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Off the Hook
Kostya Kennedy
September 30, 1996
Notre Dame could breathe easier after squeaking past the Longhorns, Reversal of fortune for LSU and Auburn
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September 30, 1996

Off The Hook

Notre Dame could breathe easier after squeaking past the Longhorns, Reversal of fortune for LSU and Auburn

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The same cannot always be said about Powlus. On Saturday he rarely got set in the pocket, and though he completed 13 of 24 passes for 127 yards, none was longer than 16 yards. Indeed, he was at his best jamming the ball into the gut of fullback Marc Edwards or pitching out to Denson on the option, and he overthrew an open Bobby Brown in the end zone on Notre Dame's final drive. But on the next play, while the Irish faithful were still shaking their heads, Powlus found Malcolm Johnson, his third read, for an 11-yard gain that set up Sanson's kick.

All of which left Notre Dame where it feels most comfortable: running between the tackles, scoring on the option and aspiring to No. 1. And Texas? "We were almost there," said Adams.

Not yet, Longhorns. Not just yet.

Changing Places

While it does not offer the tradition of Auburn-Alabama or the hype of Florida-Tennessee, the rivalry between Auburn and LSU has emerged as the Southeastern Conference's most satisfying, second to none in its capacity to generate fresh drama. In 1994 LSU, a 10-point underdog, lost a 23-9 fourth-quarter lead at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn picked off five Jamie Howard passes, returned three for touchdowns and won 30-26. Last fall LSU's Troy Twillie intercepted an Auburn pass in his own end zone as time expired to preserve a 12-6 LSU win and crush the national-title hopes of Auburn, which had entered the game ranked No. 5.

Then there was LSU's 19-15 win over Auburn last Saturday night at Jordan-Hare, a typically exciting affair that wasn't decided until the waning moments. Trailing 17-9, Auburn closed the gap to 17-15 with 38 seconds remaining when tailback Rusty Williams scored from seven yards out. But on the ensuing conversion attempt, Auburn quarterback Jon Cooley was intercepted by safety Raion Hill, who returned the ball 98 yards for two points. As if that weren't enough drama for one evening, Auburn recovered an onside kick two seconds later. Given one last chance, Cooley, who had replaced injured starter Dameyune Craig early in the fourth quarter, was again intercepted, this time by Cedric Donaldson.

The victory was LSU's first at Auburn since 1973, and it bolstered the status of LSU's Gerry DiNardo as the SEC's newest coaching star, a role he has taken over from his Auburn counterpart, Terry Bowden. Last season, after an unremarkable four-year stint at Vanderbilt, DiNardo led LSU to a 7-4-1 finish and the school's first bowl appearance since the 1988 season.

The Brooklyn-born DiNardo, a master salesman, quickly won over LSU's hard-to-please fans, and he is rapidly winning over the remaining skeptics among his players. As the team was gathering for a prepractice meeting two days before the Auburn game, DiNardo burst into the room in camouflage attire. "And he was wearing this orange hat from who knows where," says Hill, laughing at the memory. "He was trying to tell us that he wanted us to be the hunter, not the hunted, in this game. It was, I don't know, crazy."

That's not a word many would use to describe DiNardo's approach to other aspects of football, such as recruiting. For years, many top Louisiana players went away to college: Marshall Faulk to San Diego State, Kordell Stewart to Colorado, Warrick Dunn to Florida State. But under DiNardo, LSU has become an attractive option for homegrown talent, a fact that was underscored last year when the Tigers reeled in Kevin Faulk, a distant cousin of Marshall's and a native of Carencro, La., who was ranked among the nation's top schoolboy running backs. Last fall Faulk rushed for 852 yards as a true freshman and was named the SEC's freshman offensive player of the year. On Sept. 7, in LSU's season-opening 35-34 defeat of Houston, he had 376 all-purpose yards.

The numbers tell a different story for Auburn, which went 8-4 last season after Bowden's dazzling 20-1-1 start in 1993 and '94. Although losing to LSU does not eliminate Auburn from contention in the SEC West, it was nonetheless devastating. It was Auburn's loss to LSU last fall that set the scene for a postseason shakeup that began when Bowden fired popular defensive coordinator Wayne Hall and continued with the resignations of assistants Rodney Garner and Kurt Crain. "Everything that happened here in the off-season happened because of the LSU game," says Bowden. "It was apparent to me that something had to change."

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