HOOVER, Ala. – Derek Dooley was about to head off the stage at SEC Football Media Days on Thursday when the question came about the unbelievable endings of last year’s LSU and North Carolina games.
He paused, smiled and said: “I almost got out of here.”
LSU fans of course remember the ending of the Tigers’ 16-14 win over Tennessee on Oct. 2, when the Volunteers were flagged for 13 men on the field, allowing LSU to win on an untimed down.
Some may forget the Vols also lost to UNC 30-27 in double overtime in the Music City Bowl after the Tar Heels were flagged for illegal participation and the UNC quarterback was ruled to have spiked the ball with :01 remaining. North Carolina kicked a field goal to send it to overtime and won in OT with another.
“I told everybody I was 8-7 in postgame handshakes last year,” Dooley said. “It happens and then people say, ‘It’ll never happen again.’ It did.
“But there are lessons in everything. I told our players before you point fingers ask yourself if there’s anything I could have done better to change the outcome. There’s a ton that I, our coaches and our players could have done.”
The former LSU assistant coach goes into year two potentially facing more heartache, though perhaps of the more conventional variety.
He says this may be the youngest team he’s ever been around despite returning 13 starters.
“But youth is not an excuse for a failure,” Dooley said.
Compounding Tennessee’s youth on defense is an offseason injury to linebacker Herman Lathers. The former Scotlandville star broke his ankle in 7-on-7 drills and Dooley said he doesn’t know when he will return.
Clinton’s Prentiss Waggner made a spring move from cornerback to free safety and has bulked up.
“Prentiss had a good year for us last year,” Dooley said. “A lot of interceptions, but not very consistent.”
LSU plays Oct. 15 at Tennessee, the Tigers’ first trip to Knoxville since 2006.
- Scott Rabalais