Plus: the great Jimmy Taylor and why history says more passing may not be LSU’s ticket to success
By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine
LSU opens its season in Big Ten country for the first time in 39 years this Saturday as the Tigers tangle with Wisconsin in Green Bay. The last time LSU opened on the road against a Big Ten foe was Sept. 17, 1977. The Tigers were upset in the closing minutes by Indiana, 24-21. Only 30,067 patrons were present in Bloomington as Lee Corso’s Hoosiers clipped Charles McClendon’s Bengals, who were led by Heisman Trophy contender Charles Alexander, who cruised for 1,883 yards in 12 games that season.
Alexander was playing with a sore hamstring, which limited his output in the opener to 117 yards on 24 carries. The defeat to Indiana was the catalyst for Hoosier Athletic Director Paul Dietzel returning to LSU as A.D. less than a year later and for McClendon’s ultimate firing in 1979.
Les Miles has as much on the line at Lambeau Field this Saturday as McClendon did in Bloomington nearly four decades ago. If LSU whips Wisconsin as expected, it’s no big deal. If the Tigers lose to the Badgers, it would be a catastrophic start to Year 12 at LSU for Miles.
The last time LSU played Wisconsin in that state was on Sept. 25, 1971 in Madison, where 78,535 fans watched Tiger quarterback Paul Lyons have a brilliant afternoon that was highlighted by 139 rushing yards on 19 carries. Lyons had wrestled the starting job from fellow junior Bert Jones after Jones faltered in a 31-21 opening loss to Colorado. Jones also tossed for 165 yards in the game to set an LSU total offense record that stood for a dozen years.
The LSU team of ’71 was strong, beating Notre Dame 28-8 and Florida 48-7 while posting a 9-3 record with close losses to Ole Miss, 24-22, and to Alabama, 14-7. The Wisconsin unit was mediocre and finished 4-6-1. But the Badgers gave LSU all it wanted as the last all-white group of Tiger footballers escaped a packed Camp Randall Stadium with a hard fought triumph.
Jimmy Taylor remains greatest LSU rusher
Lambeau Field opened in 1957 and a year later, Jim Taylor arrived in Green Bay. The LSU stalwart became the first member of Vince Lombardi’s teams to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976 when he was 40. Forty years removed from his enshrinement, Taylor lingers as the prototype of the battering ram running back popular in the 1960s. Lombardi won five NFL championships in seven seasons from 1960-66, and Taylor was his top rusher for the first four titles.
Taylor was a dominant player amid a galaxy of Hall of Famers with the Packers, and in 1962, he was named the NFL Most Valuable Player. He led the league in rushing in ’62 with 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games. It was the only time in Cleveland star Jim Brown’s nine-year NFL career that he did not lead the league in rushing yardage.
Taylor and fellow running back Steve Van Buren represent two of the three Po Football Hall of Famers from LSU (Y. A. Tittle is the other), but LSU has not been a pipeline for NFL running backs as it has been for other positions.
Here are the leading LSU running backs in Pro Football based on career rushing yardage statistics.
Player Yards Years Played
- Jimmy Taylor 8,597 1958-1967
- Steve Van Buren 5,860 1944-1951
- Joseph Addai 4,453 2006-2011
- Dalton Hilliard 4,164 1986-1993
- Harvey Williams 3,952 1991-1998
- Kevin Faulk 3,607 1999-2011
- Domanick Williams 3,195 2003-2005
- Stevan Ridley 2,907 2011-2015
- Charles Alexander 2,645 1979-1985
- Billy Cannon 2,455 1960-1970
Jeremy Hill should crack the Top Ten this season. The third-year back for the Cincinnati Bengals starts the season with 1,918 yards. Hill led the NFL last season with eleven rushing touchdowns.
Florida’s Emmitt Smith is the career NFL rushing leader with 18,355 yards from 1990-2004. It’s amusing to recall how Harvey Williams insisted he was a better runner than was Smith.
Jim Brown holds the league record for yards rushing per game at 104.3. Jimmy Taylor averaged 66.6 yards rushing per game during his ten-year career.
Run baby run
Fifteen years have elapsed since Rohan Davey established the LSU single game record for passing yards in a 35-21 victory over Alabama. The coach of the Tigers on that fateful date of Nov. 3, 2001 at Tuscaloosa was Nick Saban, who is now ensconced on the other side of the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Davey broke the 12-year record for single game yards held by Tom Hodson, who gunned for 438 yards in a 45-39 defeat at Tiger Stadium to Tennessee on Oct. 28, 1989.
Jeff Wickersham, Alan Risher and Bert Jones were the previous LSU leaders for passing yards in a game, and like Hodson, they set their records in games that LSU lost.
The criticism directed at Les Miles about unimaginative run-happy offenses should also include the revelation that big passing numbers often don’t equal victory.
When an offense has a talent such as Leonard Fournette, it would be foolish to throw the ball more than run it. It is curious that LSU has largely been a conservative offensive machine under both Miles and Saban, and the Tigers have won 160 of 208 games in the 21st Century.
When LSU entered finished the 20th Century, the Bengals had weathered eight losing seasons in eleven years and had posted a record of 58-66-1 from 1989-99.
Here is the evolution of the LSU quarterback record for passing yards in one game.
Quarterback Yards Opponent Year Outcome
Rohan Davey 528 Alabama 2001 Victory
Tommy Hodson 438 Tennessee 1989 Defeat
Jeff Wickersham 368 Mississippi State 1983 Defeat
Jeff Wickersham 344 Alabama 1983 Defeat
Alan Risher 308 Mississippi State 1982 Defeat
Alan Risher 244 Florida 1981 Defeat
Bert Jones 242 Alabama 1972 Defeat
Y.A. Tittle 237 Tulane 1944 Victory