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Greatest Games From Every Season: 1990

The Mike Archer Era ends badly... or else it wouldn’t have ended

Gone in a flash

Let’s get to this first: there is no truth to the rumor that Bill Arnsparger told LSU to not hire Steve Spurrier so that he could hire Spurrier himself as the AD of Florida.

The timeline simply doesn’t work. Arnsparger was fired in 1986, and Mike Archer was promted to head coach. Now, Arnsparger might have recommended his stalwart defensive coordinator for the gig, but it was not to secure Spurrier, who Duke hired that same year. Arnsparger quit the LSU job to become Florida’s AD, but he wouldn’t hire Spurrier until 1990. So… let it go, people. LSU did not hire Mike Archer over Steve Spurrier due to the mechanizations of Bill Arnsparger.

Though… Steve Spurrier did get an interview and was a candidate. So LSU did whiff on Spurrier. It just wasn’t due to Arnsparger. LSU screwed that up all on its own without any outside help.

But by 1990, the Mike Archer hire clearly wasn’t working out. LSU made him the youngest head coach in the country when they hired him at age 34, and looked like geniuses when he rattled off an SEC title and a 10-1-1 record in his first year. The team stepped back the next year, then dipped below .500 in 1989, By 1990, the Dark Ages of LSU Football were in full flower.

Archer needed a big year with a youthful roster to salvage his job. It wasn’t to be. LSU lost to Vanderbilt early in the year in what would turn out to be their only win of the season. LSU would get blown out by Florida, now coached by Spurrier in his first year. The low point was getting blown out by Florida St in a game marred by a postgame brawl.

After LSU lost 24-3 to Alabama, the writing was on the wall, and AD Joe Dean hired an executive search firm to come up with a list of a candidates. The problem was that Dean was denying that Archer had been fired, and no one informed Archer of the search firm before it leaked to the press.

On his weekly radio show, Archer got besieged by questions, and he blurted out an honest answer, always a mistake:

“It doesn’t make you feel very good. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re appreciated, but I guess that’s the way we do things around here.”

With the writing on the wall, Archer saved Joe Dean from any further embarrassment and tendered his resignation, effective at the end of the season. He commented on how things had gotten away from him:

”The brawl didn’t help,” he said, talking about the postgame fight with Florida State and other low points of the season. “We got a bad rap for that. I got a bad rap for that.

”I can say it now, because obviously it looks like I’m gone.”

Yes, Archer had done a poor job. The team got worse, recruiting suffered, and fan interest began to wane. Players cut classes and it seemed the youthful Archer had simply lost control of his charges. However, Archer would have a long career as a defensive coordinator, eventually coaching for the Steelers for seven years. He was a good coach who got his big break probably a bit too early, and never got a second chance.

Joe Dean, on the other hand, was a bad AD who made a bad problem even worse. He bungled the transition every which way you could, only to get bailed out of the worst of the PR nightmare by Archer taking it upon himself to resign. And this is before we get into the fact Dean would go on to hire Curley Hallman.

Before the season entered its death spiral, eventually costing Mike Archer his job, the team gave everyone hope that the program had turned the corner. LSU was 2-1 with one SEC victory to its credit (over Georgia) when the 11th ranked Aggies of Texas A&M visited Baton Rouge.

However, the one loss was the prior week to hapless Vanderbilt, when Todd Kinchen’s game-winning touchdown catch was waived off for pushing off the defender. He would get his chance at redemption the following week against the Aggies.

RC Slocum had built Texas A&M into a national power and by 1990, maybe the pre-eminent program in Texas at the time thanks to David McWilliams’ misrule in Austin. The Wrecking Crew defense was a fearsome unit. Most frustrating, Baton Rouge native Bucky Richardson was emerging as their QB while LSU struggled to replace Tommy Hodson with Chad Loup and Sol Graves.

The Game

Chad Loup started the game at quarterback under the unassailable logic that if you lose to Vandy, you lose your starting gig. So Sol Graves went to the bench and Loup came out in a no huddle offense. That’s right, kids. LSU ran a no huddle offense in 1990, albeit briefly.

The no huddle offense worked, as Harvey Williams ran up the gut of the vaunted Aggie defense repeatedly. But an unsportsmanlike penalty created too deep of a hole to climb out of, and LSU had to punt from near midfield.

Lance Pavlas got the start for the Aggies, who had their own QB carousel going on, though Pavlas’ primary job was to hand the ball off to All-American running back Darren Lewis, who would rush for 1691 yards on the season, leading the NCAA and helping him set the career SWC mark at 5012 yards (a record that now will never be broken). Lewis got the team near midfield when Pavlas threw his first interception of the game to Derriel McCorvey.

LSU abandoned the no huddle offense (I told you it was brief) and failed to convert on 3rd and 1 because Loup fumbled the snap. A&M would also go three and out, but Sean Wilson would boot a 66 yarder to flip field position.

Archer tried to spark the LSU offense by inserted Graves into the game, and he promptly took a sack as the first quarter ended scoreless. Graves would trip on his next snap, the first play of the second quarter and LSU would punt the ball back.

The Aggies put together another decent drive behind the power running of Darren Lewis, even converted a third and short by employing the swinging gate offense. Yes, it actually worked once in a game. But the key play of the drive, and of the game, took place on 1st and 10 from the LSU 31. Lewis carried the ball for five yards and was pushed out of bounds into a photographer. Lewis felt the push came late and he wildly swung his arms to push back. Instead of pushing back, he accidentally punched an LSU defender in the head, earning himself a 15-yard penalty and a game ejection.

