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L.S.U. Has a Week to Reflect on Alabama

L.S.U. has eight months to dwell on last night’s loss, which means that the Tigers can wallow in self-pity all the way until September, if they so chose. I’d advise against that: as L.S.U. well knows, any extended time spent treading water means you’re losing ground in the do-or-die SEC. What the program has is days, perhaps a week, to look back at a disastrous Monday night – any additional time would leave L.S.U. behind the eight ball in recruiting, and that’s not a good idea anywhere, but especially in, yeah, the SEC.

The initial look back to a B.C.S. National Championship Game loss doesn’t necessarily reveal an off night: calling it simply an off night for the Tigers doesn’t give due credit to Alabama, which dominated in every facet, both on the field and along the sidelines.

It’s in the latter, last night’s coaching, that L.S.U. has questions it needs to address. Not in the big picture, perhaps. This is the same staff that led the Tigers to a perfect 13-0 regular season, complete with a dominating SEC title game win over Georgia and, though this seems ages ago, an overtime victory in Tuscaloosa.

But you saw the dichotomy in in-game adaptability once Nick Saban and Kirby Smart revealed their defensive game plan. It was very simple, but deadly in its simplicity: dominate on first down, control L.S.U.’s ability to move east-west, get physical on the edge and bring the house on clear passing downs.

Deadly, and pure, vintage Alabama football as played under Saban. The Tigers never adjusted. And here’s guessing that even superb in-game alterations wouldn’t have played a significant role, considering how well the Tide were playing defense, but making changes – changing personnel, formations, packages – would have given L.S.U. a chance.

Offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa maintained a vanilla approach. Here’s the moment that stands out: L.S.U.’s drive to open the fourth quarter, when the Tigers already trailed by 15-0. On the first third down try, a 3rd-1, L.S.U. called for a quick-hitting run up the middle to Kenny Hilliard; he gained two yards, giving L.S.U. a first down.

First down from its own 33: L.S.U. calls on Michael Ford, who gains three yards. Second down, seven yards to go: Jordan Jefferson gains another three yards to the 39. That leaves 3rd-4, and to convert, the Tigers call what seemed like the identical play that Hilliard ran to convert the previous first down.

No imagination, and no chance. Alabama cut the play down for no gain, if not a short loss, and L.S.U. punted it away. It’s just one series, but the team’s failure to try anything different – to try whatever it takes to do the impossible, it seems, and move the ball – stands in stark contrast to Alabama’s ability to move the ball with far less difficulty.

In terms of personnel inflexibility, L.S.U.’s decision to stick with Jefferson despite his extreme struggles seems out of tune for a program and staff, led by Miles, that has made hay off of playing hunches. Jarrett Lee is not a great fit against this Alabama defense, no. But anything had to be an improvement; Lee should have played a series, if not one play, in an effort to provide a spark for a listless offense.

L.S.U. failed on offense. The Tigers failed on special teams, failing to provide the sort of big-play moment that propelled wins over Oregon, West Virginia, Arkansas and Georgia. And L.S.U. even failed to regain its regular season form on defense, as the Tide negated the Tigers’ advantage in the secondary.

Nary a peep from Tyrann Mathieu, who was made impotent as a return man by Alabama’s ego-swallowing punt game. Out of bounds or high in the air: Alabama didn’t give Mathieu a shot. And on defense, Mathieu’s one moment on center stage may have come on Kevin Norwood’s amazing sideline grab to close the first quarter.

So where does L.S.U. stand today? In the same boat as Florida following the 2009 SEC title game, as noted earlier today. After challenging Alabama in the regular season – more than challenging, actually – the Tigers need to regroup and reload in time for next fall, when the national title chase begins anew.

