Ouch. This one stings. For me, it stings worse than the Auburn loss. I guess only because the later you get into the season the closer you get to realizing how close you are to great post season opportunities, only to see them dashed away (though I'm not yet certain we're a lock to not make the BCS, though I think the likelihood is pretty small).
I spend most of my time being optimistic about the state of LSU football, the success of Coach Miles, our strong defensive coordinator and gobs of talent. But tonight is just one of those nights where you can't help but feel down... deflated. In truth, we had a successful season. We've improved every year over the past three years. Most penciled us in for at least three losses, and happily declared a 10-2 season would be a resounding success. Well, here we are. How does it feel?
I think in a few days, when I'm completely over the loss, I'll look back and genuinely say, "It was a good regular season." Unfortunately, the bitter taste of defeat is still fresh on my tongue. It's tough losing late. It's tough going from near BCS lock to likely Capitol One Bowl bound (which is the SEC nightmare bowl, to make matters worse). So it is... there's plenty of time to discuss outcomes later, let me get back to the task at hand.
I can't help but feel this was our worst showing of the year. Neither the offense, nor the defense played well. We missed a field goal. We turned the ball over on special teams (fluky as it was). It seemed apparent early on that the ball just wasn't going to bounce our way today. But really, when I look back on it, this game perfectly encapsulates our team from the year: Moments of greatness, surrendering big plays on defense (more on that later) and offensive ineptitude. I'm not big on "one call" or "one play" making a game, but it is weird to think back and realize that we were about 4 plays away from being undefeated (two big Auburn TD runs, two big Arkansas TD catches).
Defensively, what has happened? Honestly, I can't help but believe the defense just wore down after having to soldier through so many early season games shouldering the team. At least, that's what I want to hope is what happened, because if not, we have some serious defensive coordination issues. Realistically, injuries played heavily into the mix as well. We played some good offenses with experienced quarterbacks down the stretch, and those teams took advantage of our defensive weaknesses. But I do believe we wore down. Teams had little to no success running the ball on us early in the year, but as the season wore down you saw teams being more and more effective doing it.
I hate picking on a particular player, and overall the defensive unit did not play well as a whole, but I just can't go without acknowledging Karnell Hatcher's poor play. I've not been a fan of Hatcher all season. He's a one-dimensional safety that closes hard on the run and often goes for the killshot rather than making sound tackles. His game, from my perspective, is better suited at linebacker. Arkansas went at him today, and twice he was directly responsible for huge plays in the passing game. It's unfortunate to think that without those two plays, we probably win this game. I may even go as far as to say without the one at the end of the 1st half, we win the game, because that really shifted everything for the 2nd half.
Speaking of those huge plays, it's remarkable to look at this issue that has plagued our defense all season long. Here's a breakdown of big scoring plays we surrendered.
Big Passing TDs Surrendered
97 yards (UNC)
65 yards (OM)
85 yards (Arky)
80 yards (Arky)
39 yards (Arky)
Big Rushing TDs Surrendered
49 yards (Auburn)
70 yards (Auburn)
50 yards (OM)
Ouch. Keep in mind, this is only scoring plays. I imagine there's plenty of other examples of big plays we gave up throughout the year. Overall, I think Chavis made strides with the defense from year one to year two. The pass rush certainly improved. Losing Sam Montgomery likely altered this defense in ways we will never know. Not that Lavar Edwards hasn't played well, but Sam is just a special kind of talent and difference maker and having BOTH of those guys rotating is even more menacing. Losing Brandon Taylor just added to the devastation. I do have some lingering concerns about our defenses ability to perform against unconventional offenses (Auburn/Ole Miss) and in big time games (Arkansas). These were major criticisms of Chavis prior to his arrival at LSU and thus far I've seen nothing to alter that perception. However, Chavis is a great teacher of fundamentals, and I do think he's still good enough to win a championship with (though I'm a rueing that early season matchup with Oregon next season).
Offensively... what more can you say? We saw a little bit of both Jordan Jefferson/swag today. We saw the atrocious offensive line play that ravaged our chances last season. We saw the horrible game planning, clock managing and play calling that made us all despise Gary Crowton (who I seriously doubt coaches another game at LSU). Early season I declared that LSU found something to hang their hat on... a zone blocking, downhill running scheme. Well, we sorta did that? It never seemed like we stuck with that identity. Instead, we kept trying to be "multiple" whatever the hell "multiple" means. Our grab bag offense worked just well enough for most of the season, but today our inability to convert in the red zone, get the ball to our playmakers (I know Randle is hobbled, but one catch?) and stick to our strengths (Ridley had 17 carries... and ran it at a respectable 4.4 clip) are just microcosms of the painful struggles we have witnessed for the previous two seasons. About the only good thing we did on offense was hit 10 different receivers in meaningful game action. I can't remember the last time we had so many different targets.
The offense had ridiculous field position all day long. Zod AVERAGED 40.8 yards on kick returns. That's an incredibly high average for someone who didn't house one of them. Even Ron Brooks' single return he got out past the 30. Yet, we were unable to capitalize. JJ spent a lot of the night running for his life. The pass protection was dreadful. PJ Lonergan played his worst game in a long time. Two costly poor snaps and just general suckage up front. Oh yeah, losing Alex Hurst didn't help our line much either.
Overall, we've made positive strides the past two seasons. By all means, we should be better next year. But, I can't help but shake this nagging bug of "when will Miles lose less than two?" If anyone has a good way to assuage that doubt for me, I'd love to hear it. I also think there's a decent probability we may be looking for a new coach in January. I can't see Rich Rodriguez lasting at Michigan, and I know Miles would be near the top of the list, whether Michigan fans want it or not. So maybe that question will answer itself for me.
Don't read me wrong. I like Miles. I want Miles to be our coach. If he returns, I won't crow about how we're sure to lose X number of games because Miles is our coach. The people that believe that nonsense are foolish and like Les said probably don't think their wives are pretty or whatever the hell he said.