Upon the completion this summer of LSU's new squad meeting room,
coach Gerry DiNardo affixed to one of its walls words written by
19th-century journalist and politician Horace Greeley: FAME IS A
VAPOR, POPULARITY AN ACCIDENT; RICHES TAKE WING. THOSE WHO CHEER
YOU TODAY WILL CURSE YOU TOMORROW. ONE THING ENDURES, CHARACTER.
Make no mistake, football coaches love epigrams. In the name of
motivation they preach, post, copy and mail almost anything that
sounds vaguely profound. Some locker rooms look like the inside
of the Lincoln Memorial. Think of it as chicken soup for the
shoulder pads. With LSU, however, Greeley's message is worth
conveying. Since arriving from Vanderbilt to replace Curley
Hallman three years ago, DiNardo has restored dignity to Bayou
football, and he's not done yet. "We'll continue to be good,"
DiNardo says. "What we would like is to be outstanding. To
achieve that you need dominating talent, which we don't have, or
great maturity and leadership, which we might have."
The Tigers could also use some consistency. In one three-weekend
stretch last season, LSU barely beat Vanderbilt 7-6, then
shocked--and exposed--defending national champion Florida 28-21
before losing to Mississippi 36-21. There's more. The Tigers
beat Kentucky and Alabama on the road by a combined score of
90-28, then lost at home to struggling Notre Dame, 24-6. "We
took some weeks off," says senior inside linebacker Joe Wesley.
"We can't even take downs off if we want to achieve our goals."
Says DiNardo, "Something has been missing."
Working in LSU's favor is the fact that the program is now
almost entirely DiNardo's: Only five of Hallman's recruits
remain (starting defensive backs Chris Cummings and Raion Hill,
starting linebacker Arnold Miller, reserve tailback Kendall
Cleveland and reserve linebacker Aaron Adams). The rest of the
squad--including 16 returning starters--owe their allegiance to
DiNardo. "If the previous coach brought a kid in, that kid is
saddled with a comparison," says DiNardo. "He can say, 'This
isn't how the other guy did things.' It confuses the issue."
To further promote team chemistry, DiNardo wrote his players
inspirational letters each week and gathered his seniors in
biweekly morning meetings during the off-season. The purpose of
huddling the seniors was to remind the players that they are in
this together. "We're a group that has been through a lot, and
we know what disappointment feels like," says senior noseguard
Anthony (Booger) McFarland.
Central to DiNardo's quest are quarterback Herb Tyler and
tailback Kevin Faulk, both of whom have started for three years.
Tyler took over the position late in his true freshman season
and has started 25 consecutive games. He is an effective
pass-run player, but in his career he has thrown nearly as many
interceptions (17) as touchdowns (22), a ratio that must
improve. "The whole team follows Herb's lead," says Faulk. "If
he falls, we all fall." That's for sure. Tyler was 6 for 21 in a
loss to Auburn last season; he was 10 for 17, with two touchdown
runs, in the Florida upset. "He needs to be a senior
quarterback, with everything that that means," says DiNardo.
Faulk needs to be a Heisman-worthy superstar, with everything
that that means. He has had a quietly brilliant career and is
just 773 yards short of becoming LSU's career rushing leader, a
goal that became achievable when he decided to return for his
senior season, despite assurances that he would have been a
first-round pick had he chosen to enter the '98 NFL draft. "I
only changed my mind about 150 times in the last week before the
[draft] deadline," says Faulk. It's a good thing for the Tigers
that he's back. Junior tailback Cecil Collins (596 yards
rushing, three touchdowns last season) was kicked off the team
in June after being arrested for unauthorized entry and sexual
battery. Fellow junior Rondell Mealey went into fall practice
with a sprained foot, leaving only Faulk and Cleveland healthy
at a position that once seemed overstuffed with talent.
There is plenty of talent on defense. New coordinator Lou
Tepper, head coach at Illinois from 1991 to '96, will use a
simpler system than the multiple scheme employed by Carl Reese,
who left to join Mack Brown's newly formed staff at Texas. Under
Reese, LSU employed the wild press defenses that are the rage in
the college game, and Reese often made dramatic personnel,
alignment and strategy changes in the week leading up to a game.
Tepper will be more conservative and more consistent. Says
Wesley, "If Coach Tepper tells us to do something one way in
September, I expect we'll still be doing it that way in November."
