SHREVEPORT, La.- Kevin who? With Kevin Faulk, the Southeastern
Conference's leading rusher, out with a twisted ankle, backup Rondell
Mealey rushed for 222 yards Sunday, including 26 on the game-winning
drive in the third quarter, as No. 15 LSU beat Notre Dame 27-9 in the
Independence Bowl. Mealey, a sophomore, also set Independence Bowl and
LSU records -- previously held by Faulk- with a 78-yard run in the
fourth quarter. He was voted the offensive player of the game.
It was sweet revenge for the Tigers (9-3), who were embarrassed 24-6 by
the Irish (7-6) seven weeks ago at Baton Rouge, their worst loss of the
season. Teams that lost the regular-season game have now won seven of
the 13 rematches in bowl games. The loss brought Notre Dame's turnaround
to an end with a crashing, ugly thud. After starting the season 1-4, the
Irish won six of their last seven regular-season games and came into the
bowl with a five-game winning streak.
When Mealey hit his stride in the second half, he took all of the life
out of the Irish, whose offense gained just 14 yards in the third
quarter. Quarterback Ron Powlus was sacked four times in the second
half, including a brutal hit that seemed to knock the wind out of him.
He finished 8-of-18 for just 66 yards.
As the final seconds ticked off, LSU fans stormed the field, waving
flags and hugging players. The Notre Dame players walked to midfield
with heads bowed to shake hands with LSU. Notre Dame hasn't won a bowl
game since beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl after the 1993 season.
LSU came out sluggish early, and things looked bleak when Faulk went
down with a twisted ankle on the Tigers' second possession. But Mealey
picked up the slack, and the absence of Faulk, who set an Independence
Bowl rushing record of 234 yards two years ago, wasn't even noticed.
Mealey rushed for 38 yards on LSU's first possession in the second half
-- one more than he had in the first 30 minutes of the game -- to set up
LSU's 42-yard field goal that tied the game at 6.
Notre Dame got a tough break on the kickoff, as Allen Rossum slipped at
the 6 and was ruled down, despite making it to the 21. The Irish only
managed six yards, and the Tigers got the ball at the Irish 49. That
meant more Mealey time. He rushed for seven yards and a first down the
first time he touched the ball, then shook off a tackler for a 13-yard
gain on his next carry. LSU got down to the Irish 12, and Herb Tyler
connected with Abram Booty for the go-ahead score with 4:05 left in the
third quarter (video).
Notre Dame added Scott Cengia's field goal with 13:14 left in the fourth
quarter, but it was too little, too late. And just for good measure,
Mealey scored twice in the fourth quarter, on runs of 1 and 2 yards (video).
X-rays on Faulk's ankle were negative, but he didn't play again. He
finished with just seven yards on three carries, breaking his streak of
100-yard games at five.
LSU finished with 326 yards, including 265 on the ground. Notre Dame
finished with 243 yards, just 91 in the second half. All of its scoring
came on Scott Cengia's three field goals (video).
Former Illinois coach Lou Tepper, who joined the Tigers two weeks ago as
their defensive coordinator after Carl Reese left to become part of Mack
Brown's staff at Texas, worked a little of the magic LSU coach Gerry
DiNardo hoped he would. Though the Tigers didn't look much different --
all that talk of using three linebackers turned out to be just that,
talk -- LSU looked quicker and had the Irish offense completely confused
in the second half.
Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said he doubted his team could duplicate its
almost perfect, no-penalty, no-turnover performance of the first meeting
with LSU, and he was right. The Irish were called for illegal motion on
the fourth play of the game, pushing them back five yards. The Irish did
start strongly, rushing for 106 yards in the first half. But Notre Dame
could never quite put it all together, falling short of those last one
or two yards that would have put seven points on the board instead of
Notre Dame is just the fourth team in 22 years to not score a touchdown
in the Independence Bowl. Cengia's three field goals tied an
Independence Bowl record, set in 1983 by Sean Pavlich of Air Force.
ND- FG Cengia 33
LSU- FG Richey 37
ND- FG Cengia 21
LSU- FG Richey 42
LSU- Abram 12 pass from Tyler (Richey kick)
ND- FG Cengia 33
LSU- Mealey 2 run (Richey kick)
LSU- Mealey 1 run (Richey kick)
ND- Denson 20-101, Barry 8-43
LSU- Mealey 34-222, Banks 6-23, Tyler 9-13
ND- Powlus 8-18-66, Jackson 5-7-49
LSU- Tyler 5-12-61
ND- Johnson 5-49, Denson 3-32, Getherall 3-23
LSU- Booty 5-61