GREEN BAY, Wis. — Imagine an alternate universe. If John Lennon was right about this, it’s easy if you try. And in this particular alternate universe, Billy Cannon’s famed Halloween punt return isn’t The Greatest Play in LSU History (TM), just a very tremendous highlight-reel play.
All it would have taken was for Ole Miss to drive the ball down the field for a touchdown on the ensuing possession and leave Tiger Stadium with a 10-7 victory. Cannon probably still wins the Heisman, but the No. 2 Rebels end the season undefeated to win a share of the 1959 national championship with Syracuse. Or maybe the pollsters are so impressed with Mississippi’s body of work that it’s an outright title.
And if we’re living in that same alternate universe, perhaps Tre’Davious White’s effort against Wisconsin goes down as one of the clutch performances in LSU history — the jolt that woke up a sleepwalking team out of a Week 1 scare and into eventual immortality.
Alas, we are still in the real world, and reality dictates that the Tigers were a 16-14 loser to Wisconsin in their season opener at Lambeau Field.
But even in defeat, it is impossible not to appreciate how close White came to creating a signature performance that people would be talking about decades down the road if the rest of the cards hit the table in the right order.
White made the first play of the game that breathed any life into the LSU sidelines, picking off an ill-advised pass by Bart Houston and zig-zagging across the field for a 21-yard touchdown return with 5:28 left in the third quarter. When he caught the ball, the prospects of returning it more than a yard or two were bleak, yet he somehow worked his way to the end zone in a way that even Cannon himself can surely appreciate. (Fast forward to the :20 mark for his INT.)
Less than a minute later, White demonstrated a Tyrann Mathieu-like nose for the football, scooping up a George Rushing fumble that was forced on a hit by fellow corner Donte Jackson.
It took the LSU offense just two plays after that to find the end zone for the first time all afternoon when Brandon Harris followed a 31-yard pass to Leonard Fournette with a 10-yard bubble screen to Travin Dural for a touchdown. One guy was turning around a miserable overall performance by his teammates … and then, after Rafael Gaglianone’s eventual game-winning 47-yard field goal, it was all for naught.
Nevertheless, even in defeat, White proved he was more than worthy of the No. 18 — at LSU, a distinction that is voted on by fellow players to the most deserving teammate.
“Big players make big plays,” said defensive end Lewis Neal. “He came in the clutch and put us back into the game.”
With a little more help from those around him — a group that includes coaches as well as teammates — White wouldn’t have just put the Tigers back into the game, but over the top. Instead, his performance will recede deep into the memory banks of most fans, who are understandably more concerned with everything that went wrong Saturday.
But no matter what universe reality decides to entrench itself in, White’s near-heroics are deserving of accolade.