Pure disgust coursed through T-Bob Hebert’s veins seconds after the most humiliating moment of his LSU football career — a premature snap that flew behind surprised quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Hebert unbuckled his helmet and slammed it down into the turf, completely unconcerned with when he would wear it again.
Turns out it was a lot sooner than he anticipated.
It was the afternoon of Oct. 2, 2010, and LSU had apparently just lost to Tennessee in Death Valley. But there would be a reprieve. The Volunteers had two too many players on the field on what would have been the game’s final play.
The Tigers got another chance, and the result was one of the craziest moments of the madcap Les Miles era.
Setting the scene
LSU entered the game 4-0 and ranked 12th in the country after a perfect September. The Vols, meanwhile, were 2-2 and looking for a signature win under first-year head coach Derek Dooley.
The Tigers were 16½-point favorites, and it only took one play to show why. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson ran 83 yards for a touchdown on LSU’s first play from scrimmage.
“I sprinted down the field to celebrate,” recalled offensive lineman Josh Dworacyzk. “And I was like, ‘Next time, I’m not gonna sprint 80 yards again.'”
He wouldn’t have to worry about it. The Tigers wouldn’t score another touchdown before time expired.
The final drive
After a fourth-down stop by the LSU defense, the Tigers took possession on their own 31 facing a 14-10 deficit with 5:35 left to play.
“When we took over, you’re not feeling like that’s the final drive,” Hebert said.
But as LSU methodically marched down the field, it became increasingly clear that Tennessee probably wasn’t getting the ball back.
A critical-but-overlooked moment came with 1:21 left and the Tigers facing fourth-and-14. Quarterback Jarrett Lee connected with Terrence Toliver for a 20-yard gain to the Tennessee 18-yard line.
“To me, that’s always been the actual game-winning play,” Hebert said. “The Snap was nothing but dumb luck and a basic sense of awareness. Fourth-and-14 took actual skill.”
When the Vols called timeout with 52 seconds left, the Tigers knew they were in complete control. It was second-and-2 at the 10-yard line, and a sense of confidence filled the huddle.
“There was a super-positive vibe, and a lot of it was due to Josh Dworaczyk,” Hebert said. “He started rapping Lil’ Boosie’s ‘Sippin’ On Purple,’ and we all started rapping. We were like ‘We’ve got these dudes now, let’s go.'”
Dworacyzk laughs at that particular memory.
“I must have been in a good mood,” he said.
That mood wouldn’t last long.
Ghosts of Ole Miss
The story of the 2010 LSU-Tennessee finish cannot be told without recalling the 2009 LSU-Ole Miss ending.
It was a total disaster for LSU. Miles somehow let 17 seconds slip off the clock in the final minute before calling his final timeout. Toliver caught a Jefferson pass at the 6-yard line with one second to play. With the chains resetting for the first down, the Tigers had time to get off another play. But they never did. Hebert made the mistake of playing by the rules and waiting for the official’s signal.
His own roommate, Will Blackwell, wouldn’t let him forget it.
“Blackwell had been on his ass about not snapping the ball against Ole Miss the year before,” Dworaczyk said. “He would tell T-Bob, ‘If you snap the ball, we have a chance.’
“Our sense of urgency was heightened because of Ole Miss.”
Though Blackwell’s badgering was well-intentioned, it also seemed unnecessary. Hebert had moved over from center to guard for the 2010 season. A last-second snap was unlikely to ever be a concern for him again.
Déjà vu for LSU
Because of the ’09 Ole Miss ending, the Tigers took measures to make sure they didn’t find themselves in the same scenario again.
“It wasn’t until Ole Miss that the two-minute drill became locked in on Thursday,” Dworaczyk said. “It should have been that way from the get-go. The coaches and players weren’t prepared. But after that, it was something we did religiously every week.”
However, in the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game, there was a sign that history might repeat itself. Starting center P.J. Lonergan was injured, forcing Hebert to move back to his old position for the final drive.
With 32 seconds to go, it still felt as if victory was almost certain. Lee misfired on a throw to the end zone, but the Tigers still had three more cracks from the 2-yard line.
