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Greatest Games From Every Season: 1995

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Dinardo brings the Magic back to Tiger Stadium.

I could try to pretend but I prefer authenticity. I wasn’t there. I don’t remember it. I was only 10. I could sit here and do the math to try and figure out which town I lived in, which held which Air Base my dad was stationed at, at this particular juncture, but it’s irrelevant. At 10 years old, LSU was a distant piece of my life, one that I hadn’t yet traced back the familial lines on. You know the type, the deep rutted scars of the Earth, which can be obscured but never actually eliminated. So I won’t pretend. I won’t try and act as if I understood the pain nor the noise. I won’t put myself in the crowd by reading 27 different articles. Instead, I’ll talk about cold, bone dry history.

In 1995 LSU hired Gerry Dinardo. It wasn’t a straight shot. They offered the job to TCU coach Pat Sullivan, who accepted. Then LSU refused to pay his $400,000 buyout and Sullivan stuck at TCU. LSU brass turned their eyes to Vanderbilt and the up and coming Dinardo. Dinardo spent four years at Vandy, putting together 5-6, 4-7, 5-6, and 5-6 seasons. Frankly, coming off a coach that won one game three times in five years, and never more than four games in a single season, Dinardo looked like a magician. So no, LSU didn’t get their top choice, but there was reason to believe they still got a good one. Dinardo had SEC experience and if he could get Vanderbilt, with their modest resources, up to a respectable win total, what could he do with a better talent base and more support in Baton Rouge?

Dinardo came with big talk. Using the benefit of hindsight, we can see now that Dinardo understood optics. He was a good salesman and a good talker. He got Kevin Faulk to campus when he had every right to go anywhere else. He brought back LSU wearing white jerseys at home, something Curley tried and failed at. Dinardo brought with him genuine winds of change that the program so desperately needed. In the long arc, he failed, but he’s a gigantic piece in the “restoring LSU to greatness” puzzle that need not be overlooked. It’s not all Saban or even all Saban + Miles. Dinardo was the guy pouring concrete and no one remembers the guy pouring concrete.

So 1995, there’s Dinardo, bringing changes, sporting a hot shot 5-star RB recruit, but with a lot of work ahead to get the program to a reputable level. LSU opens on the road at No. 3 Texas A&M. So all the positivity and momentum is shelled one week into the season, when A&M puts the boots to LSU. But Dinardo puts the pieces back together. No one expected LSU to win a road game against a top five opponent in year one of the new coach. People held off on those type of expectations for a full 10 years. Amazing the restraint.

The next week, LSU travels to Mississippi State. It’s a game LSU should win, but coming off a beat down, you could see a scenario where the team returns to that loser mentality, takes a beating and then just shells up and loses when they shouldn’t. Instead, LSU routes a bad MSU to move their record to 1-1. And thus, the stage was set for Auburn.

The Greatest Game of 1995: Auburn

Poseur says Dinardo called it the Bring Back the Magic Game before it even happened, and while I can’t find any article beside my colleague’s to support this, I’m happy to run with it. It feels like something Dinardo would do. Like I said, the optics. Talk a big game. Get people excited. If you don’t believe in something to that level, no one else will either. I’m not saying Dinardo could have pulled off the always be closing monologue with equal gusto, but I’m not saying he couldn’t either.

So 1-1 LSU welcomed no. 5 Auburn to town and everyone knew they were going to lose. After all, we had just seen what happened when this LSU team played an opponent that was demonstrably better than them two weeks ago. And Auburn was freakin’ good man. They had Stephen Davis. And sure, Patrick Nix was meh, but a meh QB in 1995 was basically like having Namath back there. Truly. Manning and Wuerffel were on another level, so meh was alright.

A lot more went into the game than talk. LSU hadn’t beaten Auburn since ‘88, and the programs went on entirely different trajectories from that departure. LSU wallowed in the muck while Auburn went undefeated in ‘93 and lost only once in ‘94 but couldn’t participate in postseason play due to sanctions. So really, LSU became the outlier while Auburn just kept right on being Auburn.

But that’s who came to town. The team that won 20 games in the previous two seasons and lost only one. It setup for a massacre. Until it wasn’t.

The game started in a very LSU-Auburn-y way on the first two possessions:

  • Both teams had three and outs.
  • Both team committed penalties.
  • Both teams net negative yards.

LSU won the field position battle because Chad Kessler channeled pre-birth Brad Wing and punted the damn ball 60 yards. LSU made good on their second possession. Sprinkling in carries for Kendall Cleveland and passes to Shed Wilson to work their way to the RZ from midfield. Finally, Jamie Howard found Nicky Savoie for 6. Must admit, I didn’t have any idea who Nicky Savoie was, but I looked him up and he caught 22 passes as a TE during his career, so that makes him the 4th best TE in LSU history. LSU made the XP.

Auburn took the ball back, content to not go down quietly. Banging Fred Beasley and Stephen Davis down LSU’s gullets, the paper Tigers drove the field, before finally being held up at the LSU 26 and settling for a FG.

