Instant Analysis: BCS Championship Game

Staff Columnist
Posted Jan 8, 2008

After all the hype and anticipation, the buildup and the buzz, the talk and the tension, yet another college football championship game was decided by a Mark Bradley moment. Because the victim was an Ohio State receiver named Brian Robiskie, the LSU Tigers won their second national title in the past five seasons.

What's a Mark Bradley moment, you might ask? It's the point in a BCS title tilt when one negative play sucks the life out of a team that had been playing inspired football. The stomach-punch momentum shift caused by a single instance of inadequacy creates a 180-degree turn that permanently affects the trajectory of the proceedings.

In the 2005 Orange Bowl, Oklahoma and USC were tied at 7 in the final minute of the first quarter when Sooner punt returner Mark Bradley muffed a kick inside his own 5. Over the following two quarters and change, the Trojans scored 48 of the game's next 51 points. That kind of floodgate-opening, soul-sapping, blowout-bearing incident has graced many BCS title games over the years, and since a 48-3 tsunami is hard to top, the emblematic name for a championship-changing, momentum-making mistake has become a Mark Bradley moment. Monday night in the Louisiana Superdome, the Ohio State Buckeyes bore the brunt of a Bradley-like blunder, and soon afterwards, a Tiger tornado from LSU rolled through the Big Ten champions in college football's showcase game.

Sometimes, it really is true that a single play determines the course of a championship football fistfight. As was the case in the 2005 Orange Bowl, a solitary snap turned into one loud, long and lamentable pivot point in a ballyhooed battle. After all the ink, bandwidth and film footage used; the beers, hot dogs and nachos consumed; the tickets, hotel rooms, and paraphernalia sold, a main-event title tussle was decided in the blink of an eye… and the unsteady hands of a normally reliable wide receiver.

Over the course of the game's first 18-plus minutes, Ohio State's receivers flatly smoked LSU's secondary. The Tigers suffered busted coverages and were thoroughly outplayed by the Buckeyes' pass catchers, one of them being Brian Robiskie. But on a 3rd and 3 play with just over 11 minutes left in the second quarter, this game would find its defining moment. OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman lofted a picture-perfect pass to the left sideline, where Robiskie had burned LSU cover corner Chevis Jackson. Just past the pylon, Robiskie had begun to pull in the pigskin, but his hands somehow lost control. Yes, Jackson made a light poke at the ball in an attempt to disrupt Robiskie's concentration, but the ball never should have left the breadbasket of the normally sure-handed flanker. When one considers the fact that a receiver merely has to control the ball and get one foot down (without having to make an extended or continued football move) in order to score a touchdown, there was little excuse for Robiskie's weak display in the end zone. A perfect pass that touched two hands in stride should have been corralled against minimal contact from an opposing corner.

Up to that point, Ohio State's offensive line had won the game's signature battle-within-the-war against LSU's defensive front. A touchdown would not only have re-established a seven-point Buckeye advantage after a quick 10-0 mini-burst by the Tigers; the scoring play, if made by Robiskie, would have halted LSU's dome-field momentum and placed Ohio State in a position where it would not have had to play catch-up for at least the next quarter. Coach Jim Tressel, with a 17-10 lead, could have relied on Chris Wells to pound the rock and shorten the game, thereby putting the squeeze on the talented but emotionally volatile Tigers. In a high-stakes game, no single snap held more significance than one dropped touchdown pass early in the second quarter.

If there was any doubt about that very claim, it vanished on the very next play, when LSU blocked a 38-yard field goal by Buckeye kicker Ryan Pretorius. A few minutes later, Tiger signal caller Matt Flynn—the MVP of this game—made an exceptional play by throwing a perfect pass across his body to Brandon LaFell in the left corner of the end zone. The 17-10 lead that should have belonged to the Buckeyes was snatched by the Tigers instead. Ohio State's dreams of BCS glory, denied a year ago by Florida, would not be fulfilled this time around against the Bayou Bengals from Baton Rouge.

Once the Tigers gained the upper hand on the scoreboard, they never looked back. The LSU defensive front began to outhustle and outhit the Buckeyes' offensive line. Boeckman began to bail out on some of his downfield throws, and ravenous LSU corners gobbled up the pickings with multiple interceptions that cemented the Tigers' advantage. Flynn—used extremely well by offensive coordinator Gary Crowton—began to find more and more angles and openings in OSU's defense, which ceded far too many points before making a noble yet futile stand in the game's final 20 minutes, when the outcome had largely been decided.

You can slice and dice this championship encounter in so many ways, but the more you put this pigskin passion play under an analytical microscope, the one moment that keeps coming back to the center of the discussion has to be Brian Robiskie's dropped pass. Without that drop, no blocked field goal would have occurred on the next play. Without that blocked field goal, no surge of LSU momentum would have emerged. And without that surge of LSU momentum, OSU could have played the rest of the game on relatively even terms. No runaway romp would have taken place, in all likelihood.

And so, at the end of this supremely surprising season, the most insane campaign in college football's 139-year history, it's only fitting that a two-loss national champion enters the record books. Les Miles—for all of his dramatics and theatrics—is a national champion head coach. Want to put an asterisk next to this title? Fine. See if Miles… and the LSU football family… cares one bit. The Tigers never played SEC rival Georgia, but they won the championship of their league on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. Just over a month later, the Bayou Bengals have now claimed the legitimate and official championship of their entire sport in New Orleans. LSU is now the first program to win two national titles in the BCS era, a reality brought about by the fact that both of the Tigers' title tilts have come on home soil in the safe setting of the Superdome, where the Tigers are 4-0 in BCS bowl games (2-0 under Nick Saban, and 2-0 under Miles with this victory).

The team LSU defeated for its first BCS title in 2004 was Oklahoma—yes, the same school that brought the college football community that poignant but powerful pendulum-swinger known as a Mark Bradley moment. In 2008, LSU benefited from yet another failure of hands by a shifty skill position player on the opposing sideline. As a result, the Tigers' own hands are now touching a handsome piece of championship crystal.

Related Stories
Buckeyes Again Fall Short In Title Game
 -by  Jan 7, 2008
BCS Championship Game Notebook
 -by  Jan 7, 2008
 -by  Jan 8, 2008

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