I have come not to bury 1975, but to praise it.
Okay, that praise is going to be a bit muted. There’s no getting around the fact that 1975 was Cholly Mac’s first losing season and LSU’s first losing season since 1956. It was, not to put to fine a point on it, the beginning of the end. There was no coming back from this.
However, the team wasn’t that bad, and it had the building blocks of what would be some really good teams in the future. Charles Alexander was a lightly regarded freshman, but he found his way into the running back rotation behind junior Terry Robiskie.
Kenny Bordelon would rack up 21 tackles for loss on the year (a school record until 1994, still second all-time), living in the opponent’s backfield and earning All-SEC honors before going on to a successful NFL career. Steve Cassidy also made first team All-SEC. And the best lineman on the roster, junior AJ Duhe hadn’t quite shown off his considerable skills, but did earn a starting slot, a year away from the swath of destruction that would make him a first-round draft pick.
The problem for the Tigers was the schedule. LSU played five ranked teams in the season’s first seven weeks, beating just one of them. LSU took care of business against the unranked teams, but a loss to No. 2 Bama, the eventual undefeated SEC champion, doomed LSU to a losing record. There were too many tough games, and they even held Nebraska tough in the opener, a 10-7 loss.
This was a pretty good team that played a ridiculous gauntlet of a schedule, and simply gave out. They deserved better than being the one team in Coach Mac’s tenure that lost more than it won. It wasn’t a great team, but it wasn’t a bad team, and certainly shouldn’t have been the one to turn the locals against the staff.
The issue, as always, was quarterback play. Since the departure of Bert Jones, McClendon simply could not find a signal caller. Mike Miley had done a credible job in 1973, but the bottom fell out in 1974, as Billy Broussard completed 39.3 percent of his 103 passes for 700 yards and 1/5 touchdown/interception ratio. Yes, those stats are real.
Things might have gotten even worse in 1975. Pat Lyons took over the job as just a sophomore and posted a cringe-inducing line of 72/168 for 946 yards. That’s a 42.9-percent completion rate to go with his 4 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
And despite Mac’s rep for being caught behind the times and conservatism, if anything, he as throwing the ball too much. Lyons led the SEC in pass attempts, with only Randy Wallace of Tennessee within 40 attempts. No one was slinging the ball around more than LSU in the SEC, its just that we weren’t very good at it without Bert Jones and Andy Hamilton around.
Had advanced stats existed back then, Terry Robiskie would have given analysts apoplexy. He owned the SEC lead with 10 touchdowns, but he was an incredibly inefficient player, rushing for 764 yards on 214 carries, a 3.6 average. Alexander was worse, averaging 2.8 yards per carry on 108 carries. Robiskie had 227 offensive touches and gained just 856 yards, a 3.8 clip. Meanwhile, Robert Dow had just 30 touches for 363 yards and a 12.1 average.
Different times, man.
In late October, the season was in danger of slipping away. LSU had been in the top ten early last season, and now was an unranked team with a 2-4 record. Bama loomed in two weeks, a near certain loss. So LSU would realistically have to run the table to salvage the season. It started with No. 20 South Carolina coming to town, the fifth ranked LSU would face in the season.
Robert Dow opened up the game with a big 53-yard return into USC territory. Dow was a spectacular kick returner, and would break Pinky Rohm’s single season return yard record in 1975, a mark he would hold until 1999. Seriously, if we had a time machine and could change things in LSU history, the only moral use for a time machine… more touches for Robert Dow.
The drive would get to the 32-yard line but no further, so LSU would settle for a field goal attempt on its opening drive. Freshman Mike Conway missed a 48 yard attempt. Conway would go 4-10 on the season and the team would go 6-19. Conway would regain his job in later seasons and set the school accuracy mark his senior year, going 14 for 15. Another building block that wasn’t quite there in 1975.
After a 13-yard punt, LSU would take over in USC territory again, but Robiskie would fumble the ball away. LSU had spent the first two drives in the Gamecock side of the field and came away with nothing.
After flipping field position, LSU would get the ball back and for the third time in three drives, cross into Gamecock territory. For the third time, the Tigers came away with nothing. Pat Lyons fumbled on third down, and again USC dodged a bullet. USC would end the quarter on the first real foray of the game, with second and five at the LSU 18.
Jeff Grantz would throw an interception in the end zone on the second play of the second quarter. And now, LSU went to work, old school. LSU put together a 16-play drive, primarily on the ground, and with four third down conversions. The drive would stall at the USC 12, when Conway came in for the short field goal.
He would push it left. Somehow, the game was still tied. LSU could not take advantage of the run of play. Young Poseur probably would have invoked Poseur’s Law at this point if he had invented it yet. Or if he could speak yet. And let’s face it, the game wasn’t on national TV.
