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January 4, 2008
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
NEW ORLEANS ? About 140 miles northwest of here ? between Lafayette and New Iberia ? is St. Martinville, a town of about 7,000 on Bayou Teche that's known as the birthplace of Cajun culture.
But depending on what happens Monday night, St. Martinville by Tuesday morning may start identifying itself as the hometown of LSU senior wide receiver Early Doucet.
It is not unusual for a small town to boast when one of its sons excels in a big football game, and none around here is bigger than LSU's championship game against Ohio State.
An LSU game for the title would be a big game anyway. But with Doucet playing a key role for LSU, the game is even bigger for the residents of St. Martinville Parrish.
"He has accomplished so much and he's come so far," St. Martinville mayor Thomas Nelson said in a Cajun accent. "It's more special because we have one of our own, one of our hometown boys, participating.
"There's going to be a lot of partying, and that's quite natural because LSU is right around the corner, but also because of Early."
Past history ? or is it pass history? ? would suggest that Doucet could give the folks back home reason to start Mardi Gras prematurely. Twice in his career, he has made game-winning catches in the final minute. He made a 39-yard touchdown catch on fourth down late in the fourth quarter in a 35-31 victory over Arizona State in the 2005 season-opener. Last season, he made a last-play touchdown catch in a 28-24 victory over Tennessee.
This season, Doucet leads LSU with 50 catches even though a pulled groin caused him to miss five games. Now, Doucet is healthy - and so is LSU's passing game.
"I think anytime you have such a good player ? a great player ? a dominant player like Early, it's very important to have him out there," LSU quarterback Matt Flynn said. "He's a leader, he's been there and he makes plays when you need one.
"On fourth-and-4 in an away game when you need a big play, you throw it to him. We missed him a lot when he was gone. It's like a security blanket to look left or right and see Early."
That's not just idle praise from a generous teammate. The numbers show the speedy Doucet is the kind of player whose mere presence makes his teammates better. In the five games Doucet missed, LSU averaged 159.4 passing yards. That total was boosted by a 307-yard output against overmatched Middle Tennessee State. During that five-game span, the Tigers had just six touchdown passes (three against MTSU).
But in the seven games in which Doucet has played, LSU has averaged 257.5 passing yards and thrown 19 touchdown passes despite playing against stronger pass defenses.
Flynn completed exactly 50 percent (55-of-110) of his passes in games in which Doucet missed. With Doucet in the lineup, Flynn completed 57.6 percent of his attempts (128-of-222) and threw 14 of his 17 touchdown passes.
But Doucet deflects all that. He says he's just one in a stable of standout receivers, and stats might support his theory. Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd have more receiving yards than Doucet even though neither has caught as many as 50 passes. Byrd has seven touchdown catches, including the thrilling last-second grab that beat Auburn, to Doucet's four.
"I don't think one player makes a difference," Doucet said. "Everybody is playing their role. That's why our offense has been successful."
Ohio State strong safety Anderson Russell disagrees, at least to some extent. The Buckeyes have faced Michigan's Mario Manningham, Michigan State's Devin Thomas and Purdue's Dorien Bryant, each of whom caught at least 67 passes. Yet Anderson said Doucet will be the best receiver the Buckeyes have faced.
"We've faced some good guys, but he's definitely going to be the best receiver we've seen all season," Russell said. "But it's something that we've got to deal with. I think we can get the job done. It's just something we're looking forward to because we can have a chance to show that we can play, too."
No one is disputing that. The Buckeyes rank No. 1 in the country in pass defense and held Bryant to two catches for minus-4 yards, Thomas to four catches for 77 yards and Manningham to five catches for 34 yards. None of them caught a touchdown pass against the Buckeyes.
If it's a close game, don't be surprised if LSU looks for Doucet to make a big play in the final minutes, which would cause huge celebrations to erupt all over Louisiana, especially in St. Martinville.
Though he previously has shown a flair for the dramatic, Doucet noted that LSU has won three games in the final minutes and lost twice in triple overtime this season, so he'd rather the party get started ? well ? early.
"It would be nice to catch the game-winner," Doucet said. "But I'd rather win outright and it not go down to the last minute. We've had too many of those already."
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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