ENGSTER: Ensminger to recall 1977 rout of Rice

LSU Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger opened the home schedule of 1977 for the Tigers by firing for a school-record four touchdowns as LSU pounded Rice 77-0. All scoring passes were delivered to speedster Carlos Carson who snared a fifth touchdown from David Woodley in what remains the most potent scoring production from LSU in modern time. Carson’s line for the night: five receptions for 201 yards and five touchdowns.

As Charles McClendon ordered LSU to sit on the ball near the Rice goal line at game’s end, most fans were still in their seats and exhorting their Tigers to go for more. “We want 100,” was the demand from blood thirsty patrons smarting from the Tigers’ 24-21 upset loss at Indiana a week earlier.

The 1977 Rice team was awful. The Owls started the campaign with a 31-10 win over Idaho, then lost in succession to Florida, LSU, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Arkansas, SMU, Baylor and Houston by a combined score of 428-120.

The 1-10 Rice team of 1977 is exceeded in futility only by the 1-10 Rice unit which will “invade” Tiger Stadium Saturday night. This Owls’ squad nipped Prairie View 31-28 to start the season, then lost to Houston, Hawaii, Southern Miss, Wake Forest, UTSA, UAB, Florida International, North Texas, UTEP and Louisiana Tech by a combined margin of 357-165.

Weighing strength of schedule, the 2018 Owls are much more putrid than were the Owls of 41 years ago. If this were a prize fight, Rice would be unable to secure a license to participate against LSU. This is certainly the worst mismatch LSU has faced late in a season in memory.

There was time when Rice was a legitimate annual foe of LSU. The 7-4 Owls of 1961 robbed 10-1 LSU of a national title with a 16-3 upset of Paul Dietzel’s last Tiger team. Rice was often a dangerous date on the schedule as LSU occasionally visited the Owls’ cavernous stadium which hosted Super Bowl VIII. LSU not only lost there in 1961 under Dietzel, but Jerry Stovall’s 7-4 Tigers of 1980 dropped a 17-7 decision at Rice Stadium.

For those pure souls who take umbrage at the R-rated chant coming from the LSU student section this year, thank goodness these prudes were not around when profanity was sanctioned against teams with the audacity to enter the arena in Death Valley.

A veteran journalist recalls that Rice was once such a hated opponent that LSU cheerleaders would bellow a despicable ethnic slur into megaphones to ridicule the visitors from the Lone Star State. “What comes out of a Chinaman’s _ _ _?” was the scatological question posed by a virile student with LSU emblazoned across his chest to spew venom toward the other sideline populated by intellectual wusses. The reporter winces by recalling how a juiced up Tiger fandom responded to the query by yelling in unison, “Rice, Rice, Rice.”

Look for Coach Ed Orgeron to start resting his troops around the middle of the first quarter against the hapless Houstonians.  LSU will be 9-2 heading into its regular season finale at Texas A&M. The Aggies remain a middle of the pack SEC power under Jimbo Fisher, who came close to getting the LSU job at the end of 2015.

With LSU looking like a cinch to complete its schedule at 10-2, there remains the prospect of a Sugar Bowl bid and a remote possibility of entering the Final Four of college football. Chances are not good for LSU to make it to the playoff series, but the odds are no longer than they were in 2007 when Les Miles and Co. snared a slot in the BCS Championship Game and whipped Ohio State to capture the national title.

Arkansas not in same league as LSU

With a 24-17 defeat to LSU at Fayetteville, Arkansas fell to 10-17 against its southern rival since joining the SEC.  The overall margin between the members since 1992 is not as pronounced as some might think, but Arkansas is 0 for 27 in winning SEC football titles. During the same period, LSU has savored four conference championships and twice won all the NCAA marbles.

The troops from the University of South Carolina are also winless in 27 attempts at SEC glory. Admitting the Razorbacks and Gamecocks into the conference in the year that Bill Clinton was elected president was a way for SEC superpowers to feast on lesser foes each year. The strategy has worked to perfection.

Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Kentucky have combined to celebrate a grand total of three SEC football titles. Tulane, which last played in the SEC in 1965, boasts a trio of SEC football championships. If this trend continues for a few more years, it will be time to re-invite Tulane to take the place of one of these inept members.

Arkansas was a national power under Frank Broyles from 1958 to 1976. Despite the formidable presence of Darrell Royal at Texas, the Hogs won seven Southwest Conference titles under Broyles and are recognized rightly as the 1964 national champions even though 10-1 Alabama was voted ahead of the 11-0 Razorbacks in final polls. Arkansas beat Texas who beat Alabama, and yet this is one of the six titles claimed by Bear Bryant and Alabama. Imagine that.

Broyles as Arkansas athletic director selected effective successors in Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield who captured three more SWC crowns. The last three decades have been lessons in humility for Arkansas with the exception of the final two seasons under the disgraced Bobby Petrino and in 2006 and 2007 when the pride of North Little Rock, Darren McFadden, finished as Heisman runner-up both years.

Arkansas likes the money that comes with SEC membership and has thrived in other sports, winning the 1994 NCAA basketball championship and finishing second to UCLA in 1995. But football drives the train in Fayetteville as it does in Baton Rouge.

The Razorbacks are 0-12 vs. Nick Saban at Alabama. How much longer can Arkansas fans accept the reality that the Hogs will probably never win the SEC football title?  Vanderbilt has been trying without success to collect a first SEC football championship since 1932. Arkansas and South Carolina are destined to join the Nashville school in falling short of the league pinnacle year after year.

Unlike supporters of the Commodores, Arkansas fans can remember when the Hogs were strong enough to compete with the best teams in the land. After 27 seasons, it is painfully apparent that the SEC is not the proper launching pad for Arkansas football to return to its zenith of the 1960s.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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