We just have to face facts this year. We are a team in transition. Gone are the veteran quarterbacks and in is the rookie. Gone are the veteran defensive backs and in are the untested and inexperienced underclassmen. Gone is Ali Highsmith (I never would have thought he'd be missed so much) and in is a less athletic linebacker. Most of these problems will correct themselves over time, but until then we are going to have to live with mistakes.
We are, still, a good team. We beat Auburn. We beat Mississippi State. We beat South Carolina. It's just that when we've faced the really good teams, our weaknesses have been exploited to a much greater degree. I think the lesser teams of the SEC will continue to be vulnerable to us, but right now we just can't compete with the best of the SEC if they're playing at the top of their games. Next year may be different.
As for the present, I think the game against Tulane presents us with a wonderful opportunity to try some different things. Les Miles famously prefers to play upperclassmen over younger players, but some of the upperclassmen are underperforming and some of the kids have been outstanding in limited action.
Freshman safety Karnell Hatcher has been quite good when he's gotten into the game. Let him split time with Curtis Taylor and see what he can do. Freshman linebacker Ryan Baker has been a missile on kickoff coverage. Let him get some time at weakside linebacker and see if he can be more involved in the play than Perry Riley has been. Drake Nevis has been the most disruptive defensive tackle on the roster, but he seems to rarely play when the other guys are healthy. He should rotate with Ricky Jean-Francois on the other side of Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite to give us that constant combination of run-stuffer and play-disrupter.
I really think it's time for this team to try different things. While we are kind of forced to live with mistakes from our quarterback, why on earth should we live with juniors and seniors who are underperforming? It benefits neither the present nor the future.
I am particularly disappointed in Perry Riley, who before the season started I expected to be an outstanding outside linebacker. It just hasn't worked out that way. He's been OK, but he simply does not seem to have All-SEC upside. Ryan Baker does seem to have that upside. As long as our program doesn't slow him down the way it seems have slowed down Darry Beckwith (who I swear was better as a sophomore than he is now), Ryan Baker will have a brilliant career at LSU. Let it start now.
Karnell Hatcher has been a great surprise. I expected he would likely redshirt, but he has not only played quite a bit, he's the 2nd string free safety, and has made good plays whenever he's gotten in the game. I was particularly impressed with his authoritative tackle of Knowshon Moreno. My first thought in seeing him throw Moreno to the ground was, "I have never seen Curtis Taylor tackle someone like that, and this kid did it to one of the best backs in the country." Taylor has made high-profile mistakes, but even worse, he really hasn't done anything on the field. Why not see what the kid can do? We don't play another team with a really fearsome passing game until we get Arkansas to close out the season, so what's the harm?
I just think that with the team not really having a shot at the national championship, and with certain weaknesses being exposed time and again, it is time to look into easing some of the underperforming players out of the lineup. After all, what exactly has Perry Riley done to deserve the benefit of the doubt?
This is not to pick on Riley and Taylor. Those are two guys who have spent a lot of time in the system without ever once doing anything to bring any kind of shame or embarrassment to the program. They've been solid citizens, Riley for 3 years and Taylor for 5 years. They're also both 1000x better athletes than I have ever been or will ever be. When their playing days are done, I will remember them fondly, as Tigers. But there's no charity in this game. The best player plays, and if you get your chance and don't perform up to standards, someone will be there to take your spot.
I think it's time to start looking around.