As LSU fans contemplate the rest of the 2009 season, most cannot help remember better times. Times when our defense was dominant and our offense was destructive. Times when runners like LaBrandon Toefield and Ally Broussard dominated time of possession and ultimately the course of the game. NFL defensive lineman dotted the entire roster and was the gold standard of college football. In 2003, the LSU Tigers were the gold standard by which all teams were judged.
However as we approach the end of the decade, times have changed and these Tigers look nothing like the team we saw six years ago. Six years was all it took to go from the college football elite to an above average SEC west team that should not be allowed on the same field as Alabama or Florida. Comparisons to USC have been replaced with comparisons to Auburn and Arkansas. After the MSU game, I reflected on how our beloved tigers got to this point.
1. It is obvious this offense is completely dysfunctional. Great college football coaches have echoed the same tenet for 70 years: offense starts with a solid run game. Any team worth its salt has to be able to run the football. I have not researched this, but I would find it hard to believe a team can win a national title without being in the upper third of running offense. Miles touted Dominique Allen as a freshman fullback that could replace the departed packer Quinn Johnson. Allen showed up 40 pounds overweight and was essentially deemed so deconditioned he does not warrant playing time. Miles has also replaced his predecessors' O-linemen with his own, only to have one of the worst interior lines in school history. While we can call out certain players, the unit has massively underachieved. But this underachievement has been a hallmark since Miles has hit campus. Miles O-line recruits have been arrested, quit, and been thrown off campus. Miles' boys have had the most off-field issues outside of Perilloux. Now, the Tigers are probably starting a couple kids before their time with terrible results.
2. Does this staff care about the front seven and if so, is it too late? While the run game is the major source of concern, the defense has also been less than stellar. While it has improved every game, it is nowhere near the dominant defenses of the early decade. In Miles 4 years, we have seen the defensive talent march out and less march in. While most saw the loss of great defensive linemen to the NFL coming, our preparation for that day has been less than stellar. Al Woods has lost too much ground under Earl Lane to improve his senior year. Alexander is just too injury prone. Drake Nevis is inconsistent. The defensive ends are playing before their time as injuries and attrition have thinned their ranks. The loss of Tremaine Johnson, Marlon Favorite, Tyson Jackson, and Glen Dorsey have exposed the fact that Miles cannot recruit defensive linemen. In addition, the linebacker corps has glaring deficiencies with Kelvin Sheppard playing poor football and Jacob Cutera sustaining another significant injury. The end result is a D-line that cannot rush the passer and a linebacking corp that gets pushed around the field. These issues are compounded by the fact that we hired a defensive coordinator whose scheme is predicated on dominant line play.
While the season is far from lost, this is obviously not your 2003 LSU Tigers. In fact this is obviously not your 2007 LSU Tigers. This is a team that improves week to week in all areas except the run game. While patience is warranted, we are left to wonder if we will ever get back to old form, when we ran over teams and played staunch defense.