This fits in with the Tigers' theme. Win in September, win in
November, with no slips in between. Win one for Horace Greeley.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL C. HEBERT/SPURLOCK PHOTO Going places If Faulk can stay healthy, he could become the career leading rusher in LSU history--and SEC history, too. [Kevin Faulk with football in game]
COLOR PHOTO: LEE CELANO McFarland [Anthony McFarland]
1997 record: 9-3 (6-2, tied for 1st in SEC West)
Final ranking: No. 13 AP, No. 13 coaches' poll
Rushing Passing Total
1997 Averages Scoring Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 31.5 256.6 154.0 410.6
DEFENSE 16.3 115.8 231.5 347.4
Coach: Gerry DiNardo
Fourth year at LSU (26-9-1); career Division I-A record: 45-34-1
WR Abram Booty So. 40 catches, 611 yds., 2 TDs
LT Louis Williams[*] So. Has split time at both tackles
LG Al Jackson Jr. Started 11 games at left tackle
C Todd McClure Sr. Coaches' pick as best SEC center
RG Ryan Thomassie[*] Sr. Former backup won starting job
RT Trey Langley So. 8 starts as a freshman
TE Jamal Pack[*] Jr. No catches, but good blocker
WR Larry Foster Jr. 43 catches, 579 yds., 4 TDs
QB Herb Tyler Sr. Record as starter: 23-5
RB Kevin Faulk Sr. 150.5-yd. SEC avg. on ground
FB Tommy Banks So. 13 runs for 70 yds. and 2 TDs
K Christian Chauvin[*] Fr. Redshirted last season
DT Johnny Mitchell [*] Jr. 23 tackles and 1 sack
NG Anthony McFarland Sr. 6 sacks, second best on D line
DE Jarvis Green[*] Fr. 16 sacks as a high school senior
OLB Arnold Miller Sr. Independence Bowl defensive MVP
ILB Joe Wesley Sr. Made team-high 105 tackles
ILB Charles Smith Jr. 10-plus tackles in three games
OLB Theo Williams[*] Jr. 9 starts as freshman; none in '97
CB Chris Cummings Sr. Converted WR had just 1 int.
SS Raion Hill Sr. 65 tackles, tops among DBs
FS Mark Roman Jr. 4 int. in '96, 1 in '97
CB Fred Booker[*] So. 11 games, 12 tackles
P Jeremy Witten[*] Jr. Pooch punter with 35.0-yd. avg.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1997 season.
Senior tailback Kevin Faulk missed two games and was slowed in
several others last season by a hamstring injury yet still
gained 1,144 yards. Herschel Walker's SEC career rushing record
is 1,981 yards away and not out of reach. The Tigers are 15-2
when Faulk rushes for 100 yards.... New Orleans native and
four-year starter Herb Tyler brings senior experience at
quarterback. He passed for 1,581 yards and 10 touchdowns last
season but is also a threat running the option. He rushed for 50
yards and two touchdowns in last year's upset of Florida.... SEC
All-Freshman right tackle Trey Langley is one of three returning
starters on the offensive line.... Anthony (Booger) McFarland, a
6'1", 290-pound senior noseguard, is the leader of a defense
that should benefit from new coordinator Lou Tepper's
streamlined scheme.... Senior linebacker Joe Wesley is the
fourth Tiger in a decade to make more than 100 tackles in a
Schedule strength: 29th of 112
Sept. 19 at Auburn An early pressure game on the road.
Louisiana State hopes to avenge last year's heartbreaking 31-28
loss in Baton Rouge.
Oct. 3 vs. Georgia LSU drops Vanderbilt and picks up the
Bulldogs in the SEC's biennial schedule rotation. Nice trade,
huh? Plus, the next opponent is Florida, which will be hungry to
reverse last year's 28-21 loss at Tiger Stadium.
Nov. 21 at Notre Dame A tough nonconference matchup, with a game
at Arkansas still to come.
The X Factor
The Tigers need to play every week like a team that belongs in
the Top 10, not like one that's occasionally trying to upset
teams in the Top 10. It's all in the attitude.
The Bottom Line
With a veteran team and games at Auburn and Florida, LSU has a
chance to enhance its ranking with two quality wins and, in
doing so, win its first SEC championship in the DiNardo era.