LSU Pivotal Football Moments
pivotal college football moment: A decision by a coach or athletic director that changes the momentum of a program or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a game.
1943 Georgia: HB Van Buren Scores Three TDs
1943 was probably the strangest college football season of all time until the 2020 Covid-19-shortened season. With World War II at its height on two fronts, a huge percentage of college football players were drafted into the military.
Seven Southeastern Conference schools decided to cancel football for the '43 season. The U.S. Navy inaugurated preflight and physical training programs on numerous college campus­es, including Georgia Tech and Tulane of the SEC. Unlike the Army, the Navy allowed its participants to play on the sports teams of the host colleges. The remaining two SEC schools that fielded teams, LSU and Georgia, had to go with players too young for the military draft and those rejected for military service for various reasons.
LSU Coach Bernie Moore needed to replace Alvin Dark, his star back from 1942 who transferred to Southwestern Louisiana Institute to engage in officer training for the U.S. Marine Corps and play his final year of football eligibility. So Moore made an important deci­sion during the 1943 preseason practices. Steve Van Buren played end as a sophomore in 1941. Rejected for the military draft because of defective vision, Steve shifted to blocking back in Moore's single wing offense in 1942. He carried the ball only 15 times that season for 43y.
But with all his tailbacks gone for '43, Moore decided to give Van Buren a try at that key position. The move would pay dividends not only for LSU but also for the Honduras native, who ran 150 times for 847y, which was second in the nation. That performance earned Steve All-America status and caught the eyes of pro scouts, leading to an eight-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Longtime LSU trainer Marty Broussard said Van Buren was as fast over 50y as any LSU back he'd seen. "After two steps, he'd be at full speed."
Years later, Coach Moore recalled his decision to move Van Buren for his senior season. "He probably was the greatest running back in SEC history, and I used him as a blocking back until his last year. Folks down in Baton Rouge will never quite get over it."

L-R: Bernie Moore and Steve Van Buren (LSU Gumbo Yearbook Class of 1944),
Wally Butts and Johnny Cook (University of Georgia Pandora Yearbook, Class of 1944)
The United States' entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, arguably hurt Georgia's football program more than any other college team. Led by Heisman Trophy QB Frank Sinkwich, the Bulldogs had gone a combined 20-2-1 in 1941 and '42, winning the Orange Bowl and then the Rose Bowl.
The 1943 Georgia team that came to Baton Rouge for LSU's opening game was composed entirely of freshmen except for one junior. One interesting feature of the pairing was that Georgia Coach Wally Butts played end for Bernie Moore at Mercer College in Macon GA in the late 1920s.
Georgia's Navy pre-flight program attracted outstanding athletes from various sections of the country, but they were assigned to Athens for training only and did not attend class, which meant they were ineligible to play sports.
Filling Sinkwich's shoes at tailback was highly-touted 17-year-old Johnny Cook, who would be selected on the All-SEC team at the end of the year after amassing 2,375y in total offense.
The young Bulldogs had one advantage over LSU. They had a game under their belts – a 25-7 victory over Presbyterian.
Teams Trade Touchdowns
The game quickly devolved into a Cooks-Van Buren duel. Which one got more help from his teammates would likely win.
Cooks showed his ability early on the cool evening before a disappointing crowd well below the expectation of 20,000. He dropped into deep punt formation on Georgia's opening posses­sion. Instead, he ran 38y to the LSU 40, where HB Joe Nagata came across to nail him. After two incompletions and a short run, Cook threw to James Rutland to the LSU 30 where C Ed Claunch made the tackle just short of the first down.
The Tigers ran the ball 10 straight plays to take a 7-0 lead. Van Buren, a fast, shifty 200-pounder with a size advantage on Georgia's small secondary, carried six times for a total of 48y, including the final four. He also kicked the PAT. LSU 7 Georgia 0
The Bulldogs answered with a 63y touchdown drive of their own. Cook accounted for 54 of the yards, 38 on the ground and 16 through the air. He covered the last 8y around right end, outrunning the LSU secondary. LSU 7 Georgia 7
Tigers' Goal-Line Stand to Protect Lead
After gaining field position on an exchange of punts into the second quarter, LSU began a drive at the UGa 35. "Moving Van" immediately ran wide to the 21. Three plays later, on third-and-one, FB Bill Schroll, whose blocking helped Van Buren gain yardage all evening, charged through right guard to the four to make it first-and-goal. Then he took the next snap and covered the final yards. LSU 14 Georgia 7

