Bill Arnsparger valued smart players.
When he arrived in Baton Rouge before the 1984 season, he stretched his players and pushed them to become students of the game. Arnsparger shelved blocking dummies, insisting it best for players to see people in front of them. It worked. 1984 was a strong opening campaign for Arnsparger, even if it ended in a rough Sugar Bowl loss to who other than Nebraska.
The 1984 squad was loaded with experience, as Poseur detailed. Arnsparger was not a popular hire, but at least he delivered on the field in year one. 1985 was a different animal. Gone was almost all of the upperclass experience that won eight games on the way to the Sugar Bowl. Still, LSU had enough talent to get a preseason ranking of 13. Any team with Michael Brooks has a fighting chance.
The Greatest Game of 1985: Alabama
In 1985, Alabama wasn’t quite the ALABAMA we’ve all grown so familiar in knowing. After going 5-6 in ‘84, not even the most loyal Roll Tider could find a National Championship to claim. And thus Bama started the 1985 season unranked. But the Tide got out to a hot start, beating Georgia to start the season, propelling them into the top 20. They rattled off another three wins to ascend to no. 10 nationally, ahead of their showdown with the no. 8 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions and then turning around and facing no. 20 Tennessee. The Tide suffered back-to-back heartbreakers, losing by four points in the pair of losses. Showdowns with Memphis State and Mississippi State got the Tide back on their winning ways, as they climbed back to no. 20 ahead of traveling to Baton Rouge.
LSU made a similar ascension early on, climbing up to no. 8 nationally with wins over UNC and Colorado State before inviting no. 11 Florida. The Gators, on probation, put the boots to LSU, shutting out the Tigers offense in their own stadium and waltzing to an easy 20-0 victory. Three games into the season and it was made immensely clear that this would be a vintage LSU team: could stop anyone but not worth a damn on offense.
LSU rallied from the blowout loss with double-digit victories over Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Ole Miss. And thus, here we were: at yet another meaningful LSU/Bama game.
Naturally, LSU busted out the purple tops. If you watch, you can hear the energy in the stadium as the crowd explodes on the 2nd play of the game and LSU gets a stop limiting Alabama to a short gain. On 3rd down, Mike Shula dropped back to pass and was nearly picked off by a sprinting Kevin Guidry. Three and out. LSU would return the favor, quickly going three and out themselves.
Bama would find much more room on their second drive. The Tide found only one 3rd down as they traveled 87 yards over 9 plays in just 3:49 to notch the first score of the game. LSU would, of course, strike back with a vengeance... Just kidding they went three and out again. Thankfully the defense wasn’t broken. They forced a three and out themselves, giving the ball back to their offensive counterparts. After converting a 1st down, a holding penalty put the offense behind the sticks and they would never recover, punting again. Alabama would take the ball back and start driving again, holding on to it until the end of the quarter. After one, the Tide lead by 7 and had outgained LSU 135-18 yards. A repeat of the disastrous performance vs. the Gators looked to be in the works.
To start the 2nd quarter, Michael Brooks sacked Shula, ending their bid. Bama punted, but still LSU were unable to generate anything on offense, quickly going three and out again. Alabama took over at midfield and worked their way to midfield. On 3rd and 4 from their own 18, Shula dropped back and was again sacked by Michael Brooks for an 11-yard loss, pushing Alabama back to a 46-yard FG attempt, which they missed. Michael Brooks wasn’t single handedly keeping LSU alive, but he was certainly doing more than his fair share.
LSU took over with 8:01 to go in the half and finally came to life. Relying on a heavy dosage of Dalton Hilliard, LSU drove from their own 29 to Alabama’s nine. On 3rd and 9, Wickersham dropped back and fired incomplete. With 1:04 to go in the half, LSU brought the kicking unit on and promptly missed the chip shot. Alabama ran the clock out to finish the half, content with a 7-point lead. Would it be one of those days?
Alabama controlled the 1st half, but LSU’s late drive showed signs of life. The 2nd half started with a bang. RB Sam Martin returned the opening kickoff 43 yards, placing LSU right near midfield to open the half. On 1st down, Wickersham found TE Mitch Andrews for eight yards. Feeding off that energy, RB Garry James took the next carry, through the teeth of hte Alabama defense, 49 yards to the house. Tie game.
Bama took the ball back and despite picking up a 1st down, were forced to punt. Suddenly the LSU offense turned into the greatest show on turf. A pair of Hilliard carries and an Alabama penalty moved LSU to their own 33. Wickersham took the snap on 1st down, play faked to Hilliard and then play faked to James, before rolling right and planting his foot, pump faking before launching the ball deep to a wide open Wendell Davis, who got behind the Bama defense. Davis waltzed into the end zone, giving LSU it’s first lead of the game, 14-7.
