The false spring of the Dinardo era built the foundation for the coming Golden Age of LSU Football. There’s a lot of good things to come out Gerry Dinardo’s tenure, but he is unfortunately remembered for how it ended rather than how it began.
Dinardo took over a program that hadn’t had a winning season in six years, a school record. The town was starved for a winner, and he brought back the magic almost immediately. He had a winning season and made (and won) a bowl game in Year One, and then guided LSU to a 19-5 record over the next two seasons.
LSU flirted with the top ten for the first time in a decade. He signed perhaps the biggest and most important recruit in school history, star running back Kevin Faulk. He had tied for the SEC West lead each of the past two seasons, missing out on Atlanta due to tiebreakers.
In 1998, the sky seemed to be the limit. He returned veteran quarterback Herb Tyler and a three-headed monster of a backfield in Kevin Faulk, Cecil Collins, and Rondell Mealy. LSU returned the bulk of a defense that ranked 9th in the country in Scoring Defense. LSU entered the year as preseason top ten and tentative national title contender.
And then the bottom fell out.
Cecil Collins was arrested for breaking & entering and sexual battery. Dinardo kicked him off the team in June. LSU beat rival Auburn to kick off the SEC season, getting revenge for the previous season’s crushing loss. Despite the loss of Collins, LSU started the year 3-0.
LSU would only win one more game the rest of the year, losing seven games, a remarkable FIVE of them by less than seven points. This was a team that was close in nearly every game, but it found new and inventive ways to lose.
They moved backwards in the red zone in the fourth quarter in a one point loss to Georgia. Twice. They lost on a field goal as time expired against Kentucky. They lost in overtime to Ole Miss after a furious fourth quarter comeback. They gave up two touchdowns in the final two and half minutes to lose by six to Bama. They gave up three third-down conversions, including a third and goal to lose to Notre Dame in the waning minutes.
But the one win in all of those close calls was an absolute beat down of the SEC West champs that season. And proof positive that no matter how good Mississippi State is, they will always find a way to lose to LSU.
I recommend this video just to see whatever it is that died and is sitting on top of Todd Christensen’s head. And the spectacular ESPN2 graphics.
On its opening drive, LSU ran 16 plays. 10 of those plays were designed runs for Kevin Faulk. Give Dinardo this much, he knew where his bread was buttered. LSU marched down the field, scored a touchdown on its opening drive, and despite a missed extra point, put down a statement that for at least one game, this was the LSU team we expected to see in 1998.
Neither team could get much going for the rest of the first quarter, but Mississippi St. ended the quarter in the middle of a decent drive. They would stall out at the LSU 26 yard line, when Arnold Miller would block the field goal attempt.
Herb Tyler took advantage of the turn in fortune, connecting with Abram Booty on consecutive plays for a total of 60 yards. A few plays later, Tyler found Mealey for a touchdown. Tacking on a two-point conversion by Tyler, and the score was up to 14-0.
LSU’s next drive was going nowhere fast, but State committed a pass interference penalty against Booty on 3rd and 10. LSU wouldn’t look back, and a heavy diet of Faulk and Mealey got the ball inside the five yard line, where Herb Tyler would call his own number for the third touchdown, and the rout was on.
The Tigers started the second half the same as the first: with a long drive featuring a heavy dose of Kevin Faulk. Eleven plays, eight of them to Faulk, including the final rush from 3 yards out and the touchdown. It was all over except for the party at this point.
The next two State possessions would both end in turnovers, giving LSU the ball in great field position. Mark Roman had an interception and Fred Booker picked up a fumble caused by the hard-hitting Clarence LeBlanc. Tyler would find Faulk and Booty for touchdowns.
Mississippi St. would score a meaningless touchdown with 40 seconds left to ruin the shutout. They missed the extra point. Jackie Sherrill would call for an onside kick which State recovered, on the odd hopes the Bulldogs could erase a 35-point lead in 40 seconds.
Six of LSU’s first seven drives resulted in a touchdown. The Tigers converted 11 of 14 3rd downs. They simply annihilated State from the opening gun to the final whistle. Kevin Faulk rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries. He rushed for two touchdowns and caught a third. Herb Tyler went 10-18 for 162 yards and 3 TD’s without a pick.
This was an easy blowout win in the midst of a season in which nothing was easy. It was a small peek at what this team could have been.
36-39 Notre Dame
31-37 Ole Miss
The Auburn game felt big at the time, but both Tigers would go on to losing seasons. The Ole Miss game did feature a 21-point LSU comeback, ruined by overtime. LSU should have beaten No. 10 Notre Dame in South Bend, but fell apart in the fourth quarter, as this team so often did.
1998 was a year of missed chances. What had seemed like a Tiger resurgence was left in shambles, and Dinardo wouldn’t survive the next season.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1998?
This poll is closed
Blowing out SEC West Champion Mississippi St
Revenge against Auburn
Comeback against Ole Miss
Outplaying Notre Dame