From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 12, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 12, 1998

For three years, Gerry DiNardo has been courting the hearts of LSU fans.

In 1998, it was time to meet the in-laws.

From 1995-97, Tiger fans raved about the man who had promised to “Bring Back the Magic” to Tiger Stadium on Saturday nights. And why not? Herewas a coach who led the Tigers to a 26-9-1 record, including victories in three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history. Thiscoming on the heels on six straight losing seasons under coaches Mike Archer and Curley Hallman.

But 1998 was supposed to be the season that LSU fans would see their team climb to the next level. No more Independence Bowl berths. Nothingless than a spot in a major bowl would suffice for Tiger fans.

Kevin Faulk was returning for his senior year, leading what was being called the best backfield in the country along with Cecil Collins and Rondell Mealey and the Tigers were ranked in everybody’s preseason Top 10. Expectations were still high even after Collins’ expulsion from theteam in late summer.

The rumblings began after the opening game against Arkansas State even though the Tigers came away with a 42-6 victory. Not pretty enough, fanssaid, it should have been a bigger blow out. The criticism lessened afterthe Tigers defeated Auburn but was back after a less than perfect effort against Idaho.

But that criticism was nothing compared to what the Tiger coaching staff would receive after the Tigers’ loss to Georgia Saturday night. Some fanswent as far as to call for DiNardo’s firing. And do not ask what theythought of defensive coordinator Lou Tepper after his defense allowed over 400 yards.

First, some notes that may justify some of the criticism. Tiger Stadium isoften called the hardest stadium in the country for an opponent to play in but of the Tigers’ six losses over the last three years, five have come in Baton Rouge. Of course, it could be that opponents play harder knowinghow hard it is to play in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night.

It could be argued that in those six losses, LSU was the better team in five of them. Two of the losses have come by a combined four points(Auburn in 1997 and Georgia last week), while in the other three (Alabama in 1996 and Ole Miss and Notre Dame in 1997), LSU was outscored by 86- 27. Only against Florida in 1996, when the Gators went on to win thenational championship, could it be said that the Tigers were outclassed.

And it could be further argued that LSU was out-coached against both Idaho and Georgia.

But let us not take anything away from the Tigers’ last two opponents, either. Granted, Idaho is not one of the top teams in the country, but theVandals came in with nothing to lose.

Georgia, on the other hand, was picked by many to be one of the surprise teams of the year and it has been predicted that if the Bulldogs do not win the SEC title this season, they certainly will be favorites in the coming years.

Georgia made the plays it had to Saturday night, period. LSU did the samething last year when it upset Florida. While LSU’s defense was riddled formost of the night, on the two biggest plays of the game – the eventual winning touchdown and the third down conversion in the final minutes – Tiger defenders were there.

Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter, who might be listed as a freshman but certainly does not play like it, made perfect throws on both, especially on the latter when he was being pressured by Anthony McFarland and still got off a pass over the defender’s fingertips to Champ Bailey on the sidelines.

That play allowed Georgia to run out the clock.

Despite all its shortcomings, the defense did keep the Tigers in the game in the second half. And LSU had the ball on the Georgia 5 and 20-yard linesin the final quarter yet could manage only two field goals. Georgia madethe plays it needed to, LSU did not. Plain and simple.Now comes two of the most pivotal weeks in the DiNardo era. Victories atFlorida and at home against Kentucky can put the Tigers back on track for the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Two losses and Tiger fans canstart packing their bags for Shreveport again.

It all comes down to making the plays that need to be made. Make themagainst Florida and Kentucky and LSU fans will be more than happy to allow DiNardo back into their hearts again.

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