LSU had a counter punch. Howard found Wilson for 21 and then Kennison for 14 on a key 3rd and 7 from the Auburn 39. It’s foolish to think a single play changes the landscape of any game. We’re inclined to feel that way about plays that happen near the end of games, but realistically teams have significant opportunities throughout a contest. No one could have known the opening TD would have been enough in this one. But this play may somehow be the play of the game. LSU is up 7-3, but they’ve got the best team in the league in a semi-vulnerable position. Give the ball right back to them in solid field position and Auburn can score a TD and take the lead and end any existing momentum. LSU needed points here and Kennison’s 3rd down conversion lead to them. LSU wouldn’t get much further, but Andy Lafleur would boot through a 41-yarder to move LSU’s lead to 10-3.

On the kick return, Auburn committed a clipping penalty. This was something like their fifth or sixth penalty of the game and we were still in the 1st. This particular penalty buried Auburn on their own three backing up to the student section. The noise proved too much when James Gillyard broke through and was able to throw Nix out the back of the end zone for a safety. 12-3 LSU.

Poseur wrote that LSU held on for dear life after those final two points were scored, but the box score tells a bit of a different story. Instead, LSU were firmly in control for most of the first half. On the next possession after the safety, they drove 64 yards on 16 plays, but this time Andy Lafleur couldn’t connect on the FG. Auburn took over and promptly went three and out. To which LSU answered with another lengthy drive, this time 9 plays for 45 yards. This time, though, Jamie Howard erred and threw an INT. Auburn could again do nothing with the change of possession, this time going backward five yards before punting the ball away. LSU similarly went nowhere with the final possession of the half, content to take their 12-3 lead in a half they squarely dominated.

Auburn took the ball to open the 2nd half, hungry to right the wrongs of the 1st. Again hammering Beasley and Davis, they drove 63 yards before stalling out at the LSU 12. On 4th and 8, Terry Bowden judged the risk too much and opted for the FG, not knowing it would be the final points his team would score all evening.

The third quarter turned into a defensive struggle. After Auburn’s opening drive, the longest completed drive of the quarter was also by Auburn and traveled just 23 yards. Completed because, to end the quarter, Howard found Kennison for 21 and Wilson for 7 for a 28-yard drive leading into the 4th.

In the 4th, Dinardo opted to lean on the freshman, Kevin Faulk. The Auburn defense kept Faulk in check and even here, he only chipped away with carries for -1, 2, 4 and 1. Howard did find Eric Smith to convert a 3rd and long and then Wilson again for another 13, but the offense stalled out at the AU22. Dinardo called for the FG unit and Lafleur missed again. It would be LSU’s last successful drive of the night.

Auburn took over with about 10:00 remaining, needing just a TD to take the lead. Despite having considerable amount of game clock, Auburn leaned toward a more balanced approach than the ground and pound philosophy that seemed to be working with Beasley and Davis. Davis lost a few yards on a pair of carries, but they lost track of Beasley entirely. Still they put together a drive busting through midfield and working their way down to knocking on RZ territory.

After allowing Auburn to convert a 4th and 1 from the 25, LSU’s defense stood up. Auburn helped out with a procedural penalty, pushing them back to the 28, but on the next play, Troy Twillie forced an incomplete pass. On 2nd down, Auburn lost a pair when Beasley was pushed out of bounds after catching a short pass. In two plays, Auburn went from being in business to staring at a long conversion in no man’s land for a FG attempt. Nix threw a pair of incompletions and LSU took over, thwarting Auburn.

The offense couldn’t back up the defense’s effort. After losing nine yards on three plays, and burning just 2:28 of game clock, LSU punted the ball back to Auburn. With 2:19 remaining, LSU needed one last stand.

Nix came out throwing, first incomplete but then finding Tyrone Goodson for 15 yards to the Auburn 41. Then Nix connected with Willie Gosha for another 8 yards, butting Auburn right up against midfield. LSU called a timeout. Auburn rushed with Dameyune Craig for six and then picked up another five through the air with Willie Gosha. After an incomplete pass and a TFL from Gabe Northern, Auburn stared at a 4th and 6 from the LSU 41 with just :48 remaining. But the LSU defense couldn’t make the stand, as Nix found his go-to guy, Tyrone Goodson, again, this time for 13 yards.

Now at the 28, Auburn were in range to score. On 1st down, Nix found Harold Morrow for 10. Auburn broke through the LSU redzone. Could this be where it all comes crashing back to reality? LSU called a timeout with just 28 ticks remaining. On the next play, Nix looked for Goodson again... incomplete. On 2nd down, Nix found Gosha for 7 yards, moving Auburn to the LSU 11, but burning the clock down to only four seconds before Nix could spike the ball on 3rd down, setting up a 4th and 3 from the LSU 11. Auburn had to go for the win, as they didn’t have enough time remaining to run two plays.

Nix took the snap and dropped back. LSU played coverage, bringing only four rushers, giving Nix plenty of time to find an open receiver. Nix went hunting for his favorite target. LSU knew it and blanketed him with double coverage. Troy Twillie leaped and intercepted the pass as the game clock expired.

Contenders

I refuse to even acknowledge any other game from this season. Yes, LSU played Bama close, upset Arkansas and even won a Bowl Game, but who gives a shit. The only game people remember from 1995 is and forever will be this one. It’s a seminal moment in LSU history because it gave the fans permission to believe again. It signified that the dark ages were finally over. No, it didn’t mean LSU leapt immediately into the golden era, but it definitely meant they were done trudging through the swamps of failure. It wasn’t really a game about a singular player, well, maybe Sheddrick Wilson, but it was about the potential of what LSU could be.