LSU-Florida Aftermath: Talking Tiger Fans Off the Ledge

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LSU-Florida Aftermath: Talking Tiger Fans Off the Ledge

Running a systems check after a bad crash…

Please know that I'm speaking to LSU fans out there, although all are welcomed to listen.

First off, bulletin board material had nothing to do with the outcome of the LSU-Florida game. So get that out of your head.

Second of all, let’s give credit where credit is due: Florida performed like the team that most knew they were. There’s a reason some Florida fans were making noise about their team in the first month of the season, and it’s because they know the team that showed up Saturday night is their true team.

When you kick the tires and look under the hood, Florida is supposed to own the road. So far in 2008, they didn’t look like it—until the LSU game.

Part of that you can heap on Urban Meyer, who didn’t really open up what the Gator machine could do until this week. Honestly, I think LSU knew the potential and just flat-out could not stop Florida.

This group of Gators is the team most thought would show up this season. While you were picking USC or Georgia or Oklahoma to win the National Championship in August, many others knew that Florida was going to tiptoe through all the preseason hype and come out and dominate.

But a loss to Ole Miss and some subpar stats changed the mind of many, even myself. In the summer I saw this game as a bad loss for LSU, but Florida’s track record this season convinced me that LSU would lose a close one as the game neared.

Still, coming into the game Saturday night, the Gators remained a six-point favorite and were picked to win by everyone who had a voice in the matter.

The eyebrow raiser, however, was the fashion in which Florida beat LSU. Most expected a repeat from last year’s classic, but from the early Danny McCray tip to Percy Harvin on a 3rd-and-12 for the score, I think most saw what was coming—that in fact this would not be LSU’s night.

Florida has the ability (heck, they had it all along) to jump back into the race for the crystal ball.

For LSU, despite what the scoreboard says, this wasn’t a bad loss. It might be hard to wrap your head around that right now, as most LSU fans have been blinded by recent success, but you just can’t bring a redshirt freshman quarterback to Gainesville on a night where the running game gets held in check and expect to win. You just can’t. LSU still controls its own destiny in the SEC West.

Flip to the other side of the ball, and LSU’s defense was just overmatched. If you think about it, though, the defense wasn’t horrible in the first half. Between tipping passes for touchdowns, staying on the field too much because of the inept offense, and allowing no points in the second quarter, the defense just got worn down in the second half.

I don’t think LSU’s game plan was necessarily bad against the Gators—I just don’t think they executed at all. Last year LSU had almost the exact same game plan against Florida, and the Tigers won.

Most LSU fans seem to think the Tigers blitzed on every down last year, and that’s just not the case. The strategy was the same, but the intensity was nowhere to be found. This was 2006 all over again but without five turnovers hurting an offense with some firepower. This 2008 version of the Tiger offense is punchless without a running game.

Going back to my keys for the game:

1) LSU running the ball effectively? Heavens no.

2) LSU dominates the line of scrimmage? They did not. In fact, if you need something to worry about as a Tiger fan, this is it.

3) Jarrett Lee is efficient under center? Not really, but at the same token he’s the only reason we put up 21. I feel like I’m watching Brett Favre when I watch Lee, but more of late Favre than early Favre.

4) The Gators throw deep effectively? They did. Tebow actually had some pretty passes in this game. LSU’s coverage was inconsistent.

5) The Gator defense dominates? Charlie Strong put together a great game plan against the Tigers—give him credit.

6) LSU’s punt return woes continue? Despite getting nothing from the punt return unit, the real headline was special teams in general, which the Gators dominated.

So if you’re keeping score, LSU was 0-6. In the Swamp against a team like Florida when they are clicking, that’ll get you a 30-point loss.

The bonus X-factor never really came into play. While Miles had two weeks to prepare for Florida, I wouldn’t put Saturday’s loss on the coaches. That game was lost on the field.

If you feel its Miles’ job to make sure his players play with intensity, then maybe you think part of it was Les Miles’ fault. The players have to play the game in my opinion. Last year’s victory had less to do with “The Hat” and more to do with the will of the players—this year was the same.

So now the good news as I try to play the optimistic LSU fan.

First, despite what the scoreboard says, this was one loss. Just one “L” is the scoring column. It would look the exact same had we lost by three or 10 or 30 or 50.

LSU just hasn’t suffered a blowout like this in the Miles era. The last time LSU got spanked like this, it was a 45-16 drubbing at Athens in ’04 against UGA when Nick Saban was here, and that also was a revenge/rematch game of sorts. It was also on the road and a year after a National Championship.

