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Remembering LSU’s failed Lou Tepper experiment: A fan’s perspective
Coming off a 9-3 1997 season that saw the LSU Tigers knock off the #1 Florida Gators 28-21 at Tiger Stadium, LSU fans had high hopes for their Tigers. My uncle, who lives in New Mexico and is not an LSU fan, had saved a copy of the "See You Later, Gators" issue of Sports Illustrated that came out after LSU's win because even he was excited about the Tigers.
Sports Illustrated thought enough of LSU to rank them as a preseason #10 in 1998. Boy, did they ever miss on that pick. Little did they know that the apogee of the Gerry DiNardo era had already been reached. The magazine did mention the Tigers' inconsistency in 1997. Namely, I mean, the three-week roller coaster from Oct. 4 to Oct. 18 where LSU squeaked by Vanderbilt 7-6, beat Florida 28-21, and then crash-landed with the weight of the #8 ranking on their back when Ole Miss won 36-21 at Tiger Stadium.
Part of the reason for the optimism was that the Curley Hallman nightmare was thought to be over. After all, only five of his recruits were remaining on the 1998 team. LSU had 16 returning starters, including star running back Kevin Faulk and quarterback Herb Tyler. Cecil Collins had been kicked off the team which hurt the depth at running back. It wouldn't matter. Kevin Faulk did just fine and rushed for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tyler had managed to turn around his touchdown to interception rate by throwing 18 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Yet, the 1998 season, which was filled with such promise and which started off so well, utterly fell apart. LSU outscored Arkansas State, Auburn, and Idaho 126-45 in the first three games of the season. The Tigers had risen to #6 in the country. Nobody seemed to mind that the points surrendered by first-year defensive coordinator Lou Tepper's defense had increased every game.
After starting 3-0, LSU lost three in a row, blew out Mississippi State, and then lost the final four contests to finish at 4-7. Five of the seven losses were by a combined 19 points. Over the final eight games of the season, Tepper's defense gave up 29.7 points per game. On the whole, LSU's defense gave up 9.1 more points per game while the offense was depressed from the 1997 total by less than a point.
DiNardo refused to fire Tepper. LSU went 3-8 in 1999, and both were fired.
As an LSU fan and graduate, the end of the DiNardo tenure was a painful time. I'm not still not on board with Steve Kragthorpe as the offensive coordinator but I doubt we'll ever be as awful as we were with Tepper coaching defense.
More from Patrick Johnston:
Tim Layden, "LSU", Sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Stats from LSUSports.net
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