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Mizzou Moves To The SEC: Earthquakes And Badgers On The Bayou

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Fried meats for breakfast, grilled meats for lunch, smoked meats for dinner. IT'S LSU WEEK!!!

LSU's Percentile Performance Since 1921 (according to S&P+ and Est. S&P+).
The dotted black line is the school's ten-year average.
For more on Est. S&P+, start here.

(Original helmet photo via

It's always seemed as if LSU was either an elite power or really close to it, but rarely has that ever actually been true. In only four periods have the Bayou Bengals consistently ranked in the 90th percentile or better: in the mid-1930s (41-7-6 from 1933-37), the late-1950s (44-8-2 from 1958-62), the early-1970s (45-11-1 from 1969-73) and the present day (eight or more wins every year since 2000, 75-18 from 2005-11). For most of the rest of the last century, they have spent their time underachieving, destroying what seemed like solid coaches, and ... of course ... making lots and lots of noise in Tiger Stadium. LSU has been the perfect definition of a sleeping giant, and over the last decade or so, the giant has awakened.

Best Ten-Year Span

1958-67. For the first half of the 20th century, LSU alternated between decent and solid, not experiencing the highs of Alabama, but avoiding the lows of the Mississippi schools, too. The Tigers lost fewer than two games in 1902 (6-1), 1908 (10-0), 1913 (6-1-2), 1916 (7-1-2), 1921 (6-1-1) and 1933 (7-0-3), and they attended three consecutive Sugar Bowls from 1935-37 under Bernie Moore (they lost all three by a combined 14 points). In 13 years under Moore (who also served as LSU Track & Field coach), they finished in the Top 10 three times (1936, 1937, 1946); in 1948, Moore accepted the SEC Commissioner position and handed the reins to Gaynell Tinsley, an LSU All-American in the mid-1930s. Tinsley went 8-3 in 1949, then fell apart. LSU went just 24-24-6 in his final five years, and he gave way to Paul Dietzel in 1955.

Dietzel had just about the perfect assistant coach's resume when he took the LSU job. He had coached for two seasons under Bear Bryant at Kentucky, then for two seasons under Red Blaik at Army. But he was just 31 when the 1955 season started, and it took him a little while to find his way in Baton Rouge. LSU went just 11-17-2 in his first three seasons. But two things happened to turn around the Dietzel era: 1) he created the Chinese Bandits, and 2) Billy Cannon signed with LSU.

Platton rules were odd in the 1950s. The NCAA kept tinkering with substitution restrictions, and Dietzel took full advantage of the new rules in 1958.

In 1958 the NCAA loosened substitution rules to allow players who left the game to return at the start of the next quarter. The result was a lot of experimentation by coaches to capitalize on the changes.

Alabama instituted a system of three squads designated by color - red, blue and white. The players were identified by a poker chip worn on their necks to keep track of who was eligible to go in at any given time. That made it possible to send in key players when necessary but not draw a penalty when forced to replace them.

Dietzel had another idea. He recognized he was going into the season with a very deep team but one that had a limited number of players who were effective on both offense and defense. His solution was to organize his team into to a "platoon" system that featured three squads of 11 players with specific skill sets that could be swapped out en masse as the flow of the game demanded it.

The first squad, called the White team, was filled with the two-way standouts. They got the bulk of the playing time. The second squad was originally called "Gold," but became known as the "Go" team due to a sportswriter’s error and since they were intended to be use on the offensive side of the ball.

The third squad was made up of the defensive specialists. Dietzel dubbed them "The Chinese Bandits." The name came from the newspaper comic strip Terry & the Pirates that declared the self-said bandits to be "the most vicious people in the world."

Dietzel's tinkering created probably the deepest team in America. It was certainly one of the best defensive units; the Bayou Bengals allowed more than seven points in a game just once in 1958, allowed 53 for the season, won four shutouts, and took home the 1958 national title.

Billy Cannon, meanwhile, played for LSU from 1957-59, won the UPI's 1958 player of the year award, and took home the 1959 Heisman Trophy, in part because of one of the greatest punt returns of all-time. Spurred by the success of 1958, LSU spent much of 1959 ranked No. 1 in the country, then finished fourth again in 1961 following Cannon's departure. Dietzel left to take the Army job (a thought that seems quite a bit odder now than it would have in 1962), but his replacement, Charles McClendon, kept the solid seasons coming for a while. In 18 years under McClendon (who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky), LSU finished in the Top 13 eight times and won nine games for five consecutive years (1969-73). LSU won just 38 games over his last six seasons, however, and he retired after 1979.

