Southern Miss and LSU have only met one time before in history, and it was perhaps the most depressing game in the annals of LSU football. Though, there was great rejoicing in the aftermath, despite (or maybe because of) the result.
Let’s not rehash the entire history of Curley Hallman again. If you want to scare the children, read this. By 1994, Curley Hallman’s disastrous five-year plan was lurching to its final conclusion: a loss to the very school he got hired away from.
The 1994 season is perhaps best remembered for the Interception Game against Auburn earlier in the year. Believe it or not, Curley and his cohorts were not fired on the spot for gross mismanagement, and we decided to play out the year. By the time Southern Miss rolled into town, LSU was 2-6 and out of bowl contention. But one last indignity remained for Coach Curley: Southern Miss.
I was one of the estimated 40,000 people who bothered to show up for the game. That’s right: 40,000 people. Like we were Ole Miss or something. 75,453 people officially attended Alabama kicking the crap out of LSU the previous week, and nearly half of that crowd decided it would be better to catch a movie than some LSU football. By the way, this is what bad football and lack of fan support looks like.
I would like to tell you some story from the game, but really, all of the losses from the Hallman era just sort of bleed together. We sat in the student section, probably drunk, and cheered loudly until our Tigers found a way to grab victory from defeat. I do remember going to a Shoney’s breakfast buffet in the wake of the game, where I piled my plate full of unlimited eggs and loudly asked the patrons how in the hell we just lost Southern Miss.
Well, me of 1994, I’m here to tell you how, because I’m that nice of a guy.
LSU actually pinned Southern Miss inside its own 20 three times in the first quarter because Chad Kessler was an awesome punter, even if he never got to star in his own meme like Brad Wing. LSU actually had a decent defense under Hallman, but after allowing a 3rd and 11 conversion from inside the ten yards, the very next play would go 77 yards for a touchdown. And there we were, playing catch up to Southern Miss in our own stadium.
Curley reacted quickly to the defense allowing a long touchdown play by immediately benching his starting quarterback and bringing in Melvin Hill. Melvin Hill would guide the offense to five total yards over the next six offensive plays, which included a five-yard penalty on the defense. He threw two incompletions and botched a handoff. Jamie Howard would then return to the game. Oh, LSU quarterbacks. Never change.
LSU would manage a field goal, and Southern Miss would miss an attempt near the end of the half, so these two titans would limp into the half with the score 7-3. To be honest, I don’t remember much booing. We were way past the booing phase of the relationship, and had achieved near total apathy. What would booing do anyway? We were the idiots showing up for a team this bad.
The second half started pretty much the same way the first half ended, with LSU finding new and inventive ways to shoot itself in the foot. Howard orchestrated a 9-play, 24-yard drive (not a misprint, take some time to think about it for your own amusement, though) that ended on 3rd and 5 from the 24-yard line. Howard would take a 13-yard sack, pushing LSU back to the 37, setting up a 55-yard field goal attempt by Wade Richey. Being Wade Richey, he missed it left. If only he could aim.
Southern Miss would score on a 62-yard touchdown run on the very next play. Down 14-3, LSU’s offense would finally spring to life. Howard completed four straight passes, and a 35-yard strike to David LaFleur capped off a quick, 70-yard touchdown drive. We were back in it, baby! Heck, we even went for two… and got it!
On its next drive, LSU would overcome a 3rd and 21 and a 1st and 35 (again, not a misprint, and yes, take time to consider that one as well) to keep the drive alive. Again, Howard would find David LaFleur, who was sort of awesome, for a touchdown. Just like that, LSU was up 18-14, and we all should have just gone home right then.
The penultimate play of the third quarter was an ill omen for what was to come: James Gillyard, a defensive end, intercepted a Southern Miss pass on 3rd down. Attempting to return the interception, he fumbled the ball back to the Eagles, giving them a first down in the process. You can see where this is going, right?
Though Southern Miss would get down to the 11-yard line, they would have to settle for a short field goal. LSU would go three and out, but then the usually reliable Kessler shanked a punt. Suddenly, Southern Miss had the ball, good field position, and was down by just a point. However, this time, Southern Miss would miss the 37-yard field goal attempt. Disaster averted.
LSU chewed up a little bit of clock before facing 3rd and 10 from its own 45 with just over four minutes to play. Curley being Curley, he dialed up a second consecutive pass play, because surely you don’t want to bleed clock in this situation. Jamie Howard, being Jamie Howard, threw a back-breaking interception to Patrick Surtain.
Southern Miss took over at midfield and quickly drove down to the 12-yard line. The LSU defense then stiffened and laid down one of its great defensive stands of the season. First, they knocked Burkhalter for a one-yard loss. Then, on consecutive plays, they sacked Graham for a combined loss of 21 yards. The defense essentially knocked USM out of field goal range, but the Eagles lined up anyway for a desperation 52-yard field goal. He hit it.
The game-winning drive officially went 7 plays for 15 yards. But there was still 1:53 play, and LSU would have one last chance. LSU would drive down to the 28-yard line of USM, but a five-yard penalty on first down pushed the team back to the 33. Howard’s next three passes would fall incomplete, forcing Curley into yet another decision: use his reliable short-range kicker Andre LaFleur or his unreliable long-range kicker Wade Richey, who had missed from 55, to attempt a 50-yard field goal.
Because it was Curley, no matter what he chose, it would be wrong. He went with LaFleur, who didn’t have near enough leg to kick it 50 yards. He had a long distance kicker on the roster for just this sort of situation, but he likely left him on the bench because he had missed a low-percentage 55-yarder earlier the game.
While this game was a miserable experience to live through, Joe Dean would demand Curley Hallman’s resignation in the week following. Curley, always a great decision maker, refused, so Dean fired him. Dean would allow Curley to finish out the year, so this is technically not Curley’s last game, but this is the game that finally caused LSU to say enough was enough. No, we were not Crazy ‘Bout Curley.