Bill Schroll scores touchdown. 17 is Steve Van Buren; 75 is T Earl Tullos; 65 is G James Lewis.
(LSU Gumbo Yearbook Class of 1944)
Van Buren was a much better punter than placekicker, and Georgia benefitted from ano­ther short kickoff. Cook continued to give the Tigers fits. First, he tried to pass but broke away from a gang of Bengals to get to the LSU 41. Another run off a fake pass gained six more. Two plays later, he threw to a receiver in the middle of the Tiger secondary to the LSU 25. Then Rutland ran up the middle to the 10 before Van Buren downed him.
Just when a tying touchdown looked inevitable, the Tiger defense walled off the end zone. Van Buren tackled Rutland again, this time at the five. Cook made it to the two before Van struck again. Charles Barney cut across the line of scrimmage to spill Cook for a 4y loss. Then Carroll Griffith stuffed Cook at the five to stop the march.
But the Bulldogs were right back in business after Van Buren got off a hurried punt that traveled only 27y to the 31. Another two incompletions, Cook threw a screen pass to Rutland for a first down at the 16. Cook then threw to Charles "Rabbit" Smith in the midst of four Tigers for the touchdown. T Joe Hartley blocked the PAT to keep the Tigers ahead by a pre­carious point. LSU 14 Georgia 13
Van Buren Answers Georgia Score
But LSU marched 65y to extend its lead before halftime. Van Buren - who else? - started the drive by faking a pass, then cutting back inside right tackle and ran 62y to the three before being caught from behind. Schroll charged over from there. LSU 21 Georgia 13
Tigers Take Advantage of Georgia Gamble
Georgia needed to score first in the second half, but the Tigers didn't let that happen. Schroll returned the short kickoff 17y to the 37. After getting dumped for a 14y loss trying to pass, Van Buren quickkicked to Cook at the Georgia 15. He returned 14y to the 29. Cook tried to run on fourth down and four but was stopped by G Peter Polozola at the 35 to turn over the ball on downs.

L-R: Joe Nagata, Bill Schroll, Charles "Rabbit" Smith, Gene Knight
Smith from University of Georgia Pandora Yearbook, Class of 1944
Other three from LSU Gumbo Yearbook Class of 1944
On third-and-four, Van Buren threw LSU's first pass of the game, hitting E Charles Webb to move the chains to the 10. Van ran to the six, then slanted off the right side to the corner of the end zone. He missed the extra point. LSU 27 Georgia 13
After the kickoff, Cook threw three straight passes, the first two gaining a first down at the LSU 49. But the third one ended up in the hands of Griffith at the LSU 35. The third quarter ended without any further scoring.
Georgia created their own break early in the final period by blocking Gene Knight's punt and recovering on the LSU 43. Mixing runs with passes, the Bulldogs marched from there to paydirt. The touchdown came on Cook's 16y toss to Smith in the corner of the end zone. LSU 27 Georgia 20
Nagata brought the home crowd to its feet by returning the kickoff 60y to the Georgia 30. Van Buren faked a pass, stiff-armed a would-be tackle, and scampered to the 20. Nagata ran wide on a naked reverse to the 10. But just when it looked like the Tigers would put the game away, they went backwards thanks to a 15y holding penalty. Three snaps later, another penalty negated Van Buren's long toss across the field to E Jimmy White to the 13. Then the LSU star went to the passing well once too often. Cook intercepted on the 25 and returned to mid­field. Just like that, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game.
Georgia Overcomes Penalty To Tie Score
Cook passed to Smith to put the ball on the 30. But Georgia drew a holding penalty on the next play that set them all the way back to their 31. Two plays later, LSU had possession of the ball on their one after a clipping penalty on Joe Nagata's punt return and a delay of game before the first down snap.
Following the prevalent strategy of that era, Van Buren punted on first down, and Smith ran it back 18y to the 20. After three runs, the visitors faced fourth-and-two at the 12. Cook threw to Smith, who came back to the ball and grabbed it away from Van Buren and Nagata and stepped back over the goal. The PAT tied the game. LSU 27 Georgia 27 with three min­utes left.
Tigers Drive to Winning Touchdown
LSU got excellent field advantage when George Jernigan's kickoff went out of bounds on the 43. Van Buren ran through a big hole at right tackle to midfield. But he was stopped for no gain on the next snap to set up a crucial third-and-two. Schroll plunged through an open­ing for the first down, then broke loose for more yardage before being stopped at the Georgia 33 with 1:55 on the clock.
After Schroll's short gain, Van Buren cut outside right end to the 23. Then Van threw a pass that was no good in the end zone. But interference was called to make it first-and-goal on the five. Van Buren slanted off tackle into the end zone, then booted the extra point. LSU 34 Georgia 27 with 35 seconds left.
Georgia had to take to the air with disastrous consequences. After a long incompletion, Georgia snagged Georgia's next throw to seal the victory.
The Atlanta Constitution's article on the game said, "Big Steve Van Buren, who looks like the Southeastern Conference's No. 1 back this year, was the big gun for the Tigers. ... Van Buren, in fact, was the only reason Georgia didn't push the Tigers off the field. He scored three touchdowns and set up every one of the winners' tallies."
Because of the shortage of conference opponents, LSU and Georgia played again on Octo­ber 23 in Columbus GA. LSU won 27-6.

The Fighting Tigers II: LSU Football 1893-1980, Peter Finney (1980)
Fighting Tigers Handbook: Stories, Stats and Stuff about LSU Football, Dave Moorman (1996)
Wally’s Boys, Loran Smith (2005)