South Carolina would respond with their own long drive, going from their own 20 to the LSU 31 in eight plays. On the ninth play, Grantz’s pass found its home in the arms of LSU defensive back Steve Jackson for the second time in the game. Another promising drive by one of the offenses was stifled by the defense.
The LSU offense couldn’t do much with the ball after the pick, but Jackson punted the ball to the 8 yard line, pinning the Gamecock offense. On third and one, Kevin Long picked up ten yards for the first, only to fumble the ball. Lew Sibley recovered for LSU at the 31.
Coach Mac went for the jugular. Lyons found tight end Bo Dunphy, who broke a tackle in the secondary and raced into the end zone for a score. After all of the hard fought drives coming up empty, it took just one play for LSU to stake its first lead of the game.
South Carolina would threaten again as the half neared its end, but Sibley made another huge defensive play, forcing an intentional grounding and pushing the Gamecocks back 21 yards to end the threat. LSU went to the half up 7-0.
The second half began with the ceremonial exchange of turnovers, an interception by USC and a fumble by LSU. South Carolina would then get their offense together, and Grantz would guide the team inside the ten yard line. However, Sibley came up huge again, stopping the third down play and forcing a 25-yard field goal attempt. Which the Gamecocks missed.
LSU responded in a way you wouldn’t expect if you were crafting your Help Mac Pack sign. Lyons threw the ball downfield and found Mike Quintela for a 49-yard gain, getting tackled a yard shy of the end zone. Robiskie would make it 14-0 with a plunge over the top on the next play.
South Carolina would squander any chance to get back in the game on the next play, when LSU forced a fumble on the kickoff return, recovering the ball on the two yard line. Again, Robiskie got the call for the plunge on a short field, and he obliged, scoring another touchdown.
Being an LSU game, this is when things got weird.
South Carolina got penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the PAT attempt, enforced on the kickoff. So instead of kicking the ball out the back of the end zone, McClendon went full Les Miles and called for the onside kick. It didn’t work, and the half ended with South Carolina down 21, but with the ball near midfield.
The LSU defense forced the punt, which turned out to be South Carolina’s best offensive weapon. Carl Otis Trimble fumbled the punt inside his own 20, and the Gamecocks took over at the 15. That was the LSU defense’s cue to step up. Kevin Long would run the ball to 11, but the pass defense stiffened up and forced three straight incompletions and a turnover on downs.
LSU’s defense preserved the shutout and the offense gained a few first downs to flip field position. Then, from their own 27, South Carolina put the ball on the ground again, and Dave Cook recovered the ball for LSU. Blessed with great field position and nursing a big lead, LSU played it conservatively and settled for 36-yard field goal and a 24-0 lead.
At this point, South Carolina abandoned the run all together and let Grantz grip it and rip it on nearly every down. 9 plays and 83 yards later, Grantz found Phillip Logan for a 24-yard touchdown. Trying to play catch up, the Gamecocks went for two and Grantz promptly threw another pick.
South Carolina’s onside kick would fail and LSU would run out the clock for a 24-6 win over a ranked opponent. Terry Robiskie rushed for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries and Pat Lyons had one of his better games as the quarterback, passing for 143 yards on a 7 for 13 night.
LSU’s defense, however, was the true star. They picked off three passes, four if you count the one on the two point try. They also forced three fumbles, recovering all of them. LSU gave back four fumbles on offense, as the teams combined for a whopping 10 turnovers.
It was a brief look at what could have been, in a lost season that eventually got away from the Tigers. This was the beginning of the end for Coach Mac, but he forestalled the boo birds for one night.
13-17 Ole Miss
He didn’t hold them off for long. LSU would fall up this big win with a loss to Ole Miss the following week. LSU gave up the game winning touchdown in the final minute, after failing to score on two drives into Rebel territory in the fourth. Bama would beat LSU the next week, and the losing season was secure. LSU would rally in the final week to rout Tulane in the first LSU game ever played in the Superdome, which had opened that year. So that was cool, but we don’t celebrate wins over Tulane around here.
LSU traveled to Lincoln for the season opener and gave fits to a short-handed #6 Nebraska team. LSU held the game close throughout, but four lost fumbles doomed any chance of an upset. The defense held Nebraska’s offense to just 219 yards, but the LSU offense couldn’t get that crucial score. It showed these Tigers could play with the best teams in the country, but at the end of the day, it still counts as a loss.
What’s the Greatest Game from 1975?
This poll is closed
Thrashing of South Carolina
Valiant loss to Nebraska
Emotionally devastating loss to Ole Miss
Beating Tulane in a new venue