We are back in the Jerry Stovall era, with his predilection for alternating good and bad seasons. 1980 was a rousing success, as he stepped in under the worst of circumstances, but the team backslid in 1981.
However, come the 1982 season, a reset was expected. Stovall brought in two freshmen running backs, Dalton Hilliard and Garry James, who would soon come to be known as the James Gang. Eric Martin shifted to split end, and Senior Alan Risher was LSU’s best quarterback since Bert Jones.
The defense? Oh God, the defense. Maybe the greatest linebacker corps in school history (Al Richardson, Rydell Melancon, and Lawrence Williams) coupled with Leonard Marshall and Ramsey Dardar on the line. Eugene Daniel anchored a secondary in his senior year before he would embark on a 14-year NFL career.
This team retooled on the fly. Yes, there were senior leaders at quarterback and linebacker, but the most explosive playmakers were underclassmen. Both members of the James Gang were freshmen and Eric Martin was a sophomore at a new position.
LSU started the season unranked, but worked its way to the verge of the top 10 by going 6-0-1. And then, the unthinkable. LSU upset #8 Alabama in Tuscaloosa for its first win over Alabama in twelve years. Twelve. Damn. Years.
LSU was gonna win the SEC, maybe go undefeated, and potentially return to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1967. Everything was on the table. And then the next week, LSU promptly lost to Mississippi St. With that, Georgia clinched the SEC title again and LSU needed to win one more game to impress the Orange Bowl committee and earn an invite.
All that stood in the way was Florida St. A team that had beaten LSU the last three seasons by a combined 45 points. Florida St was busy transforming college football, going from an obscure program to one of the powerhouses of the sport. They did it by playing anyone, anywhere, anytime. And eventually they started winning a lot. Particularly against LSU.
Florida St was the future, and LSU was the past. Or at least that’s the way it seemed in 1982. Then, on a foggy night in Tiger Stadium, under a hailstorm of oranges, LSU turned back that tide.
This was the biggest game of the week and back in 1982, only one or two games might be on national television. A matchup of two top ten teams for a slot in the Orange Bowl made this easily the matchup of the week, so the television networks approached LSU and asked to broadcast the game on one condition: the game be moved to daytime.
Jerry Stovall said no. LSU turned down the money and exposure in order to preserve the tradition of Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium. LSU is supposed to play at night, and by God, Stovall was gonna play at night. I want any of you born in the last thirty years to imagine a school, any school, telling TV to take a hike. Well, Jerry Stovall and LSU did. And it stuck.
So we get this feed instead:
There were a few oranges thrown before the kickoff, but nothing like the deluge that was to come. The teams exchanged a few punts to start the game off. Florida St started the first big drive of the game, starting deep in their own territory and cracking the red zone. On 3rd and 4 from the 17, Jeffrey Dale sacked Kelly Lowery, recovered by Al Richardson. Dalton Hilliard seemed to stall on the next drive until Alan Risher took over, connecting on a few big passes, none bigger than a 46-yard out to Hilliard, which he took down the sideline for a touchdown.
Florida St came roaring right back. Lowery found Jessie Hester open in the end zone, but Eugene Daniel broke up the pass at the last moment. Two plays later, Lowery would do it himself, and keep the ball on a bootleg for the score. FSU tied it right back up.
Risher couldn’t get it going on the next drive, as his scramble on 3rd and 9 came up a yard short as the first quarter ended. LSU punted the ball away again. The Seminoles would drive down to the LSU 40 when the gamble to play the game at night with no national TV first began to pay off. The deafening crowd caused its first delay of game penalty, ramping the crowd up even more.
Lowery scrambled for 12 yards on the next play, but closed the play with a fumble, recovered by FSU. On the next snap, Lowery couldn’t find a receiver, and while in the grasp of Leonard Marshall, denied him the sack by intentionally grounding the ball. On 3rd and 21, FSU would gain 12 yards again, but Richardson came up with the big play. He hit TE Zeke Mowatt, forcing a fumble recovered by Daniel.
