began with them trailing 17-7.
The Tigers’ defense still had to stop the Sun Devils (1-1) one last time after Sam Keller threw passes of 27 and 25 yards to start a final drive. LSU accomplished that at its own 28, as Keller threw four straight incompletions. LaRon Landry got between the ball and ASU’s Derek Hagan on third down, and Ronnie Prude went to the ground with Terry Richardson after a low pass on fourth down with 31 seconds to go.
Joseph Addai ran for 109 yards and two TDs on 16 carries, but special teams led the Tigers’ comeback from a 17-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.
With the offenses and defenses at a stalemate, LSU’s Mario Stevenson scored on a 55-yard return of a blocked field goal, and Craig Steltz added the go-ahead touchdown 80 seconds later, returning a blocked punt 29 yards to lift LSU to its first lead, 21-17, with 13:27 left in the game.
The Sun Devils’ Sam Keller passed for the last two of his four TDs before LSU began its winning drive with 4:07 to go.
The contest, originally scheduled to be played in Baton Rouge, La., was moved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm also delayed the debut of Miles, who left Oklahoma State after three straight bowl years, by forcing postponement of a Sept. 3 game against North Texas, and LSU’s lack of game experience showed in 11 penalties for 100 yards. At the end, though, the experience of a veteran team showed through.
Keller, asked to replace the Oakland Raiders’ Andrew Walter, passed for 461 yards in his third game as a starter, throwing scoring passes of 25 and 26 yards to Jamaal Lewis, 8 yards to Rudy Burgess and 4 yards to Moey Mutz.
The last gave the Sun Devils a 31-28 lead and an apparent upset in their first game against a Southeastern Conference team. Arizona State played Arkansas in 1951 and 1985, before the Razorbacks joined the conference, and lost both games.
Addai scored on 1- and 5-yard runs, the second capping an 80-yard drive fueled by two big plays by Skyler Green, who caught a 13-yard pass and then ran 41 yards to the ASU 6.
LSU had a 19-play, 80-yard drive that burned up 11:02 of the first and second quarters, but came away with nothing to show for it when Russell lost the ball dropping back on a first-and-goal play at the 6-yard line, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill recovered on the 19 with 12:03 left in the second quarter. The play went in the books as a 13-yard sack.
Until then, LSU’s defense had held the Sun Devils in check. However, Arizona State’s luck turned with the turnover.
The Sun Devils, with just one first down until then, got their second in two plays and their third on the next, when linebacker Jason Spadoni got a facemask call tackling Burgess after a 7-yard run. The Tigers picked up another 15-yard penalty when Ronnie Prude was whistled for pass interference, setting up ASU on the 25.
Two plays later, Lewis caught the ball diving into the end zone with 9:50 left in the quarter.
LSU answered quickly, helped by Russell’s 17-yard pass to Xavier Carter and a 28-yarder to Bennie Brazell to the ASU 1. Addai barged in on the next play, tying the score with 6:15 remaining. But Arizona State still had time to take a 10-7 halftime lead after Keller hooked up with Lee Burghgraef on a 44-yard pass-and-run, moving within range of Jesse Ainsworth’s 26-yard field goal with 3:58 to go.
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