There seems to be some sort of clamoring for an apology or a statement of contrition from folks who claim the “ATVS staff spent the whole offseason telling us things would be different.”
So sure, we were wrong.
We were wrong to bet on history and that a team returning 18 starters would improve.
We were wrong to bet that a Junior QB with a full season of starting under his belt would follow a standard improvement curve.
We were wrong to think LSU’s insane talent level combined with legitimate returning experience would mean the best team of the Miles era.
We were wrong to think “same old coach” wasn’t a valid argument against a coach that’s had a top 5 winning percentage in LSU’s “down period.”
So sure, we were wrong.
Every LSU loss is a disorienting, odd experience. But Saturday’s felt the most disorienty and odd. Believe me, having spoken with Billy post game, DMing with Poseur, reading the comments and Twitter, the biggest response is more of a “What just happened?” We’re struggling to jive this one with reality.
And it’s not the loss. It’s the manner in which the loss transpired. It’s the fact that a Wisconsin team I think most Wisconsin folks would tell you is earmarked for a near .500 type season, utterly dismantled an LSU team with National Title aspirations. This wasn’t a fluky bounce of the ball the wrong way loss snatched from the jaws of victory. It would have been an utter crime if LSU won that game. The coaches on the sideline and the players on the field were utterly and terribly outmatched all afternoon.
The question then is why.
We’ve got 10 fingers all pointing in different directions. There’s plenty of blame to dole out. My good friend shot me a text talking about how Ohio State’s title team rallied after losing to a porous Virginia Tech. The truth is, he’s right. My thought is, “yeah, but that doesn’t seem likely.” But again, I guarantee Buckeye fans at the time were running through the same thoughts of, “oh god, if that can happen, what else?” It truly is one game, and judging from some of the players tweets, that seems to be what the coaching staff is pushing.
The primary difference is that Urban Meyer wasn’t on the brink of coaching death prior to his tough loss to Virginia Tech. I think most of us held optimism that Miles’ scare last season might have forced him to answer some tough questions he has long been avoiding.
But I think the answer to that question is that Les remains vigilant to his methodology. There’s something to be said for the mentality, no matter how frustrating it may be for the fanbase. Les is a man of principle. If you go against your principles, what do you even stand for any more?
I think it’s important to understand that Les views football through this prism. So while many clamor to “update the offense” (a complaint I understand from an entertainment perspective though don’t find valid from a football one)*, Les believes in his style. And it’s hard to argue with a man that’s had as much success as him. As heated as you may get in the moment, he can still point to the ultimate “scoreboard” of over a decade of success.
*I found it humorous that a tweet from a Michigan blogger of note insulting our “offense that hasn’t changed since the invention of the lightbulb” went viral Saturday. From his past work, I would think he’d have more thorough insight, but I get the temptation to punch the easy target for attention.
So this is what we are. LSU isn’t going to turn around and suddenly have a hyper modern spread offense with tons of no huddle. We aren’t going to move into a pass-first attack. We’re going to be a team that tries to bleed the clock dry, wear down the opponent and win in the 4th quarter. It’s what Les believes in. It’s his principles.
One thing that made 2011 so delightful was that the team so often dealt the knockout blow about midway through the first half and coasted to victories the rest of the season. I’m not really sure what was different about that squad, and I often use it as a bullet point to defend Les. But I think there’s ample data to suggest they were the exception and not the rule. Even Les’ National Title team, a great team, was more inclined to fight teams to a decision rather than utter bully them into oblivion.
The reality is, this will likely be a long slow death. I want to believe, terribly, that an opening season loss will be so jarring as to shock this team into life. But then, wasn’t that what the near coaching death experience supposed to do? It’s hard to to see Les punching out of this one. He’s painted into the most high pressure corner of his coaching career. Tomorrow, we’re gonna hear a lot about how we need to execute better. We’re gonna hear Les take the fall for the loss. We’re gonna hear many of the same sound bites we’ve heard for the past few years. And that’s okay.
Last year a lot of the fanbase were forced to come to grips with what they were really asking for in firing of Les. But performances like Saturday makes a few more of those voices go quiet. Next week likely won’t be pretty. Jacksonville State is no corpse and they are going to be motivated to make a statement.
So yes, we were wrong. That’s fine. I’m not a coward or afraid to state it. But I’m also not gonna cannibalize to prove the point. I’m not gonna grovel because some dude that’s been calling the decline for a decade finally feels vindicated. LSU will either win a lot of games this year or they won’t. And no matter what happens we will figure it out from there. That’s all we can really do. The good thing, we’re damn good at it. We’re Louisianans. We’re used to having our lives thrown into pieces only for us to pick them up and put them back together even better. No matter what happens, we’ll still be here. Stronger because of yesterday, looking forward to tomorrow.