For the next two decades, the LSU job chewed up seemingly qualified head coaches and spit them out. Jerry Stovall, an LSU All-American and an assistant under McClendon, went 22-21-2 over four seasons (2-2 versus Tulane) and was dismissed. Bill Arnsparger, one of the most respected defensive coaches of all-time, actually did quite well (26-8-2 from 1984-86) but left to take the Florida athletic director position (where he hired Steve Spurrier as Florida's head football coach). Mike Archer, Arnsparger's defensive coordinator, went 10-1-1 in 1987 ... and then 17-17 over his next three years.

Worst Five-Year Span

1990-94. Actually, their worst worst period was in the 1920s, just like the Mississippi schools (only not as low). But it's no fun writing that again. So we're going to go with a runner-up.

Southern Miss head coach Curley Hallman came aboard in 1991 and suffered through seasons of 5-6, 2-9, 5-6 and 4-7. In 1991, they went 0-6 versus teams with winning records. In 1992, they lost to 4-7 Kentucky and 3-7-1 Arkansas. In 1993, they were outscored, 116-13, by Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida. In 1994, he was done. Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo, who all but made Vanderbilt a successful team in the early-1990s, took over and went 26-9-1 from 1995-97 ... and then 6-15 in 1998-99. LSU simply could not find sustained success. But then they found Nick Saban.

ONce Saban came aboard, LSU quickly became the LSU that we know today. He went 8-4 in his first season (2000), then 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl win in 2001. They took a brief step backwards in 2002 (8-5), then won the 2003 national title. He left after a 9-3 campaign in 2004, but what looked like a potentially odd hire (Oklahoma State's Les Miles) turned out to more than keep the momentum moving forward. Miles may have added a little bit more crazy to the job than is always needed, but he has won at least 11 games in five of his seven seasons in Baton Rouge. His Tigers finished fifth in 2005, third in 2006, first in 2007, eighth in 2010 and second in 2011.

Retired Numbers And Statues

#20. Billy Cannon has gone through some awkward, awful times since his playing days ended, but his on-field exploits were untouchable. He was the greatest athlete in college football in the late-1950s, and it was a no-brainer for his number to be retired.

#37. Tommy Casanova was basically the defensive version of Billy Cannon. The 1971 Sports Illustrated cover boy was a three-time All-American defensive back, and his number was retired in 2009.

As for statues ... well, there's this.


LSU's Tiger Stadium is large (92,542, to be expanded beyond 100,000 soon) and very, very loud. It is probably most well-known for the Earthquake Game.

With national rankings at stake and a national audience watching on ESPN, LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson threw a touchdown pass to tailback Eddie Fuller on fourth down with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining in the game. The eruption of the crowd registered as an earthquake on the seismograph located in LSU’s Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex.

Today, Hodson and Fuller say that after 20 years, the 1988 LSU-Auburn game is still an earthshaking experience. In fact, both say the famous play is even bigger now than it was then, since it has taken on a life of its own as part of LSU folklore.

"Initially, I didn’t believe it," Fuller recalled of first hearing that the crowd noise registered on the seismograph. "I think it took a couple of years for it to sink in. It never dawned on me how big that play was here until years later, when I came back to LSU."

LSU On YouTube

Ten semi-random highlights via the YouTubes:

"Classic" LSU football
Running out of the Tunnel at Tiger Stadium (Really, I could have just chosen this one 10 times.)
The LSU band plays "The Chinese Bandits"
LSU scores late to beat Auburn in the Earthquake Game.
The seismograph
LSU whips a really good Georgia team to take the 2003 SEC title.
LSU wins the 2003 national title.
LSU wins the 2007 national title.
Les Miles eats grass.
The Honey Badger


View their statistical profile here. Yeah, they're going to be really, really good again in 2012.

