LSU book excerpt: John Sage was big key to a championship defense for the Tigers in 1970 | LSU
Editor’s note: The Advocate is counting down the days to LSU’s Sept. 4 season opener against Florida State with excerpts from the book “LSU By the Numbers.” Thursday marks 73 days until kickoff, so we’re looking back at the Tigers’ greatest No. 73, John Sage:
73 John Sage
That championship season. LSU was denied a shot at one in 1969 by a single narrow loss to Ole Miss and Notre Dame’s decision to end its self-imposed bowl ban. But the Tigers were champions in 1970, thanks in large part to a great defense on which John Sage was one of the stars.
The Tigers went into the 1970 season highly motivated by a bowl snub from the year before. LSU went 9-1, only three points away from a perfect season thanks to an Archie Manning-fueled 26-23 victory for the Rebels. Then they were denied a shot at No. 1-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl because Notre Dame decided to play in a bowl for the first time since 1925.
Instead of a championship or bowl ring, coach Charles McClendon made sure the Tigers, their coaches and staff each got a big industrial screw mounted on a plaque. It made for a big chip on the returning Tigers’ shoulder pads to carry into 1970.
Maybe too big, at least to start. In the opener, Texas A&M hit a 79-yard Hail Mary with 13 seconds left for a 20-18 victory. But LSU went 5-0 in conference play keyed by a 17-9 midseason win at Auburn thanks to a late goal line stand.
“The Auburn game seemed to be the game that took us to another level,” Sage said.
LSU would lose a 3-0 defensive struggle at No. 2 Notre Dame, but wrapped up the SEC title with a resounding 61-17 victory over Ole Miss. It was the Tigers’ first conference championship since 1961; they wouldn’t win another until 1986.
As was often the case under McClendon, the Tigers were superb on defense, allowing 8.7 points per game and were chocked with standout players. Cornerback Tommy Casanova and linebacker Mike Anderson were All-Americans, while Sage, an LSU ROTC colonel, defensive tackle Ronnie Estay and safety Craig Burns took All-SEC honors.
Say was drafted in the 17th round in 1971 by the Philadelphia Eagles but did not play in the NFL.
Will Arnold, G, 2004-07
Played in only three games as a senior because of injuries, but was an All-SEC selection as a sophomore and junior.
Craig Duhe, T, 1975-77
Earned All-SEC honors in 1977 as a starter on LSU’s prolific offense that scored 375 points (34.1 per game), the Tigers’ most since 1908.