Da Boot Sports
By: Terrill J. Weil
BATON ROUGE, LA - LSU headed into the 1986 season with high expectations, coming off of back to back winning seasons in Bill Arnsparger's third year as LSU's head coach.
The LSU offense was a big question mark in the preseason as they had loss starting quarterback Jeff Wickersham and star running backs Dalton Hilliard and Gary James to graduation.
"We have kids that can play." said Arnsparger when asked about offensive concerns the week of the season opener against a veteran Texas A&M team ranked #7 in the country.
Defensively LSU fielded one of the top units in the nation, led by All-American linebacker Michael Brooks. This LSU defense was loaded with speedy physical talent and had depth at every position. A Bill Arnsparger specialty.
The game was nationally televised on ESPN in Death Valley in front of 79,713 rabid Tiger fans, which at the time was the second largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history.
The Aggies received the opening kickoff and marched 74 yards on ten plays to take a 7-0 lead on a four yard touchdown pass from Kevin Murray to Shea Walker with 10:50 left in the first quarter.
The LSU offense sputtered early in the game as redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Hodson needed a couple of possessions to settle down, finally coming to life after a Ron Sancho interception that set up the Tigers 1st and ten at the Texas A&M 48 yard line.
It only took LSU five plays and 58 seconds to go 48 yards for their first score of the 1986 season. Tommy Hodson hit Sammy Martin out of the backfield for a four yard touchdown to even the game up at 7-7 late in the first quarter.
It was the first of many touchdown passes that Hodson would pass for in his four year LSU career.
The Aggies would regain the lead early in the second quarter with the longest scoring drive of the contest, going 78 yards in 14 plays while burning 6:11 of the clock. Kevin Murray would hit Rod Bernstine in the back of the north end zone from 13 yards out for the score, giving the Aggies a 14-7 lead with 14:55 left in the first half.
With right at seven minutes left in the first half LSU began a drive, 1st and ten from their own 20 yard line. Arnsparger decided to give backup quarterback Mickey Guidry his first half series on this possession.
On first down Guidry completed a 10 yard pass to Wendell Davis followed by a four yard gain by Sammy Martin to set up a 2nd and six. As the Tigers came to the line, Guidry read blitz and changed the play at the line of scrimmage moving Sammy Martin from the backfield, setting him up in the slot. Guidry took the snap and hit Martin on a quick four yard pass in the center of the field that Sammy turned into a 66 yard touchdown as he found an extra gear, splitting and pulling away from from the Aggies' secondary for the score. The electrifying play evened the game up at 14-14 with 6:37 left in the second quarter.
Neither team could manage a score over the final six minutes of the quarter as the first half ended in a 14-14 tie.
The Tigers received the second half kickoff, but a Harvey Williams' fumble gave the Aggies the ball in LSU territory.
The Aggies drove into the LSU red zone before the Tigers would stop the drive at the six yard line forcing A&M to kick a 23 yard field goal. The three points would put Texas A&M up 17-14 early in the third quarter.
LSU would answer on their next possession, driving 69 yards in ten plays as Tommy Hodson had the hot hand on the drive, completing three big passing plays. (Two to Wendell Davis, One to Harvey Williams). The score would come on Harvey Williams' first touchdown of his career as he leaped into the end zone from one yard out for the score with 5:58 left in the third quarter as the Tigers took their first lead of the contest, 21-17.
In front of an energized Tiger Stadium crowd, the Tiger defense began to dominate the ball game, shutting down the Aggies offensive attack for the remainder of the contest.
“In the first series, I think we were in awe of Texas A&M. Not in the sense that we were afraid of them, but we had a question about our team,” linebacker Ron Sancho said after the game.
With Murray and the A&M offense trying to answer the Tigers' last score, they slowly drove into LSU territory. Facing a 2nd and ten at the LSU 38 yard line, Murray was intercepted at the Tigers' 28 yard line by Kevin Guidry who raced up the side for 42 yards to the A&M 30 yard line. It was the third time the LSU defense intercepted Murray on the night.
Hodson and the LSU offense wasted little time. On 1st down Sammy Martin picked up ten yards and a 1st down at the Aggies 20, but a holding call negated the play and moved LSU back to the A&M 40 yard line.
On the next play Hodson dropped back to throw and completed a 35 yard bomb to Wendell Davis, who made a circus catch on the play, setting up a 1st and ten at the Texas A&M five yard line.
Two plays later on the final play of the third quarter, Hodson found his tight end Brian Kinchen in the back of the end zone for a five yard touchdown. LSU now led 28-17 as the game headed into the 4th quarter.
Neither team could move the ball until LSU mounted a drive late in the quarter, moving the ball deep into A&M territory before the drive stalled. LSU kicker Ronnie Lewis missed a 34 yard field goal attempt wide right.
The Aggies would take over at their own 20 with 1:06 left in the game. Jackie Sherrill decided to replace Kevin Murray with backup quarterback Craig Stump.
On Stump's second passing attempt, Michael Brooks intercepted the ball after it bounced off of the attended receiver's hands and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown with only 35 seconds remaining on the clock. The interception would be LSU's 5th of the game off of A&M quarterbacks.
The 35-17 victory was an impressive and exciting start to the 1986 season, however many LSU fans remember the huge shocking let down the following week as LSU suffered a shocking 21-12 defeat to Miami of Ohio.
The contest was also the beginning of the Tommy Hodson era.
“I’m still nervous. I guess that’s normal when you go in front of 80,000 people,” Hodson said after going 15-22 for 193 yards and two touchdown passes in the 35-17 victory.
“Tommy worked hard, but he kept the game in perspective,” LSU Coach Bill Arnsparger said. “He said good or bad, he would still be here on Sunday.”
Hodson would become LSU's starting quarterback from 1986 to 1989 and holds several school passing records. He would be named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 1986 along with being named First Team SEC from 1986-1989. Hodson passed for 9,115 yards and 69 touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in SEC history to surpass 8,000 career passing yards, and the first quarterback in SEC history to surpass 60 career passing touchdowns. Hodson passed for over 2,000 yards during each of his four seasons at LSU, becoming the third player in NCAA history to achieve that feat.
No doubt, it was another incredible night in Baton Rouge as the Death Valley crowd was deafening throughout the game. A game that can truly be called one of the best ever in LSU football history.