Toasting the Tigers in the Postseason: Looking back at LSU in bowl games over the past three decades
by Matt Deville
and Jim Engster
(At left) The LSU defense, clad in it’s unique gold jerseys and white helmets, endured frigid temperatures in Shreveport and sacked Ron Powlus and Notre Dame 27-9 in the 1997 Independence Bowl
As the 1980s bled into the 90s, LSU Footballtook a turn for the worse.
After two brilliant seasons in 1987 and ‘88, in which Mike Archer had led the Tigers to a 18-5-1 record and a SEC title, things began to unravel for the young coach.
In 1989, with a senior-laden team, the Tigers slumped to a 4-7 record and missed the postseason for the first time since Jerry Stovall’s last team posted an identical mark in 1983. The 1989 season set the tone for the lowest period in Tiger history as LSU would endure six straight losing seasons, which doubled the previous mark for consecutive losing seasons.
The Tigers had three straight losing seasons from 1954-56, but nothing compared to the darkness of the early 1990s.
Archer was fired after a 5-6 record in 1990. LSU then turned to Curley Hallman, who had experienced wild success at Southern Miss.
But it turned out to be the worst hire in school history.
Hallman pieced together four straight losing seasons, including a 2-9 record in 1992, the worst in school history. Hallman went 16-28 from 1991-94 and became the first coach in the era of bowl games not to lead the Tigers to a postseason game.
(At left) Kevin Faulk ran for an LSU postseason record 234 yards in the 1995 Independence Bowl
Hallman was fired following the 1994 season and the Gerry DiNardo era began with the rallying cry “Bring Back the Magic!”
DiNardo did just that in leading the Tigers to three straight bowl victories from 1995-98. But like Archer, things went south in 1998 and consecutive losing seasons led to DiNardo’s dismissal.
The 1990s saw the Tigers reach the fewest number of bowl games in a decade (3) than any other period in the modern era. The Tigers had played in seven bowl games in the 1960s an 70s and reached a postseason game six times in the 1980s.
The 90s were a time of great unrest in Tiger Town, but little did the LSU faithful know, the bayou Bengals were on the cusp of the greatest period in LSU Football history.
1995 Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl
LSU 45, Michigan State 26
Dec. 29, 1995
First-year coach Gerry DiNardo promised to “Bring Back the Magic” to Tiger Stadium. In 1995, a 6-4-1 record was hardly magical in terms of today’s standards, but after six straight losing seasons and four miserable years under Curley Hallman, a berth in the Independence Bowl was a breath of fresh air. The Tigers traveled up the road to Shreveport to face Michigan State and the Spartans’ relatively unknown coach Nick Saban from the Big Ten. Known then as the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl, it was a record breaking night for true freshman tailback Kevin Faulk. The teams battled evenly in a first half of big plays that included a 78-ya rd TD pass by Michigan State on the second play of the game, an Eddie Kennison kickoff return for a touchdown for LSU, a Michigan State kickoff return for a touchdown and a 51-yard TD run by Kevin Faulk that contributed to a 24-21 MSU halftime lead. But the Tigers broke it open in the second half with 24 unanswered points, including a fumble return for a touchdown by defensive end Gabe Northern. Northern went on to claim defensive player of the game honors and Faulk rushed for a bowl record 234 yards — the second most rushing yards by an LSU player — to capture the offensive MVP award. In all, LSU set or tied 11 Independence Bowl records in the romp.
1996 Peach Bowl
LSU 10, Clemson 7
Dec. 28, 1996
Things got even better for Gerry DiNardo in his second season. He led the Tigers to not only their second straight bowl game for the first time in a decade, DiNardo’s 1996 squad became only the fifth team in LSU history to record double digit wins in a season. The Tigers did win 10 games that season, but those victories offset two ugly losses – a 56-13 blowout at Florida and a 26-0 setback at home versus Alabama. LSU’s three-point win over Clemson was the lowest scoring bowl game for a Tiger team since beating Texas 13-0 in the 1963 Cotton Bowl. It was also LSU’s second bowl win over Clemson; the first was a 7-0 victory in the 1959 Sugar Bowl, which capped off the Tigers’ 1958 national championship season. Clemson struck first when quarterback Nealon Greene took the ball in from five yards out for a7-0 lead. But it would be Clemson’s only points of the night. Kevin Faulk capped a seven-play, 80-yard LSU drive in the second quarter with a three-yard touchdown run. Wade Richey added a 22-yard field goal before intermission for a 10-7 LSU lead at the half. The game was sealed when LSU’s Aaron Adams batted away a 52-yard Clemson field goal try with less than two minutes to play.
1997 Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl
LSU 27, Notre Dame 9
LSU made its second trip to Shreveport in three seasons; however, this time around Tiger fans weren’t as ecstatic as the 1995 journey to the state’s northwest corner. A promising season, one in which LSU knocked off No. 1 Florida and had ascended to No. 8 in the nation, turned south when the Tigers lost to Ole Miss the following week and was later embarrassed at home by Notre Dame. LSU got another crack at the Irish in Shreveport and avenged the 24-6 loss by thrashing Notre Dame 27-9, despite bitterly cold conditions. Rondell Mealey subbed for an injured Kevin Faulk and rushed for a bowl record 222 yards. The teams exchanged field goals early before the LSU touchdown surge began. Scott Cengia hit field goals of 33 and 21 yards for the Irish in the first half while Wade Richey booted a 37-yarder for a 6-3 Notre Dame lead at the half. Richey added a 42-yarder early in the second half before LSU’s Herb Tyler hit Abram Booty with a 12-yard scoring strike for a 13-6 Tiger lead. Cengia hit one more field goal, a 33-yarder early in the fourth quarter, but the Irish would score no more. Mealey scored twice in the final period on runs of two and one yard to send LSU to victory.