The crowd now went from loud to supersonic. Eric Martin started off the LSU possession with a 17-yard reception, followed up by two effective Garry James runs. Risher would gain another 9 yards on the scramble. The drive was capped off by a halfback pass from James to Herman Fontenot and a 23-yard touchdown, giving LSU a 14-7 lead.
That’s when the crowd went absolutely nuts. The student section must have smuggled in the entire gross domestic product of Florida and began tossing oranges on the field. And tossing. And tossing. After a failed warning from the PA announcer, LSU was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for the delay in the game.
It was great theater, but a bad idea for the home team. Forced to kick from their own 20, LSU had a short kick returned to the LSU 30. Two plays later, Tony Smith turned a screen pass into a touchdown and the game was tied again at 14.
LSU couldn’t score on its next drive, but managed to pin FSU inside the 10. After failing to earn a first down, FSU punted the ball back to LSU, which Hobley returned to midfield. LSU’s drive never got going, as Hilliard was stuffed for no gain on 3rd and 2. But Stovall called for a fake punt and Mike Montz took the snap for a four yard gain, a first down, and new life. The next seven plays were all Dalton Hilliard runs, the last a two yard plunge into the end zone and a 21-14 lead with just 38 seconds left in the half.
For the first time all night, the fans didn’t throw oranges. Probably bewildered by the student section’s sudden composure, Florida St fumbled the ensuing kickoff. LSU recovered, and Eric Martin scored on a pass from Risher on the very next play. Officially, the two touchdowns were ten seconds apart, and suddenly LSU had a 28-14 lead at the half.
LSU opened the second half the way they ended the first: with an unhealthy amount of Dalton Hilliard. Their first play of the drive was a brutal monstrosity of power football: 16 plays, all of them runs, 14 of them by Dalton Hilliard. The Seminoles stiffened for a goal line stand at first and goal at the 3, but Hilliard finally broke the plane on fourth and goal.
Florida St couldn’t pick up a first down and punted the ball back to LSU, allowing Risher to deliver the knockout blow: a 70-yard pass completion to Eric Martin. It was 42-14, the party was in full force, and the oranges came back onto the field, forcing LSU’s second unsportsmanlike penalty of the game.
Dalton Hilliard would add yet another touchdown on the next possession to run the score to 49-14. It was his fourth TD of the game and his 16th on the season, breaking the freshman record for touchdowns set by Herschel Walker two years prior. He rushed for 183 yards on the game, complimented by Eric Martin’s 2 touchdowns and 121 yards receiving. Garry James rushed for 116 yards.
It was a full scale destruction of a top ten team, LSU’s third win over a top ten team during the season. The Orange Bowl Committee offered a bid immediately after the game, which LSU eagerly accepted. They needed a place for all the oranges on the field, as the fans covered the end zone with oranges as the game came to its close.
The team was young and talented, and the future seemed unlimited. For one night, it was.
24-13 at #4 Florida
20-10 at #8 Alabama
20-21 Nebraska (Orange Bowl)
Yeah, and then we lost to Tulane.
LSU demolished both Florida and Bama in fairly non-competitive games with misleading scorelines. The Bama game, especially, was never really in doubt. Tennessee erased a 10-point lead in the final minutes against LSU, and even had a chance to win on a final long field goal which fell short. Willie Gault’s kickoff return for a touchdown was a near backbreaker. The Orange Bowl was actually a great back and forth game, but LSU kicked a field goal with five minutes left to narrow the score to 1. They never got the ball back.
The Alabama game is likely more significant, but the Florida St game was the game old-timers used to talk about when I was at school in the Dark Ages of Curley Hallman. The night the oranges flew was the stuff of legend, a tale told about what Tiger Stadium was, and could be again. It was the light that got us through those dark years, a promise of what Tiger Stadium could mean. It was the one memory we wish could have been there for. It was recent enough to feel real, even if it felt separated by eons.
It meant everything.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1982?
This poll is closed
Oranges rain on Florida St
Ending the Bama drought
The first top 10 win, Florida
Coming up short in a classic Orange Bowl