In fact, as few losses as Miles has had at LSU, they’ve pretty much all been close except for the ’05 SEC Championship against UGA, and JaMarcus Russell got injured in that game.

No, basically besides looking bad two years in the Swamp, you won’t be able to find a bad loss under Miles. Two years ago. That’s a long time for Tiger fans to get spoiled.

Even when Nick Saban was in Baton Rouge he had a 31-0 loss to Bama, 31-7 and 34-17 losses to Auburn, a 26-8 loss to Virginia Tech, a 15-point bowl loss to Texas, a 44-15 loss to Florida, as well as a 41-9 loss to the Gators. I left off a few to conserve time.

Oh how quickly we forget those days.

It’s funny how your ex-girlfriend’s flaws fade after it’s over.

I think the transitive property is used way too much in college football: “Well, if Florida lost to Ole Miss, then they’re not that good.”

But teams play different from week to week (I went over this before, people). LSU just picked a bad week to play Florida poorly. LSU had their worst showing of the season and the Gators had their best, and that’ll turn a three-point game into a 30-point one.

By a show of hands, who had LSU repeating as National Champions this year?

OK, if you raised your hand then your fandom greatly outweighs your college football intelligence, and you need to stop reading this.

Most Tiger fans had LSU losing three games or so this year. So how was Florida not one of those losses?

LSU fans looking at the long term know this:

1) Jarrett Lee has shown some promise at quarterback, but this was his first road start. He needs the experience he is going to get this year in order to play at a high level. He’s taking his knocks and learning from his bad decisions. This is a natural progression.

Someone please look up for me the last time a freshman quarterback won a National Championship. How about an SEC championship?

2) The Tigers will always have one of the better defenses in the country. Oklahoma and Texas got into a score-fest, and both teams have great defenses. The difference? Both teams have effective offenses and QBs, so I refer you back to No. 1. Is this year’s defense the best LSU D ever? No.

But things could be so much worse, trust me. This is still a quick, hard-hitting unit for which 110 other teams in the country would gladly trade us. No one, and I repeat no one, would’ve beaten Florida this past weekend in that game. Not Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Mizzou, Penn State, or Alabama. Hell, maybe not even the Detroit Lions.

3) The secondary will also get better with time. Overall they didn’t have a horrible night, but they were inconsistent, and that’ll happen with two new starting corners and a lack of production from the nickelback position.

LSU actually struggled more with Florida’s speedsters in space than in coverage and were victimized more by bad matchups. The Gators can create bigger matchup headaches than anyone else hands down. It’s just that they actually decided to do it for the LSU game.

Also, I think it’s time to start Chad Jones at nickelback. Poor Danny McCray has had too many strikes against him on the field now.

4) This isn’t LSU’s last loss of the season. Sorry. But I don’t mean that in a negative way, like the Bayou Bengals are going to totally tank it now. LSU has inexperience in key positions, and the 2009 version of the Tigers will be a better football team.

The goal in ’08 should be to compete for the West (which the Tide will make very difficult) and show up on New Year’s Day for a bowl.

Basically, it’s up to LSU to beat the teams they’re supposed to. They weren’t supposed to beat Florida.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this. I’ll bet the majority of you Tiger fans thought when it was 20-14 that the Tigers could come back and win the game.

Think about that. After how poorly the Tigers played in the first half, it was a one-score game in the Swamp. Now it wasn’t in the cards this time, but think of how many other times Les and the crew have pulled out these kinds of games.

That feeling, that belief, that we could come back and win is a totally foreign feeling to Louisiana sports fans. Year after year seeing the Saints snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and seeing LSU ride the roller coaster of success and disappointment, we have it engrained in our psyche to be pessimistic. We never trust good fortune or believe that luck will find its way to us.

But admit it, when it was 20-14, you thought LSU could come back despite all the signs that pointed against it. The thought crossed your mind. Your way of thinking has changed.

Although the ball didn’t bounce the Tigers’ way this time, I’d like you to think about the fact that Les Miles had a lot to do with that particular change in the framework of your mind. He rewired your outlook and how you root for your team.

Just something to think about—it was one of the few positives I took from Saturday night as I realized that there’s much more to being a fan of a team than the outcome of one game on one particular night.

Stop sulking, Tiger fans—you have a chance to make Steve Spurrier unhappy this week. That should put a smile on your face.

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