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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football VS LSU, 1998

The Irish Came Away with a Big Win and a Big Loss

Purdue University Boilermakers vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Autry Denson #23, Running Back for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

This week I am going to throwback to the 1998 match-up between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football team and the LSU Tigers. The game was the 10th of the season, with Notre Dame having eight wins (Michigan, Purdue, Stanford, ASU, Army, Baylor, BC, and Navy) and one loss (MSU) headed into the game. And LSU had four wins (Arkansas State, Auburn, Idaho, and Mississippi State) and five losses (Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama).

LSU’s head coach was Gerry DiNardo (4th season), and Notre Dame’s head coach was Bob Davie (2nd season). Notre Dame would finish the season with a 9-3 record, and ranked 22nd, and LSU would finish the season 4-7, and unranked. Following the season, seven Notre Dame players were taken in the NFL draft, including Autry Denson, who left with multiple Notre Dame rushing records, and Malcolm Johnson, who left with a ND record of six consecutive games with a touchdown catch.

The below excerpt is from the 1998 Scholastic Magazine Notre Dame Football review, written by R. Scott Panichelli.

Dangerous Safety

There were tears in the Notre Dame locker room following the thrilling 39-36 victory over the LSU Tigers. One could say tears of joy were in order. It was the final home game of many players’ careers, the culmination of the first undefeated home season since 1989, another notch in an eight-game winning streak and a victory in a game with three defensive touchdowns, three missed field goals and four failed extra points. The tears, however, were tears of sadness. In a game where the Irish rallied from a late 34-20 deficit, they lost the services of quarterback Jarious Jackson. The senior dropped back to take a safety while running down the clock when he injured his knee. So many things went right in the game for the Irish, including two touchdowns by the defense, -a career day for Jackson and a last-minute offensive drive. But it’s the tragic play that occurred with a mere three seconds left that Irish fans will remember.

Things didn’t start off well for the Irish, either. In the opening drive of the game, Jackson’s first pass attempt was picked off by LSU safety Mark Roman and returned 53 yards for a touchdown. “We had practiced the coverage. I broke on the ball and it was there and I was able to make the play,” Roman said. Despite the setback, Jackson stormed back. He drove the Irish down and with 9:53 left in the first quarter pitched to freshman David Givens on the option right. Givens finished the job with a 22-yard scamper into the end zone.

LSU started off the second quarter by scoring a touchdown after 27 seconds. A six-minute drive ended when All-American running back Kevin Faulk scored from one yard. The extra point was blocked and the Irish were down by six. But on the following possession the team was forced to punt, the defense making the next touchdown for the Irish. Faulk fumbled on the ensuing drive and senior rush end Lamont Bryant ran the ball 13 yards for a touchdown. The Irish grabbed their first lead on Jim Sanson’s extra point but it proved to be short-lived.

On the following kickoff, Faulk showed why he is regarded as one of the best football players in the country. In an awesome display of speed, he ran through the kickoff team for an 88-yard touchdown. It was the first kickoff return for a score against a Notre Dame team since 1977. When asked about his mindset immediately following the fumble and right before the return, he said, “I was thinking the same things as I always do. I’m not the type of person to get down on myself. I want the ball and I know when I get it I can make the play.” To compensate for the failed PAT, the Tigers went for two and quarterback Herb Tyler ran it successfully. These were the last points of the half, with the Irish down by seven.

“We had trouble stopping LSU in the first half,” Coach Bob Davie said. “We moved the ball but didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. We told the team not to panic after we got down. I was really proud of how we came back after the opening touchdown.”

The third quarter saw each team gain 13 points. The Irish struck first when senior tailback Autry Denson capped off a drive with a three-yard run into the end zone. The kick by Sanson, however, failed. The next couple of minutes belonged to the Tigers, in particular quarterback Tyler and wide receiver Abram Booty.

Just 1:28 after Denson’s score, Tyler connected with Booty for a 27-yard touchdown pass, but again the kick failed. Tyler and Booty then struck again. A mere two minutes later, an 18-yard pass (and a rare converted point-after attempt) sent the Tigers up by a score of 34-20. The 14-point margin with just a quarter-and-a-half left against a tough SEC defense nearly put the game out of reach. But the Irish fought back.