Florida never recovered; the Gators were so thoroughly dominated that they’ve yet to recover, and this year’s team was light-years removed from both L.S.U. and Alabama. The Tigers are cut from different stock: the Tigers will be back, but it’ll take some soul-searching to recover the lost momentum. The program has a week or so to wallow. By late January, it’ll be time to refocus.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    LSU had less than 100 yards and 5 first downs against a team that did not turn the ball over. They had 27 rushes for 39 yards. 11-17 passing but many of the completions were short,horizontal tosses for minimal gains. Realistically, against that tremendous defense, their best chance was to throw the ball downfield. I am not saying it was going to be easy, but the soft bubble behind the corner on the sideline was there when Bama was in a two deep zone (it always is) and they tried to hit it what – twice ? Hit it once. Other than that, you can always try repeated quick slants – any corner, even very good ones, will tell you that is the most difficult route to cover. Throw enough and you will pop one or two slants big. These are routes that can be thrown quickly to beat the pass rush. If I were an LSU fan, I would be thinking we need a big upgrade at OC.

    Having said all that, Bama had one of the best big game defensive performances you will ever see – a top 5 one in my memory.

  2. DMK says:

    Amazing defensive. Ranks with ’92 Bama and 2000 Oklahoma in my memory.

    I’m still mystified how Les Miles has had as much success as he has: he is totally incoherent in every way. Jarrett Lee simply has to be in the game in the 4th quarter. If not Lee, then Mettenberger. If not Mettenberger, then, let’s see … [checking roster] … Jerad Foster or Stephen Rivers or Jerrad Randle (or Shepherd even).

    [On a team with Barkevious Mingo, how can 60% of QBs be named "Jerratt"?]

    LSU forfeited at 12-0, and that’s on the coaches.

    Also: Underwood, Gentry, Bell, Smelley, Christion Jones, Shelley, Norwood? This was like Kent St. for them. Bizarre.

  3. Lee says:

    The 92 Bama defense and 06 Gator defense had the two most memorable performances in a title game that I have ever seen. They both went up against juggernauts and smoked them. This year’s Bama squad was awesome but LSU does not have a QB so it tarnishes it a little. UF showed you that the only way to move the ball against them was to challenge them deep inside and out. Brantley had 192 passing yards in the first half. Ark and LSU made the mistake of trying to quick pass/ short pass this BAMA defense….Idiotic. You have to attack it. LSU simply didn’t have a QB that could do that.

    Bama 92 was probably the best…ever.

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    All of the defensive performances mentioned above were great. What is extraordinary about last night is the number one team in the country, with a truly great resume, was shutout, held to 5 first downs and less than 100 total yards – in the National Championship Game.

    Just off the top of my head, after considering some other candidates, I cannot match it. If you expand to other gamess, I think of Oregon State shutting out O.J. Simpson and USC ( a team that still won the National Championship ) 3-0 in the mud. There was no mud last night.

    With the National Championship probably on the line, Michigan tied one of Woody Hayes greatest teams 10-10 in 1973 but they didn’t shut them out and Woody ran the ball something like 45 times in a row.

    I remember a Texas team shutting out third ranked OU and holding them to two first downs for 55 minutes in 1976 – but a Texas fumble led to a late OU score.

    Without researching it, the more I think about the defensive performance last night, the more extraordinary it appears. The only thing that minimizes it, is the LSU offense was not as good as say Florida State in 2000,USC in 1967, etc.

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    After some research – certainly not exhaustive – here are a couple of candidates to rival Bama’s defensive performance.

    First, in 1957 Notre Dame stopped OU’s 47 game winning streak by shutting out the Sooners 7-0 in Norman. OU averaged over 30 points a game that season and was held to 145 yards.

    Second, how is this for an historical coincidence. Third ranked LSU was shutout by second ranked Ole Miss 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl following the 1959 season. The game was a re-match of the famous Halloween game earlier that year won by LSU 7-3 on Billy Cannon’s punt return. In New Orleans, LSU was held to 74 total yards and crossed mid field once getting to the Ole Miss 38 in the loss.

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