Suddenly, the game was missing its best player. A&M responded by trying to go deep on the next play. Corey Raymond tipped the ball and McCorvey grabbed his second interception of the game. LSU preserved the tie game but had the ball on their own nine. Loup came back in the game but couldn’t muster a first down, and A&M got the ball back near midfield.

Ray Adams surprised the Aggies with a corner blitz, sacking Pavlas for a 14-yard loss. Again, the LSU defense came up huge and preserved the shutout. Finally, the offense started to hold up their own end of the bargain. Loup completed an 18-yard gain to Harold Bishop, only for most of it to be wiped out by another unsportsmanlike penalty, setting up 1st and 25 again. It would not be the most significant penalty of the drive.

On 2nd and 20, Chad Loup hit Todd Kinchen on a short crossing route. Kinchen turned the ball upfield, and found himself in the open field. He cut back across the field when Odell Beckham laid down one of the greatest blocks in Tiger Stadium history. Kinchen was pushed out at the five yard line and a chippy game got even chippier as the Aggie defender got in a shoving match with the cheerleaders. But the 59 yard play was wiped out by an illegal block. If you can find the clipping, you’re a better referee than I.

LSU would recover from the penalty and convert a fourth and four on a five-yard Beckham reception. LSU would drive the ball to the 21 and settle for a Pedro Suarez field goal attempt. Suarez hit the field goal, but the referees saw a player on each side jump, then ruled that the flag was inadvertent, taking the points off the board and ruling that the play must be run again.

Derrick Frazier blocked the second attempt, snuffing out the best chance to score for either team in the first half. Pavlas would throw his third interception of the half to kill A&M’s final drive, and the teams went into the half tied at zero.

The second half would get off to a roaring start as LSU forced a three and out. Mike Garrett would block the A&M punt, recovered on the A&M 31. Harvey Williams carried the offense close to the end zone, but LSU had to settle for a 26-yard field goal. This time, the refs didn’t screw up and the play stood. LSU finally had a 3-0 lead.

Yet another 15-yard personal foul penalty marred the return, and A&M started with decent field position. Robert Wilson and Randy Simmons split the load in Lewis’ absence, but Ray Adams made the huge stop on 3rd and short by picking up the option pitchman. A&M would coffin corner punt LSU at the 3.

The gambit worked, and after LSU’s three and out, A&M took over at their own 46, now with Bucky Richardson under center. However, the offense still couldn’t move and LSU forced the punt. LSU responded by changing QB’s back to Graves, and the third quarter closed with LSU just shy of midfield, nursing a 3-0 lead.

Calvin Windom started off the fourth quarter by fumbling the ball on the very first play. A&M recovered, and now had great field position again. Wilson and Simmons again would bring the ball into field goal range, getting to the 19. A&M’s holder, backup QB Brian Payne, bobbled the snap and rolled out to try and make do with an impromptu pass. The pass fell incomplete, and the LSU defense still maintained its shutout.

Chad Loup came back into the game, and on 3rd and 9 found Todd Kinchen, who did most of the work on a 79-yard touchdown catch. This time, there were no flags. The play stood, and LSU grabbed a 10-0 lead.

Richardson couldn’t get the Texas A&M offense to do anything, forcing yet another punt. Kinchen was going to call for a fair catch, but it was a low liner, so he fielded the ball and then returned it 60 yards down to the A&M 23. Six plays later, Harvey Williams put LSU up 17-0 on a one-yard plunge.

Pavlas came back into the game for A&M and suddenly, the A&M offense showed some life. A&M had a first down at the LSU 38 when Shawn King, of 1991 Broussard Hall fight fame (where legend has it, he punched out Shaq), sacked Pavlas for a 15-yard loss.

Undaunted, Pavlas completed a first down converting pass to Shane Garrett, with the aid of an LSU holding penalty. Pavlas completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Doug Carter a few plays later. A&M would add a two-point conversion on a pass to Garrett. The game was now 17-8 and there was just 5:23 on the clock.

Marcus Carter came down with onside kick for LSU, giving the Tigers a chance to run some clock before giving the ball back to A&M with 3:12 left on the clock. Not much chance of a comeback, but still nervy. With 1:50 left on the clock, Corey Raymond removed all doubt by picking off Pavlas’ pass near midfield for LSU’s fourth interception of the game.

Mike Archer had his program saving win. He had a young team, but he found guys who could step up in big games, most notably the biggest game of Todd Kinchen’s life. The good vibes were short lived, as reality would come crashing down over the next few weeks, ending with Archer’s resignation.

Other Options

18-13 Georgia
30-20 Kentucky

LSU would lose to #10 the following week, but rallied to beat Kentucky to push their record to 4-2. LSU beat two other sub-500 SEC teams, though there was no telling Georgia was going to be that bad. If it hadn’t been for the penalty against lowly Vandy, LSU would likely be 5-1 and nationally ranked.

Instead, that’s when the wheels came off. LSU lost to #12 Florida St 42-3, #17 Ole Miss 19-10, and finally Alabama 24-3. That’s when the axe fell. The team rallied, if not losing as terribly as they had been losing is rallying, by falling to Mississippi St 34-22. LSU would barely beat Tulane to close out the Mike Archer era, 17-14. Tulane amassed 303 yards rushing and outgained LSU 387-239, even winning the possession battle. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, though an ugly win over the Greenies does not even make our runners up list.

The Mike Archer era ended about as poorly as it possibly could have. And now LSU was in the position of searching for what would be its sixth head coach in just 12 years. The worst, they say, was yet to come.


What’s the Greatest Game of 1990?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    TODD KINCHEN!!! (Texas A&M)
    (54 votes)
  • 1%
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    (1 vote)
  • 6%
    Bama, because it got Archer fired
    (4 votes)
60 votes total Vote Now