First off, let me just say something to the people who have changed their opinion of the health of LSU's program from December 30th to today: you are an idiot.
Sure, epoch changing games do happen, but they are exceedingly rare and they are not last second losses in meaningless bowl games. The LSU program is exactly as healthy today as it was on December 30th, the only difference is now we have to listen to eight months of caterwauling from the chicken Little crowd. So, yeah, that part is worse, but it's an entirely fan-driven problem, which would be rectified immediately by not whining so much.
Winning is always better than losing, so from that standpoint, I cared about the Peach Bowl. But other than that, not so much. I was barely emotionally invested in the game, and when Clemson took their first lead of the game when time expired, I changed the channel immediately to the SyFy channel marathon of the Twilight Zone.
* It was quite good. I watched Twilight Zone instead of football yesterday as well, and it was glorious. The special effects are hokey and some of the acting is a little hammy, but overall, the series still holds up.
The game itself was a lot like the Citrus Bowl after the 2009 game: an LSU loss that worked as a metaphor for the entire season. LSU lost to Penn State on New Years Day 2010 thanks to an offense that couldn't get out of its own way and of course, some time management issues at the end of the game which made everyone think about the Ole Miss game from a month and a half earlier. This, of course, lead to the latest outbreak of the Catastrophe Syndrome among LSU fans, who were sure we were a program in decline. Remember all that jazz over 8-8 in SEC play in the past two years (ignoring that LSU went 5-3 in 2009, and was one of only three teams in the SEC above 4-4 that year)?
And so the 2012 Peach Bowl went along much the same lines. LSU's offense continued its extended identity crisis, as the coaches tried to continually shove the round peg into the square hole by trying to pretend LSU is a wide open passing attack. LSU kept forcing the ball into the hands of Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill, who was having a pretty stout day by any standard. This continued even in the final two minutes of the game when the team needed to run clock and did so by throwing three consecutive times.
However, the biggest issue with the 2012 team has been finishing games, particularly on defense. Just as clock management kept raising its head in 2009, defending the two minute drill kept coming back to haunt this team in 2012 again and again. The Peach Bowl managed to be the worst late game defensive effort, as Clemson successfully managed two two-minute drills, including the last drive keyed by a fourth and 16 conversion.
This was the season in a miniature. LSU lost to Alabama and Florida both on late drives. Even in wins, the LSU defense failed to stop frantic last minute drives: Texas A&M and South Carolina both scored touchdowns in the last two minutes to narrow games seemingly out of reach into one possession games. Mississippi State drove down the field before throwing a 100 yard interception to seal the loss. Ole Miss managed to gain 32 yards on their last possession but missed a long field goal. Arkansas drove 60 yards in the final minute and a half before time expired on them. Throw in the Clemson game, and that's eight times LSU allowed a two minute drill to gain significant yardage and six times LSU allowed points. Washington and Auburn were the only two BCS conference teams who did not mount a two-minute drill against LSU this year to some degree of success.
Is it all on the defense? Of course not. The defense had a pretty good excuse against Clemson and in most of those other games, the offense couldn't stay on the field and the cumulative effect of fatigue took its toll late.
An even larger issue is why fatigue played such a large role this year: this team just got hit with personnel loss after loss. Whether by injury (Alfred Blue, Chris Faulk, a whole host of others), suspension (NICKNAME REDACTED), or just straight up quitting the team (Alex Hurst, in one of the more bizarre stories I can remember), this team just kept losing player after player. LSU lost its best players, a little over a quarter of its starting lineup from fall camp, and a whole heck of a lot of depth.
Luckily, LSU had depth to fill the holes, but once you use your backups to fill starting jobs, you no longer have backups for the backups. LSU uses a lot of rotations, particularly on the lines, and the sheer loss of manpower was the biggest factor this season. I've said it before, but imagine if Alabama had lost Milliner, Lacey, and Jones. Then lost another four starters for good measure.
The fact Miles was able to steer this team through this minefield of a season, Clemson was the fifth ten-win team LSU faced this year, is a real accomplishment. The fact he did it with a team that forced a bunch of freshmen and sophomores into starring roles is nothing short of remarkable. If you look at the schedule and the challenges this team faced, LSU should not have won ten games. But it did.
Sure, this game and this season were a bit of a disappointment. It's always better to win rather than to lose, but this was an undermanned team that lost a lot of games in the final minute, while it also tried to transition its offense.
LSU is exactly the same team it was on December 30th: a team forced to use its underclassmen to get through the season due to massive personnel losses. Guess what? The underclassmen came through. And next year, they will be the veterans, with an actual spring practice under the belt. This season was managed pretty much on the fly, as we tried to paper over leak after leak.
Well, the bad karmic year of 2012 is over. LSU's program is in great shape. The team is stocked with talent, and it is unlikely we will suffer the same rash of injuries and defections next season. This will shore up the depth issues, particularly with regards to fatigue in the final minutes.
Now, about an offensive coordinator...