ENGSTER: Tigers a few plays away from 5-4

As these words are prepared for public consumption, the date is Nov. 4, 2007.

It was 35 years ago tonight that Bert Jones found Brad Davis in the corner of the south end zone and LSU nipped Ole Miss at the buzzer in a 17-16 thriller at Tiger Stadium.

Before converting the decisive 10-yard touchdown pass to Davis, Jones kept the drive alive with a pair of successful fourth-down passing attempts. Sound familiar?

The win over the Johnny Rebs marked the high point of Charles McClendon's 18-year reign as head coach. His LSU team was 7-0 and ranked No. 6 nationally after the victory over Ole Miss. The next week, LSU lost 35-21 at No. 1 Alabama and the glory days of Cholly Mac were over.

In the 100 games leading up to the Veteran's Day assignment at Alabama in 1972, LSU had posted a record of 73-24-3. In those 100 assignments from 1963-72, McClendon's teams posted a pair of Sugar Bowl triumphs, beat unbeaten Arkansas 14-7 in the 1966 Cotton Bowl, and topped Alabama in 1969 and 1970 before narrowly losing to the undefeated Tide, 14-7, in 1971. The only SEC title came in 1970, and LSU bowed to national champion Nebraska, 17-12, in the Orange Bowl.

In 10 contests from 1972-81, LSU was 0-10 vs. Alabama and was outscored 247-82. The only game that was decided by less than 11 points was a 1979 battle in a Death Valley downpour as 'Bama prevailed by a 3-0 count.

LSU is 13-12-1 in the 26 clashes with the red elephants since losing 24-7 in 1981. Alabama is no longer the invincible force from the kingdom of Bear Bryant. Seven LSU coaches (Stovall, Arnsparger, Archer, Hallman, DiNardo, Saban, Miles) have savored victory against the Tide in the past quarter century.

When the Bear died on Jan. 26, 1983, Alabama was already in the opening months of the Ray Perkins regime. Since Bryant's departure from the sidelines and the planet, LSU has whipped seven Tide mentors in Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stalling, Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Shula and now, Nick Saban.

Saturday's 41-34 comeback victory at Tuscaloosa was technically no more important than the previous game against Auburn on Oct. 20, but for Les Miles, it was his affirmation as the worthy successor to Saban.

Miles is 30-5 and in contention for conference and national honors 64 days before the BCS title game on Jan. 7 at the Superdome. LSU fans have received their pound of flesh against Saban, who handled the setback with much more class than Tide sycophant Paul Finebaum displayed before the game in referring to Baton Rouge as a "toxic waste dump."

Finebaum's tirade was greeted with taunts from LSU partisans. Color announcer Doug Moreau predicted LSU would win by four touchdowns and noted that Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson was sometimes called Sarah Jessica Parker Wilson.

It was Wilson's fourth-quarter fumble at the Alabama 3-yard line that brought the Tigers home a winner and got the Saban whammy off Miles' back. In the past 100 games under Hal Hunter, Saban and Miles, LSU has won 79 times. The previous standard for a 100-game stretch for the Tigers was a 75-21-4 mark between 1958-67 under Paul Dietzel and McClendon.

The 79-21 record in the last 100 games follows a record of 48-51-1 in the preceding 100 games under Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo. Finebaum's pre-game missive included a line that Saban allowed LSU fans to regain their manhood. Miles has a chance to equal Saban's five-year tally of 48 wins at LSU in just four seasons.

The new guy not only towers above Saban physically, but comparing Miles' won-loss record at TigerTown to his predecessor is equivalent to injecting Saban's performance with steroids. Saban had a 75 percent ledger while Miles is winning at an 86 percent rate.

It's challenging not to use superlatives in discussing the past month of the LSU season. Four of the top 50 games in school history have been played in succession. The Tigers are 3-1 in a quartet of monumental performances against Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama.

The point total of the four games for LSU is 136 and 125 for the opposition. The Tigers have surrendered an average of more than 31 points per game in the last four outings and have lost only an overtime verdict at Lexington.

Miles and Co. will be heavy favorites to win the remaining regular season tilts against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Arkansas. A win in the SEC championship game would then put the Tigers in position to play for the national title for the second time in five seasons. It's an amazing outcome for a team that is a scant few plays away from being 6-3 or 5-4.


Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.

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