Despite a Disappointing Season, the LSU Program Is Still “Damn Strong”

Brian Scott@@mancaveradioshoAnalyst INovember 29, 2008

Before the confetti even dropped on LSU’s second BCS Championship in five seasons, the distractions had already started. Les Miles humiliated his Alma Mater and ESPN’s golden boy Kirk Herbstreit on the morning of the SEC Championship Game by announcing that the reports of him leaving LSU for Michigan were false.

He further endeared himself to LSU fans by referring to his Tigers as a “damn strong” football team, then gave a half a hand wave to the media and with a trademark smirk, he sneered “Have a great day!”

By then, it was obvious that defensive coordinator Bo Pelini would be taking the head coaching job at Nebraska and some major changes would be coming in the offseason.

Depending on how close you paid attention to the LSU football team on a day to day basis, you may or may not have seen the departure of Ryan Perrilloux coming.

Most of the LSU faithful knew that there was some talent waiting in the wings at quarterback, but I believe that the national championship hangover clouded their vision just enough that they failed to realize just how much experience trumps talent in that position. The coaches knew, however, and that’s why Andrew Hatch started the season.

But to most of the Tiger faithful, the fall of Ryan Perrilloux was more imminent than shocking. The real shock, however, came when Les Miles announced that he would not be replacing Bo Pelini with another star defensive coordinator.

Instead, he would be promoting position coaches Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto to being co-defensive coordinators.

Even my eleven year old nephew was scratching his head. Was there nobody good enough? Was the guy Les wanted not available for this season? Do you mean to tell me that there was not one qualified candidate in the country that wanted to come coach at what had become known as Defensive U?

Though not likely, it could have been that either Mallory or Peveto could have done a decent job as defensive coordinator. There needed to be one guy steering the ship while the rest of the crew was working.

The point is that the position coaches are the ones that develop the close relationships with the players, and the DC is right there in their face every day demanding results.

There was obviously nobody demanding results from the LSU defense this year.

Losing to Florida was acceptable this year. After all, they are unquestionably the best team in the country right now. Losing to Georgia would have been more acceptable had LSU not spotted them 17 points off of two “pick sixes” and another interception in filed goal range. But Georgia was a better team and should have won.

For the one game that this LSU team got up for this year, they exposed Alabama’s many weaknesses. But more free points let the Tide get out of Baton Rouge with thievery.

After the Alabama loss, it was clear that the players were sensing that the horrible play calling on both sides of the ball and overall bad decisions by the coaching staff were causing them to lose instead of helping them win—and their lack of inspired play proved it.

Now, there is no excuse for any college football player on any team to give up half way through the season, regardless of the circumstances. But that’s when coaching leadership comes into play. The lack of a single decision maker on defense and Miles’ unwillingness to intervene proved to be the wheel that came off the wagon.

You know you have a serious problem when you have to rally a miracle comeback just to beat Troy. But when you lose to a perennial SEC bottom dweller like Ole Miss, it’s really time to roll some heads.

Ole Miss had replaced Vanderbilt as the SEC whipping post. While they fielded a better than average team this year for the first time since Eli manning was on campus, the program itself is a joke.

Without even a single trip to the SEC Championship game, no national championships from a legitimate wire service, and a fan base so small that all of the pregame tailgaters can fit on one small patch of dead grass in the middle of campus, it would have been more respectable to lose to Troy.

After a wake up call like that you would think that the coaching staff would have made some serious adjustments. But in the first two drives against 4-7 Arkansas, the LSU defense was once again shredded as they stuck to the Big 10 style formation ran Gerry DiNardo out of Baton Rouge.

The coaches finally woke up and realized that blitzing with fast defensive players is an effective way to shut down any offense, especially an average one like Arkansas. What do you know? The Tigers went up 30-14.

Now, most coaches would have still be nervous about losing that lead and kept up the intensity. But not the two-headed monster Les Miles created. They quit blitzing, went to a prevent defense with most of the fourth quarter left to go, and completely lost composure.

Instead of an Arkansas drive dying on their own 10 yard line, the LSU defense decided to extend the drive by committing a personal foul. Then the officials just had a field day, giving LSU penalty after penalty until Arkansas was in the red zone. The writing was on the wall.

Now, the most amusing part about all of this is watching the homers from other SEC teams getting so excited about watching the hiccup in the LSU dominance of the last decade. They are looking at one season and predicting the downfall of the program.

Good, let them think it. They can join the LSU fair weather fans and have a big pity party. Meanwhile, the real college football fans will sit back and watch LSU continue to reload.

How quickly they forget that a year after winning a national championship, Florida lost four games including a bowl game to a pitiful Michigan team who had already fired their head coach. They also did this with a Heisman trophy winner under center. Now Florida is poised to win another crystal football.

Everyone keeps calling LSU the “defending national champs.” Well, that’s true in the sense that Louisiana State University won the national championship last year. But looking at the roster, less than half of the starters in 2008 were starters in 2007, and the most important positions had the youngest players.

This team represented the University that won it all last season, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that by beating LSU you beat the defending national champs.

Les Miles will show what he’s made of in the coming weeks. If he makes the obviously necessary staff changes, then focuses on winning a bowl game and on to spring training, then he and his damn strong football team will be fine.

The LSU doomsday predictors (more like wishful thinkers) should also look at the recruiting class which will likely be ranked No. 1 or close to it. A class, I might add, that includes the No. 1 recruit in the nation, Russell Shepard.

The bottom line is this, LSU is still LSU. This elite program had a down season, but the program itself is far from down. Remember, when it comes to BCS Championships: most have none, some have one, but only one has two...LSU!


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