After a pair of explosive drives, both teams dug in for a defensive struggle. Neither team found much room heading into the 4th quarter, sans one drive from LSU that ended on the Alabama 23 after a blocked FG.
The 4th started with an Alabama punt, but Dalton Hilliard was stopped a couple yards short on 3rd and 6, so LSU punted back to Bama. The Tide found rhythm through the arm of Shula. He nailed a pair of 20+ yard completions to Albert Bell (no relation to Joey Belle), bringing Alabama to the LSU 22. The LSU defense tightened up, aided by a Bama penalty. On 3rd and 3, the Bama coaches went conservative, calling a run play. Stuffed. Bama was forced to try a FG. Missed. LSU held on to its lead.
LSU took over the 7:04 left and a chance to ice the game. If they could only manage a drive like the one they delivered to finish the 1st half. Instead, the inconsistent Wickersham threw a couple of incomplete passes, and LSU punted again, leaving 5:07 for Alabama, starting at their own 32.
Shula, ever the competitor, took over. He scrambled for 11 yards and then 2 more, before completing passes for 9 and 11 more. When the LSU defense pushed it to 3rd and 8, Shula snuck it for an 11-yard gain a a first down. Timeout Alabama with 2:30 remaining. Things start to unravel for Bama at the LSU 22. On 1st down, Shula can’t find an open target and throws the ball away. On 2nd down, Alabama gets called for holding, pushing them back nine yards. Now 3rd and 19 with the clock not on their side, Shula drops back and again fires incomplete. 4th and 19 and LSU is one stop away from beating the Tide. The raucous crowd chants: LSU! LSU! LSU!
Shula drops back, scans to his left and back right before uncorking a pass that seems to hang in the air an impossible amount of time before falling perfectly between a trio of LSU defenders right into the waiting arms of Albert Bell. Not even an egregious PI by S Steve Rehage could slow Bell down. 1st down Bama.
On the next play, Bama sprints to the line of scrimmage and snaps the ball. Shula tosses the ball right faking a designed run and then sprints himself out toward the left pylon in the end zone. RB Gene Jelks throws the forward pass back to Shula who catches it and dives into the end zone just ahead of three LSU defenders. After a debate, Alabama kicks the XP to tie the game. Boos reign down in the stadium.
Alabama kicks off, short, fielded by Hilliard who gives it to Garry James on a reverse, the entire affair netting 19 yards and putting LSU on their own 32 with just 1:13 to play and all three timeouts remaining. On 1st down Wickersham dropped back and found Hilliard on a quick out and plenty of space to run, as he scampered to the sideline for 17 yards.
Wickersham drops again and this time finds Mitch Andrews in the middle of the field for a 9-yard gain, moving into Alabama territory. LSU calls timeout. Out of the timeout, the coaches prioritize conversion, giving the ball to Hilliard up the middle for three yards and a 1st down. The clock stops with :50 remaining and LSU hurries and resets the offense. Wickersham drops again and finds Hilliard in the flats. Alabama is penalized, but LSU declines, taking the 9-yard gain instead. After some ref discussion, LSU drops to pass again, but this time the pass is broken up, pushing LSU to 3rd and 1 from the Alabama 30. Like clockwork, LSU goes back to their bread and butter, Wickersham to Hilliard underneath. Hilliard explodes into the open field navigating his way down to the Alabama 10. LSU calls timeout with :29 remaining.
LSU had one timeout and options. Truly, they had no kicker. So. Ron Lewis was 3/11 on the season and had already missed two kicks earlier in this very game. Chancing your luck with him seemed like a losing bet. Which is exactly what LSU tried to do. On 1st and GL, LSU handed to Hilliard, and let the clock run before taking its final timeout.
Lining up for a 24-yard attempt to win the game, the tension felt thick. An LSU win would propel them back up the standings and put them in good position in the SEC. Lewis sailed the kick just right. :01 would remain, but Shula would simply fall on the ball to end the game in a tie.
10-7 W @ Notre Dame
31-19 W @ Tulane
I’m sure plenty will want to pick the Notre Dame game, but ND won only five games in ‘85. Even if Bill Connelly’s numbers like them, beating bad Notre Dame isn’t THAT fun to me. We also beat Tulane, so yay.
This is a bit of a controversial pick, but it was a showdown of two great teams, filled with drama and tension and frankly, LSU blew it as each coach tried to out coach-not-to-lose the game to each other. In the end, both were successful. Arnsparger may have valued smart players, but maybe he should have spent more time looking for a good kicker.
What’s the Greatest Game from 1985?
This poll is closed
Tie vs. Bama
Beating Notre Dame