BATON ROUGE – Where would LSU be today had kicker Andre LaFleur made that 50-yard field goal with 15 seconds to play against Southern Mississippi on November 12, 1994?
LaFleur missed it, and USM beat the Tigers, 20-18, in front of about 40,000 fans on a cold, dreary night in Tiger Stadium that saw LSU fall to 2-7 on the season. The announced crowd of 51,720 was generous, but still the lowest since 48,355 watched LSU close the 1976 season with a 35-7 win over Utah. The following Monday, LSU athletic director Joe Dean fired Hallman, who never had a winning season with the Tigers beginning in 1991 after leaving the head coaching job at … Southern Mississippi, which plays at LSU Saturday night at 6:30 on the SEC Network.
Hallman finished that season as a lame duck head coach and suddenly found success, winning 49-25 at Tulane and 30-12 at Arkansas, and kept recruiting. Had he won the USM game, Dean said he may have kept him for another year. Instead, Dean hired Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo, even though he lost his last game as Commodores’ coach, 65-0, at home to Tennessee to finish 5-6.
“How’s a guy who just lost 65-0 for a losing season get a new job? And he had a losing season,” said Alabama coach Gene Stallings at the time.
LSU tried to hire TCU coach Pat Sullivan before DiNardo, and Sullivan agreed to take the job, but he wasn’t in a position to pay approximately a $300,000 buyout to TCU, and Dean wasn’t going to pick up the tab. Can you imagine such chicken feed stopping a hiring today? DiNardo won and looked great for a while, but then he looked horrible in losing 10 straight SEC games from late 1998 through late 1999, including a 31-5 setback at Kentucky. After going 4-7 and 2-7, he was fired on November 15, 1999, two days after a 20-7 loss to Houston. In the end, he left the program as bad as it was when he got it as far as talent.
Had LaFleur made the field goal and Hallman survived, he surely would have been fired the next year or soon. Who would Dean have hired then? And would that coach have been fired in time to hire Nick Saban from Michigan State after the 1999 season or soon after?
We’ll never know. LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron finds himself in a similar situation as Hallman. If he loses to USM, which is a 28-point underdog, he will be allowed to finish the season, but he will likely not get the permanent job.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s LSU-USM game.
1.THE WEATHER – Clear skies and cool temperatures are in the forecast, but if a storm with lightning develops, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva might ought to reschedule the game for Sunday or Monday. Just saying.
2.LSU TAILBACK DERRIUS GUICE – The sophomore will start again with Leonard Fournette still nursing an ankle injury. USM is 69th in the nation against the run with 159 yards allowed a game. Texas San Antonio rushed for 339 in a 55-32 win last week.
3.LSU QUARTERBACK DANNY ETLING – This will be his last chance to tune up his game before the SEC stretch run against Ole Miss, Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida and at Texas A&M.
4.USM QUARTERBACK NICK MULLENS – He has been bothered by a thumb injury on his right throwing hand suffered last week, but he is expected to start. The senior from Hoover, Alabama, is No. 35 in the nation in passing efficiency at 151.06 on 123-of-210 passing for 1,874 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
5.LSU DEFENSE – After stuffing one of the top offenses in the nation two weeks ago in a 42-7 win over Missouri, the Tigers are among the best defenses in the SEC – No. 2 in points allowed with 14.8 a game, No. 3 in total defense with 326 yards allowed a game, No. 3 in rush defense with 108.2 yards allowed a game and No. 5 in pass defense efficiency with a 113.2 rating.
PREDICTION: Derrius Guice gains 212 yards to lead the Tigers to an easy win, 45-13, as fans replace, “Bring on Bama,” with “Bring on Florida.”