A friend had called this week the biggest game of the Les Miles Era in the last few days, and I couldn't help but agree. Losing to Alabama is one thing, but to let them beat you twice, two years in a row, would be a bad sign of dangerous regression.
I'll quote Poseur:
You can lose to Arkansas. It happens. But LSU got its doors absolutely blown off by Arkansas, and not even a particularly great Arkansas team.
And while it's unfair to just chalk this game up to an Arkansas hangover, when Sebastian Tretola stomps on the Tiger Eye at midfield, and the Razorbacks refuse pre-game handshakes, it's pretty clear this game means more to them than it does LSU.
This felt like the end of something. Of what, I'm not sure. Of the Les Miles Era? Maybe, maybe not. There are still three games left, counting the bowl, and those matter. Win out and a two-loss season with a 6-2 conference mark is more or less in line with what most expected for this team.
But does anybody really feel like this team is about to do that?
This loss was historic, for a number of reasons. LSU is now 27-3 following a loss under Les Miles. All three losses have come against Arkansas. It marked just the third time in the last 11 years that the Tigers have lost back-to-back games. It marked the most yards LSU has allowed in back-to-back games since 1994. The first back-to-back rushing games of 113 yards or less since 1999.
And if LSU loses to Ole Miss on Saturday, it will be the first three-game losing streak since that final season of Gerry DiNardo. If it goes beyond that well...that's just not acceptable.
End of the Les Miles Era? I don't know. Is there the political will at a university that has been utterly bludgeoned by budget cuts to pay an eight-figure buyout, plus hand out another $4-5 million contract to another head coach? Even with TAF and the athletic department in the best financial shape in decades, I can't answer that.
I do, however, feel safe in saying that this overall coaching staff, as currently constituted, will not be back next season. Cam Cameron's contract is up after this season, and between both his health and the current regression we're seeing, it's hard to imagine he'll be back (to be honest, not sure that was a lock even if this offense was performing). It's only a matter of time before Frank Wilson lands a head-coaching job somewhere, and with so many jobs open already there will be a lot of movement. Ed Orgeron possibly as well, depending on what jobs he's willing to take. Special teams have become an utter disaster under Bradley Dale Peveto, although he's been too valuable in this recruiting cycle to go anywhere before National Signing Day. It's only a matter of time before Corey Raymond is offered a coordinator position at another program as well.
A new offensive coordinator might just be throwing more money down the hole. Sure, it's easy as fans to say "well just make Les go hire an up-and-coming guy" and so on, but honestly that rarely works out. If a program is going to go in a new offensive direction, it has to be a true program shift from the top-down or it just makes things worse (see Gary Patterson with Sonny Cumbie versus Tommy Tuberville with Tony Franklin). I can't say whether that would truly happen with Les.
You know what's funny? If Mark Richt is out at Georgia (and beating Auburn may have helped save him), that would have made Les the acting dean of SEC coaches next season in year 12. It's really hard to last that long at one place in coaching. Very few do it. Even fewer last longer.
Will Les Miles? For the first time in about six years or so, I'm not sure. But change is coming. It's just a question of what that means.
As for the game itself...
- I debated how much of this to write up, because it's all fairly obvious. If you spot anybody a 21-point lead, you're in deep shit, I don't care what kind of team you have.
- A lot of fans have wanted to see this team spread the field more, and that's more or less what they got. LSU was in three- and four-wide receiver sets for most of the night, even before Arkansas jumped out. It seemed like an overreaction to last week, at least in my opinion, and the team didn't look particularly equipped to handle it at multiple levels. Maybe it was the injuries to Dillon Gordon and DeSean Smith that made LSU feel like they had to keep tight ends off the field, but regardless.
- In some ways, LSU's first offensive play said a lot about this game. Call was a play-action levels concept, with three receivers running crossing routes at different depths. Brandon Harris had Malachi Dupre WIDE open. If he lays the ball to Dupre in stride, he runs for at least a good 20-plus yards and he maybe even takes it to the house. Harris gunned the ball right into the back of a defender's helmet.
The opportunity was there, and the Tigers just didn't take it.
- I have absolutely no idea what's happened to this offensive line, which was so dominant for the first seven games and absolutely sieve-like for the last two. Jerald Hawkins looked gimpy, so there's at least some explanation there. But Arkansas came into this game with eight total sacks on the season. They came out with 13.
- Sack No. 1 was just that -- Alexander is on his heels bull-rushed, Harris tried to step up but there was nowhere to go in front of him.
- No. 2: Another bull-rush on Alexander forces Harris to step up, but Will Clapp's man does a smart thing and rolls into the lane to funnel him back inside where the rest of the rush was waiting.
- No. 3: Hawkins just couldn't get out of his stance quickly enough on a speed rush. You could tell it was the ankle.
- No. 4, the sack/fumble: Arkansas times a blitz incredibly well and Harris rolled right into where the linebacker was coming from. He tried to make a play instead of eating the ball, pursuit got him.
- I will say this much -- I thought K.J. Malone did a fantastic job filling in for Hawkins on those 2 scoring drives. Showed a real mean streak at times. After that, he faded with the rest of the team.
- Everything looked consistently off until LSU's last two drives of the first half, and even then they needed a miracle of a touchdown off the karam. All I saw was Harris gun the ball low at Travin Dural's feet and then *poof* it was in Dupre's hands. It was a great heads up play by Dupre, but it shouldn't have come to that.
- Leonard Fournette gets going on the first drive after intermission, takes it right down the field for six, and looks like they're waking up. And then special teams gives Arkansas good field position, they go right down the field and LSU decides "nah, we're done with this." Just no energy after that point.
- Second consecutive game where Brandon Harris just looked like he had absolutely zero confidence, aside from the final drive of the first half, where he was basically stepping up and firing the ball into guys. He was particularly bad on the zone-read.
- LSU AVERAGED 10 yards per third-down conversion length. Against a cover-two defense, that's virtually impossible. The will open up the umbrella, give up the underneath and force you to either settle, or take a sack trying to create something down the field. LSU usually chose the latter.
- Defensively, I'm not even sure what to say. If you'd told me LSU would hold Brandon Allen to 9-of-16 passing for 141 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 pick? Just three of 10 on third down? I would have assumed blowout. Instead, three plays of 50-plus yards for touchdowns, and that was basically the difference.
- On the first TD to Dominque Reed, Dwayne Thomas fell down on the reception. After that, Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson took about the worst angles possible as he went to the sideline and took themselves basically out of the play. There appeared to be some miscommunication before the snap that resulted in Reed getting so open, but it was the poor angles that really created the big play.
- The 80-yarder to Alex Collins was a trap play and somehow, despite running into a throng of 4 defenders, nobody tackles him. Once he got through and took off, that was it. Debo took a false step left in the hole, and Rickey Jefferson over-ran the play too far to recover. Kendell Beckwith got a hand on him just as an offensive lineman came up to peel him off.
- Once Arkansas re-established their two-score lead, their playcalling shifted more into eating clock with a lot of rush attempts. Which is why the end-around was a perfect change-up there. The motion screamed play-side run and Jared Cornelius came right around the backside. Jamal Adams was blocked easily by the left tackle, and Jefferson was just flat-out abused by Cornelius on the sidelines.
- I think that's all I can stand to re-watch. The program remains at a crossroads. What happens over the next two weeks will decide quite a bit. LSU matches up incredibly well with Texas A&M, which has plenty of problems on its own. But Ole Miss will be incredibly difficult to stop with that receiving corps. We joke about never knowing what will happen next in the Miles Era. But that means something different now.