Five Interesting Returnees On Offense
RB Michcer Bluwariard (Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue & Kenny HIlliard) (combined: 2,362 yards in 2011)
WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (5'11, 183, So.) (504 receiving yards, 8.3 per target)
LT Alex Hurst (6'6, 340, Sr.) (24 career starts, 1st-team All-SEC in 2011)
WR Russell Shepard (6'1, 185, Sr.) (176 receiving yards, former five-star recruit, dangerous-man-without-a-position)
QB Zach Mettenberger (6'5, 222, Jr.) (former four-star recruit, presumptive starting quarterback)

Five Interesting Returnees On Defense
CB Tyrann Mathieu (5'9, 175, Jr.) (67.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 9 PBU, two punt return TDs)
DE Sam Montgomery (6'4, 245, Jr.) (36.0 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks)
DT Bennie Logan (6'3, 287, Jr.) (39.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks)
CB Tharold Simon (6'3, 187, Jr.) (36.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 10 PBU)
P Brad Wing (6'3, 184, So.) (44.4 yard average, 71% of punts either fair caught or inside 20)

And yeah, Wing was almost as much of a no-brainer as Mathieu.


Missouri's All-Time Series Versus LSU


  • December 23, 1978 (Liberty Bowl): Missouri 20, LSU 15

    Warren Powers, recently named Walter Camp Coach of the Year, took Mizzou into battle against an underdog LSU team (Mizzou -7 was the line) led by two QBs--David Woodley (a future Miami Dolphin) and Steve Ensminger--and a star running back, All-American Charles Alexander. Charlie McClendon, who had played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky (seriously, who in the SEC didn't have ties to Bryant?), was coaching his 17th season in Baton Rouge (he would retire after 1979). The Bayou Bengals ran a step behind Alabama most of the time, but McClendon had still led LSU to at least eight wins in eight of the last 11 seasons, going to the Sugar Bowl in 1967 and the Orange Bowl in 1970 and 1973. They had hit a mid-1970s slump before rebounding with eight wins in 1977 and 1978.

    LSU was clearly not going to be intimidated by Powers' physical Missouri team. They had faced heavyweights themselves in '78--they lost 24-17 to 9-2-1 Georgia and 31-10 to 11-1 Alabama--but they had yet to beat a team that finished with a winning record.

    Alexander and James Wilder got most of the pre-game billing, but in the end, defense won a game that encapsulated Missouri's entire 1978 season, for better and worse.

    it started well enough for Missouri; they took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown. Earl Gant took it in from 13 yards out, and Mizzou was up 7-0. It was 7-3 when LSU made a key mistake--a roughing the punter penalty gave Mizzou new life in a second-quarter drive, and Phil Bradley found Kellen Winslow, playing in his final Mizzou game, for a 14-3 lead. With the MU defense dominating, Mizzou got one more chance to score before halftime and took advantage. As was expected from him by this point, Wilder plowed through a series of LSU tacklers on the way to a 3-yard touchdown, and a 20-3 lead with 1:20 left in Q2. Mizzou actually got another chance to score after an interception, but a holding penalty knocked them out of field goal range, and they took a 17-point lead into the locker rooms.

    Strong start, good running game...sounds like the first half of Missouri's season. Now, it was time to remind everybody of the Colorado collapse. Missouri's offense went into a shell, and the lead began to evaporate. LSU finally got Alexander rolling and scored five minutes into the second half. Mizzou blocked the PAT, however, and the score was 20-9. Mizzou's offense stalled, and LSU was driving again before Bill Whitaker picked off a Woodley pass.

    The fourth quarter started with LSU driving once again. With the ball on the MU 25, Woodley rolled right out of a shotgun formation, but was hocked down by DT Norman Goodman and fumbled. Eric Berg, who had already picked off a pass while starting in place of injured LB Billy Bess, recovered. Another bullet dodged. With 5:30 left, the defense had to step up again--this time it was DE Kurt Peterson coming up with an interception.

    But with Mizzou's offense in hibernation, LSU got the ball back and drove yet again. On fourth-and-goal with 1:33 left, Woodley snuck in from a yard out, and it was 20-15. Berg, named Missouri's defensive player of the game, intercepted the two-point conversion pass, however, and LSU was unable to close within a field goal.

    Mizzou recovered the inevitable onsides kick attempt, but get this--they stalled again. LSU used its timeouts and actually got the ball back again with seconds remaining, but one completion ate up the rest of the clock, and as they had in November on the verge of collapse, Mizzou had come through. It wasn't pretty, but it was a 20-15 win, Missouri's eighth of the season.