The third quarter scoring closed with an Irish touchdown. Jackson led a quick 78- yard drive down the field which culminated in an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Malcolm Johnson for six points. Johnson capped off his banner fifth year by becoming the first Irish wide receiver to score in six successive games. More importantly, the score put the Irish down by seven as the fourth quarter began.

The final quarter of the last home game of the season proved to be one of the most exciting in recent history. The Tigers started by driving methodically downfield. They were on their way to another score, inside the Irish red zone, when Irish linebacker Bobbie Howard picked off a Tyler pass and ran it 89 yards for a touchdown. The return by Howard was the longest interception return for a touchdown since 1975. “I was in the right place at the right time,” Howard said. “I have to thank Tony Driver for his block on Herb Tyler. Without the block, I probably would have not made it to the end zone.” Sanson missed the extra point, though, and the Irish were down by one.

On the ensuing drive, the Tigers threatened again. The Irish defense stiffened, and LSU was stopped at the Irish 35. Jackson took over and marched down the field with runs of 14 and 12 yards and completions of 24 and 17 yards. With less than two minutes left, the Irish were inside the LSU red zone. On a third and six from the 10, Jackson dropped back and hit Raki Nelson on the game-winning touchdown with just 1:27 left in the game. “Every week, it’s a new player who makes big plays,” the wide receiver said. This week it happened to be Nelson, who was recuperating from an early season ankle injury. The two-point conversion failed but the Irish were up 39-34. The lead would stick.

After losing quarterback Tyler to a pulled left hamstring, the Tigers were forced to play their last drive with back-up Craig Nall. He drove LSU deep into Irish territory, but was unable to come up with any points. On third down, Nall nearly connected with Booty in the end zone but the ball fell incomplete. “Craig threw a great pass,” Booty said. “It was supposed to be a post route. It went off the tip of my fingers. I just wasn’t able to bring it in.” On fourth down from the 31 with eight yards to go for a first down, Nall threw an incomplete pass under immense pressure from freshman lineman Anthony Weaver. “It’s the way the team plays,” Weaver said. “We play until the end of the game.” With 25 seconds left, Notre Dame got the ball back. With less than half a minute left and the Irish up by five, the game seemed to be over.

Davie determined that the risk of a fumble was too great to try a hand-off, so for three consecutive plays he had Jackson take a knee. Each time, LSU responded with an immediate timeout, the last coming with eight seconds to play. Davie’s plan was that Jackson would take the snap and use as much time as possible while taking a safety. “I was supposed to run out of the end zone,” Jackson said. “But I looked up for one second to see where everybody was coming from, and a guy just pretty much blind sided me. He ... hit me down on my knee at an angle.” The hit was made by two defenders, Arnold Miller, a senior linebacker, and Clarence LeBlanc, a strong safety. “What we really wanted Jarious to do was go to the end line, use as much time, and hopefully the game would, be over,” Davie said. “But ... because we actually had someone who didn’t line up correctly, we weren’t able to do that. It was unfortunate. In my mind it wasn’t so much the plan as it was the execution.” Jackson ran off five seconds and took a safety but was badly injured in the process. He departed, not knowing that he had a torn MCL and would be out nearly a month.

The Irish were up 39-36 and had a free kick. Senior Hunter Smith squibbed the kick and the Tigers pounced on it. Nall threw a “Hail Mary” pass with no time on the clock from the Irish 46 that fell incomplete, sealing the victory.

On paper the game seemed perfect. Denson rushed for, 80 yards. The defense held Faulk to just 108 yards on 31 carries. But it was Jackson who was most impressive with a career-high 276 yards passing. His career day included eight-of-10 passing on third down for 184 yards and he also ran for 80 yards on 21 carries. Jackson engineered the game-winning fourth quarter drive that sealed the victory. It was a banner day for the senior, who rose to the challenge against a fast and furious SEC defense. But it ended with torn ligaments and an uncertain future for an Irish offense that had a date with archrival USC just seven days away.

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Cheers & GO IRISH!