1998 should have been the year. Coming off 10 and 9 win seasons, LSU returned 16 starters, including senior QB Herb Tyler and Heisman-candidate RB Kevin Faulk. And, well, LSU fell flat on their faces. All of the air in the Dinardo balloon seemingly escaped in a single season’s span. While carrying modest expectations early in his tenure, Dinardo looked to have the program on good path. But you simply can’t win 4 games with 16 returning starters and players the caliber of Kevin Faulk and Booger McFarland and expect to keep fan support. Dinardo had achieved a measure of success, but he hadn’t bought enough good will to absorb a non-bowl appearance type of season. The lone bright spot of 1998 was putting the boots to Mississippi State, which should frankly never be the crowning moment of any LSU football season.
So that set the stage for 1999. Dinardo was not quite a dead man walking, but staring down a rebuild the writing seemed on the wall that the end of Dinardo’s tenure was drawing nigh. Gone were Faulk, Booger, Herb, and McClure. LSU was turning to a new pair of QBs to guide them in sophomores Craig Nall, Rohan Davey and Josh Booty. Alongside them, guys like Rondell Mealey and Jerel Myers were thrust into leading man roles. On top of all that, Gerry Dinardo was replacing offensive coordinator Morris Watts, who left to unite with future LSU coach Nick Saban. To replace him, Dinardo opted to promote WR coach Bob McConnell from within.
On defense, Ryan Clark and a couple of young LBs named Trev Faulk and Bradie James were expected to step into defensive leadership roles. It was a team with talent but severely lacking in experience. Dinardo had just flopped with a talented team loaded with experience. How do you think 1999 is going to go?
The Greatest Game of 1999: Arkansas
It seems fitting that the greatest game in the final season of Dinardo was one he actually did not coach. You could pretty much smell doom when LSU, in Tiger Stadium, struggled to put away a San Jose State team, that won just 4 games, to open the season.
Things truly came unraveled against Auburn, LSU’s prime competitive rival during the Dinardo era, beginning with the Bring Back the Magic game. Auburn, unranked, marched into Tiger Stadium and smacked LSU 41-7, starting a losing streak that would last 8 total games. LSU played valiantly in some games (losing by 1 to no. 10 Georgia & no. 12 Mississippi State) as well as 6 by no. 12 Alabama. And not so valiantly in others, losing by 3 TDs to no. 8 Florida and almost 20 to no. 25 Ole Miss. By the end of November, Gerry Dinardo was fired and LSU was outside of bowl eligibility, with only a pair of wins.
The final week of the season LSU welcomed no. 17 Arkansas into Baton Rouge. OL Coach Hal Hunter was given the interim HC title for the Tigers final contest. Lead by bright young coach, Houston Nutt, who orchestrated a 9-win turnaround in season 1, resurrecting a program that found the gutter under former Clemson coach Danny Ford. Nutt and the Hogs smacked LSU around in 1998 and showed up in Baton Rouge with every intention of repeating that effort. LSU had other ideas.
Arkansas knew they were in for a dogfight early on. Despite gaining over 100 yards of offense in the 1st quarter, Arkansas was unable to put any points on the board, punting twice and missing a 43-yard FG. It was the type of start a fragile and defeated LSU team needed to believe they stood a chance to win the game.
The Hogs finally found the board in the early 2nd quarter. After 3 hapless first quarter series, QB Josh Booty gave way to Rohan Davey. It didn’t bring the juice the coaches had hoped. 3 plays and 7 yards later, LSU punted again, burying the Hogs deep in their own territory. The LSU defense proved game, getting a quick 3 and out, doing all they could to pick up the offense. Domanick Davis received the ball at the Arkansas 48, after a short punt, and returned 20 yards to the Arkansas 28. Not to be outdone, he came right back on the field and took back-to-back carries 17 and 11 yards to put LSU on the board with a 7-3 lead. It would kick LSU into life.
Arkansas assembled a small drive, but eventually punted back to LSU. After a Rondell Mealey no gain and a short pass from Davey to Tommy Banks, LSU went back to Davey, who found Reggie Robinson for an explosive 67-yard TD. 14-3 LSU.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Short drive by Arkansas, yielding to a punt, followed by another explosive play from the arm of Rohan Davey, this time finding Rondell Mealey for a 48 yard TD. In a matter of just over 2:00 of offensive possession, LSU took a 21-3 lead and never looked back.
Showing they weren’t to be undone by halftime, LSU took the field out of the half and marched on a 4-play, 64 yard scoring drive to start the half, ballooning the lead up to 28-3. Arkansas would cut back into the lead on the next drive, but 28-10 would be as close as they would get for the rest of the game. LSU would hit yet another explosive play from Rohan Davey to Reggie Robinson in the 4th quarter and the margin would stay 35-10 to finish the game. It would be the early taste of the Rohan Davey that would come to be beloved, finishing the afternoon 10 for 12 with 224 yards and 3 passing TDs.
L @ Georgia 22 - 23
L @ Mississippi State 16 - 17
L Alabama - 17 - 23
LSU won 3 games in 1999 and Arkansas is the only one that even remotely resembles quality. Narrow losses to quality teams make sense some seasons, but this was a coach-firing type season, so picking the big win he didn’t coach only makes sense.
What was the Greatest Game in 1999?
This poll is closed
Upset vs. Arkansas
Loss to Georgia
Loss to Mississippi State
Loss to Alabama