LSU regains focus, stops Tennessee to win SEC title

ATLANTA -- Now, Les Miles and LSU can go home together,


Next stop, New Orleans. Only one thing remained uncertain about

their future: What game awaited them in the Superdome?

Assured by Miles he would stay as their coach, backup

quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and the Tigers (No. 7 BCS, No. 5 AP) shifted

their attention to No. 14 Tennessee. The result was a 21-14 victory

Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game -- and

suddenly a very strong possibility of playing for the national


"I'd line up against anybody and look forward to the

opportunity," Miles said shortly after the win. "Anybody that saw

this game tonight would certainly understand that this team is

arguably the finest team in the country."

Jonathan Zenon scored on an 18-yard interception return with

9:54 left to rally LSU (11-2) from a 14-13 deficit, then Darry

Beckwith picked off another pass by Erik Ainge deep in Tigers

territory to seal it. Perrilloux was chosen as the MVP, though

Ainge certainly played an equally significant role with his

ill-timed tosses.

After No. 1 Mizzou and No. 2 West Virginia lost later at night,

LSU felt it belonged in the BCS championship game.

"When you look at all the factors, I think we should go," LSU

athletic director Skip Bertman said at midnight. "Our power

rating, our strength of schedule. The fact that we won our

conference and didn't lose a game in regulation. I think the voters

will look at that."

The Tigers' win sent them home with a spot in the Sugar Bowl at

worst. By the end of the evening, LSU was looking at a best-case

scenario -- a date a week later in the title game, also to be held

at the Superdome.

Ohio State is No. 3, but LSU fans feel their team should jump

ahead of No. 4 Georgia, which didn't reach the SEC title game.

Virginia Tech is No. 6 and won the ACC title game, but lost to LSU

48-7 this year.

LSU took a flight back to Baton Rouge after its win, yet heard

all about Missouri's 38-17 loss to No. 9 Oklahoma 38-17 and No. 2

West Virginia's 13-9 defeat by Pittsburgh.

"The pilot was nice enough to announce the scores from the

third quarter until the end of the games," Bertman said. "The

boys were excited."

With speculation swirling he would soon leave for Michigan,

Miles did everything he could to put aside the distractions. He met

with his team earlier in the day and told them he was remaining at


"It's a great place. It's got everything. They said they want

me," Miles said.

A day after he said he would talk to Michigan, Miles turned down

a chance to go back to the school where he played and coached.

"I certainly love Michigan. I will always be a Michigan man,"

he said. "It saddens me at times I can't be in two places."

Miles' players were glad to keep him in place.

"We know Coach is here with us. We know Coach has been sticking

by us," Perrilloux said.

Miles often mouthed the word "poise" to his players during the

game. After LSU won its first SEC title since 2003, he let his

emotions show as he hugged senior Jacob Hester, who barreled for

120 yards with helmet-hammering runs.

"I'm just really happy for our seniors, our leadership," Miles


Miles had to be proud of his defense, too, for the way it

stopped the Vols at the end.

Still no word, though, on whether defensive coordinator Bo

Pelini will soon leave to become head coach at Nebraska as has been


"I'm not really talking about that right now," Pelini said.

Ainge played like a composed senior until his final few throws,

when he tossed the ball to the wrong team. Zenon stepped in front

of a receiver making a square-in and had an easy romp to the end


"I shouldn't have thrown it," Ainge said.

Said Zenon: "We had prepared for that situation and we know

they would run that play. That's exactly what they did."

Tennessee (9-4) had its five-game win streak stopped. Asked

whether he had a bowl preference for his team, coach Phillip Fulmer

drew a laugh.

"We'd like to go to the Rose Bowl, how about that?" he said.

Instead, the Volunteers might wind up in the Outback Bowl.

The Vols sported all-orange uniforms for the first time since

1999 and led 7-6 at halftime. The game shaded toward the Tigers'

side in the second half, with Perrilloux starring in place of

injured Matt Flynn.

Perrilloux did it all for LSU, a week after sitting out a 50-48

triple-overtime loss to Arkansas that cost LSU a No. 1 ranking for

the second time this season. Earlier this season, the Tigers lost

in triple overtime at Kentucky.

Throwing his first passes in three weeks, Perrilloux completed

20 of 30 for 243 yards. He opened LSU's option attack, ran for a

2-point conversion after Zenon's touchdown and threw a crunching

block that drew gasps from fans on both sides when the replay was

shown on the video board.

No wonder the Tigers have stuck by the talented sophomore whose

career has been beset by off-field issues.

"I thought I played OK," Perrilloux said.

For a while, it looked as if Tennessee safety Eric Berry might

be the star of the game. He made a pair of plays in the third

quarter that helped Tennessee take a 14-13 lead and preserve it.

Berry recovered a fumble by NCAA sprint star

Trindon Holliday

that set up Ainge's 6-yard TD pass to Josh Briscoe for a 14-13 edge

and later intercepted Perrilloux's poor pass. Perrilloux bloodied

his finger on the play when he hit a Vols helmet, but stayed in.

The Vols could've been ahead by more, but Daniel Lincoln missed

field goal tries from 30 and 51 yards.

Down at halftime, LSU came out of the locker room with a new

look. The Tigers opened up their playbook and quickly grabbed the


Holliday took off on his first three runs of the game, Early Doucet tried a reverse and Perrilloux threw a 48-yard dart to

Brandon LaFell. Perrilloux finished off the lightning strike by

slinging a pass through two defenders to Demetrius Byrd for a

27-yard touchdown and 13-7 lead.

At the start, Tennessee broke out a bit of trickery that's

become fashionable in the SEC.

On their first possession, the Vols slipped wide receiver Gerald Jones in as quarterback on a third-and-4. He dashed for 20 yards on

just his fourth rushing attempt this season. That led to Ainge's

11-yard touchdown pass to Chris Brown.

Somehow, Tennessee made its lead stand up until halftime despite

being outgained 271 yards to 93.

Colt David kicked a pair of 30-yard field goals the first two

times LSU touched the ball. He missed another 30-yard try just

before the half.