Then everything descended into chaos.
The Tigers subbed Jefferson back in at quarterback, clearly signaling an intention to run. The Vols snuffed it out, tackling him at the 1. At that point, it was obvious the LSU coaching staff hadn’t considered a backup plan.
“We didn’t have a follow-up,” Hebert said. “We didn’t spike it. We just called a running play. We got tackled inbounds. Coaches thought we could run another play. But there was some miscommunication, and the coaches shifted from a goal-line personnel to four-wide. Time is literally running out.”
Boos descended from the stands as LSU fans watched in horror, fully realizing that the Ole Miss ending was playing on repeat.
“There was a super-positive vibe, and a lot of it was due to Josh Dworaczyk. He started rapping Lil’ Boosie’s ‘Sippin’ On Purple,’ and we all started rapping. We were like ‘We’ve got these dudes now, let’s go.’” — LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert
But not if Hebert had anything to say about it. He was not going to relive the nightmare. So he snapped the ball with three seconds left, not fully aware whether Jefferson was ready.
“The only reason I snapped it was the year before at Ole Miss we had a similar situation and I tried to wait for the ref’s whistle, and the clock hit zero,” Hebert said. “I wasn’t going to do that again.”
The agony of defeat
In avoiding a repeat of the 2009 episode, Hebert’s snap sailed past Jefferson, rolling all the way to the 19-yard line. Tennessee players poured onto the field in celebration.
Hebert threw down his helmet, then witnessed one of the most impressive athletic feats he has ever seen.
“I’m all mad,” he said. “But this one dude on Tennessee pulls a double backspring backflip. It was really amazing. I was super angry, but there was a part of my mind that couldn’t help but be impressed with how confidently he pulled it off. Not only that, but how genuinely happy he was.”
Dworacyzk noticed a flag on the turf, but he figured that in the chaos LSU had probably lined up in an illegal formation. But he wasn’t 100 percent sure. Tennessee’s defense did look unusually imposing.
“There was a wall of orange,” Dworacyzk said. “I remember blocking my guy and six or seven guys running by me and another four in coverage. I assumed the flag was on us, and the game was over. Dooley had got his signature win.”
13 men on the field
As it turned out, that wall of orange was built with too many bricks. LSU’s confusion over not having a play called was matched by the Vols, who couldn’t figure out which personnel to get into the game.
Players on both teams were racing on and off the field, and by the time Hebert snapped the ball, Tennessee didn’t have just one extra player on the field, but two. The officials noticed — and it was all because Hebert snapped the ball before time ran out. Without a snap, there would’ve been no flag.
“I get way too much credit for it,” Hebert said. “I didn’t know they had 13 people.”
Tennessee’s celebration was curtailed, and the Tigers had new life. The Vols would need stop an untimed down from the 1-yard line to reclaim the victory.
“It’s the most football situation you can ever dream of to decide who wins a game,” Hebert said. “Zero seconds on the clock. One yard to go. Score, you win. You don’t, you lose.”
For as much as the situation had been bungled in the final moments, Miles decided to go with the surest option on this second chance at victory. The ball was going to running back Stevan Ridley, the team’s best playmaker.
A would-be Tennessee tackler penetrated the backfield, but Ridley would not be denied.
“Credit Ridley,” Hebert said. “We missed a block. He manned up and went through that dude.”
LSU had a stunning 16-14 win.
“Pure jubilation,” Hebert said. “I threw my helmet in the air and then realized it was a bad idea and had to catch it. It was the craziest emotional swing that I’ve ever experienced in a competition.”
Dworaczyk noticed a dog pile forming over Ridley in the end zone, but thought better of joining it.
“I ended up ripping off my helmet and screaming at the top of my lungs,” he said. “I have a picture of that somewhere. I have to get it framed.”
Besides the photo, Dworaczyk is often reminded of what he witnessed that day — because so many LSU fans have told him that they didn’t see it themselves.
“I still hear stories of people with broken TVs,” he said. “They turned the game off and didn’t see the finish. It’s crazy the stories you hear now…
“Looking back, it was kind of like you stole something from somebody.”