We’ve covered the bizarre final years of the Cholly Mac era, so let’s not belabor the point. Somehow, McClendon entered 1977 in the second year of his buyout. LSU tried to move on from him after the 1975 season, but here he was in 1977, still the coach. And he would still coach until 1979.
Apparently, he really did need the help to pack.
However, one thing did change in 1977: the uniforms. 1977 marks the debut of the Mike the Tiger head as we know it on the helmets. There have been some tweaks to the look since then, particularly with the size of the logo and the lettering, but this is when LSU starts to look like the LSU we now all know.
Gone, however, was last year’s leading passer (Pat Lyons), leading rusher (Terry Robiskie), leading receiver (Carl Otis Trimble), and even the leading kick returner (Robert Dow). In their place stepped in a sudden and sorely needed influx of talent.
Carlos Carson and Mike Quintela would establish themselves as the best receivers the program has since Andy Hamilton (and would soon be flushed down the memory hole thanks to Eric Martin and Wendell Davis). The legendary Hokie Gajan took over punt return duties. The quarterback position landed on the capable shoulders of Steve Ensminger with the help of sophomore David Woodley, and Charles the Great Alexander would begin his reign as the best running back in program history between Billy Cannon and Leonard Fournette.
Sometimes, change is good. However, even positive change takes a little time.
Things started off rocky breaking in so much new talent, as LSU dropped the season opener to Indiana on the road. But LSU would rally to a 4-2 record when it on the road to Jackson to play Ole Miss. The Rebels were having a good not great season, as was their want in the post-Archie 1970’s, but they did give Notre Dame their only loss of the season.
Ole miss had moved its biannual home game against LSU to Jackson, starting in 1965. It was not a hospitable home for LSU, as the Tigers had only won once in Jackson, back in 1973 when LSU took an injured Archie Manning behind the woodshed. The series had begun to turn by 1977, as LSU has won the last four games at home, but they still couldn’t quite breakthrough in Jackson.
That’s just because we never had Steve Ensminger before.
LSU crossed the midfield stripe on its opening drive and things were looking good for the Tigers, when a 16-yard holding penalty pushed LSU back to their own side of the field and let all of the air out of the balloon. Bobby Moreau would punt it away on fourth and 22, and Ole Miss took over at their 24.
Tim Ellis guided the Ole Miss offense into long field goal range, primarily due to the steady runs of Ellis and Leon Perry. But the LSU defense bottled Ellis up on third down, and Hoppy Langley missed a 49-yard field goal attempt. Yes, his name is Hoppy.
The rest of the quarter would be a heavy diet of three and outs, running into the teeth of the defense, and punting. Charles Alexander, coming off a record breaking performance against Oregon, couldn’t find the same rhythm, and Jerry Murphree gave him a breather. It didn’t work.
On the first play of the second quarter, the stalemate ended with a bang. Freddie Lee Williams took the ball 42 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Ole Miss lead.
LSU responded with another three and out, but a personal foul penalty coupled with LSU’s terrible field position gave Ole Miss the ball on the LSU 30. James Storey went to work and got the ball down to the one-yard line. Ellis would QB sneak the ball across the goal line for a 14-0 Ole miss lead.
McClendon tried to light a spark under his offense by inserting Woodley into the game, but he failed to complete a pass. LSU punted the ball back to Ole Miss and on their first play of the next drive, Leon Perry went 69 yards right up the middle for an Ole Miss touchdown. Halfway through the second quarter, LSU found itself in a 21-0 hole.
Now, it was the Rebels’ turn to take some ill-advised penalties. A personal foul bailed LSU out on third and eight and a pass interference call moved the ball 14 yards down the field. Still, the big play was an Ensminger completion to Quintela for 39 yards. Once in scoring range, Alexander took over, and he scored from one yard out to narrow the margin to 14.
A decent Ole Miss drive followed by a coffin corner punt and yet another LSU personal foul penalty pinned the Tiger offense deep, ending the half in a 21-7 hole. We had them just where we wanted them.
The Rebels couldn’t do anything to start the half, so LSU took over, and that’s when Ensminger went to work. Alexander still couldn’t get any traction in the running game, leaving Ensminger to lead the team down the field on the strength of his arm. The drive would seemingly stall out when Quintela was shoved out of bounds at the 9, 6 yards short of the first down. But McClendon elected to go for it, and Ensminger completed a touchdown pass to Quintela to cut the lead to seven. The Cholly Mac, always taking the big risks.
The teams would exchange punts as the game settled down. Alexander started to gain some yards on the ground, and the quarter expired on a desperate third and 22 conversion. Ensminger found Alexander, who barreled his way down the field for a 32 yard gain. An Ole Miss personal foul brought the ball further down to the four yard line.
On the first play of the first quarter, Ensminger kept the ball, ran down the line, and snuck in for a four yard touchdown. LSU had erased a 21-point Ole Miss lead and now the score was tied at 21.
Ole Miss responded by James Storey fumbling the ball on its next possession. However, LSU couldn’t move the ball this time, and Mike Conway’s 54 yard attempt came up short. Ole Miss would take over and fumble again, but this time, the Rebels recovered their own fumble. On a steady diet of runs, Ole Miss would set up a first and goal from the three. The Rebels wouldn’t gain another yard on the drive and would settle for a 20-yard field goal. Which Hoppy Langley missed.
With just 7:30 left in the game, LSU needed a big drive to steal a rare win in Jackson. On third and three from their own 44, Ensminger’s pass intended for Carson fell incomplete, and LSU was forced to punt. Ole Miss took over on their own 20 and on first down, Eliis completed a 36-yard pass to Curtis Weathers. The Rebs were in business with the clock winding down. But on the next play, it was Leon Perry’s turn to fumble the ball. LSU recovered with 4:32 left.
However, again LSU couldn’t move the football, and Moreau punted the ball to the 12 with just under three minutes to play. After a quick first down, Ellis threw an interception to Willie Teal, who returned the ball down to the 10 yard line. Alexander ran the ball to the three, setting up this play with just 85 seconds to play...
Ensminger’s third touchdown of the game, the second one on the ground, gave LSU its first lead of the game and completed the biggest comeback in LSU history.
Ole Miss made on last desperation drive, but a sack on the LSU 43 yard line ran out the game’s final seconds. LSU finally had conquered Jackson. The Tigers also completed the largest comeback in school history, 21 points, a record that would stand until the Troy game in 2008.
The nation’s leading rushing attack managed to pull the big win over its hated rival because of its quarterback.
36-14 #9 Florida
LSU got its season on track with an early win at home against top-ten Florida. The Gators turned out to be a decent team, but finished outside the top 25. But that win was the springboard for the rest of the season. Most of the year was simply an excuse to have Charles Alexander highlights. He rushed for 237 yards against Oregon, setting a school record which stood for nearly 30 years. He nearly topped his own mark in the season finale against Wyoming, rushing for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns. Alexander finished the season with 17 rushing touchdowns, a school record which also stood for nearly 30 years. It still ranks second all-time. The Rice game was one of the biggest blowouts in school history, and Carlos Carson went crazy, scoring five receiving touchdowns in a single game. That is a school record which still stands. In your face, Charles Alexander.
Those were some fun blowouts, but they all lacked the drama of the Ole Miss game, not to mention the pure hatred. However, the Ole Miss game might have belonged to Ensminger, but the season belonged to Alexander the Great.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1977?
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Ensminger leads comeback over Ole Miss
The team throttles Florida
Alexander sets a school record against Oregon
Alexander almost sets the record again against Wyoming
Carson catches 5 TD’s against Rice