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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicken Little Tigers

And the annual ritual is underway, again. It's happening earlier than normal this year, but it is happening right on schedule.

The LSU Tigers under Les Miles have suffered their first loss of the season. Like most years, that first loss has come to an underdog opponent; they are usually favored most weeks. Unlike most years, the Tigers dropped one at home to a visiting underdog opponent. And unlike any year in this century, they were slapped around the building by visiting underdog opponent Mississippi.


THE SKY IS FALLING

And here we go. The Golden Age of LSU Football is coming to and end! LSU is going to go winless in SEC play! Everyone knew this would happen when Nick Saban left (almost 10 years ago)! It's time to finally FIRE LES MILES TONIGHT!!!

"What? You think I haven't heard it all before?" 1
WHAT HAPPENED

Slow down, Chicken Little Tiger fans! The sky is not falling. What happened is that LSU lost by six points to Mississippi State University, 35-29, for the first time since 1999 and for the first time at home since 1991.

What happened is that LSU's game plan ignored the strength of MSU's defensive front seven while ignoring the Bulldogs' relative weakness in the secondary and failing to adjust. What happened was that the Tigers were completely unprepared for the dynamic playmaking potential of MSU quarterback Dak Prescott. What happened is that LSU Head Coach Les Miles earned an "F-" for preparing his team to play its SEC opener last Saturday.

Nobody saw MSU QB Dak Prescott, right, coming. 2
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN

Les Miles did not forget how to coach football; his local critics likely think he never could in the first place, but I'll let his win-loss record over nine years speak for itself. LSU was not overrated at #8, going into last Saturday's game; the team was just three weeks removed from erasing a 17 point deficit at a neutral site to beat a ranked Wisconsin team. And while LSU had some of its shortcomings exposed, it didn't lose to a hapless SEC opponent.


WHY DID IT HAPPEN

Last Saturday had factors that combined for the perfect storm for LSU to suffer a loss to an underdog opponent. LSU is a team that is not set up to beat its opponents with passing. Starting sophomore QB Anthony Jennings of LSU is not a good passer. He, generally, appears comfortable managing the LSU offense and handing the essential duties of a quarterback in that offense.

LSU has an embarrassment of riches in its backfield. Between the (unreasonable) Heisman expectations of freshman RB Leonard Fournette to the power and experience of senior Kenny Hilliard to Terrence McGee and the rest of the Clydesdale horses lined up behind Jennings, this offense is capable of overwhelming opponents with sheer brute force.

LSU has a young but incredibly athletic and opportunistic defense. Its front seven can smother an opponent's running backs. The defensive backs are as quick and opportunistic as any in the SEC. So why did LSU lose?

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Regional and national pundits often commented on the rapid development of the MSU program under Coach Dan Mullen. Dak Prescott was (unrealistically) whispered as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and (reasonably) expected to have a breakout season. The Bulldogs' front seven was regarded by many SEC media pundits as possibly the best in the SEC. This is not "your daddy's" Mississippi State team.

Les Miles game planned as though none of those Bulldogs improvements took place between last season and this season. Miles stubbornly tried to run the ball down the Bulldogs' throat and when that was not effective, they ran the ball some more. Instead of taking advantage of what appeared to be a porous MSU secondary, Miles and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron insisted that LSU's strength could better MSU's strength. In addition, while I'm not sure if Dak Prescott expected Dak Prescott to have the spectacular breakout performance he had, the Tigers appeared to be completely flat footed and unable to adjust to him until LSU was in a 24-point hole late in the game.

Mississippi State students (especially Prescott, in the middle of the swarm of cheerleaders) make a rare trip back from Baton Rouge with a reason to smile. 3
SILVER LINING

Chin up, Tigers fans. In spite of what can only be described as an uninspired embarrassment and butt-whooping at the hands of MSU, the fact is that LSU has the ball in Bulldogs' territory on the final play of the game with a change, albeit a slim one, to win the game. Freshman backup quarterback Brandon Harris came off of the bench and, with his rocket arm, almost led the Tigers to three rapid-fire touchdowns in the final minutes of the game. It would have been one of the most miraculous comebacks in the history of college football. What was evident was Harris' enormous potential.

If "if" were a fifth we could stay drunk all day. LSU did not win. It was completely out-coached, out-manned, and out-physicaled by a Mississippi State team that came to Baton Rouge focused with a plan an three and two-thirds quarters of pristine execution of that plan. The better team won on Saturday. However, Mississippi State looked its absolute best and LSU looked its absolute worst. A savage beating at the hands of a conference rival can force a team to look hard at itself, humble itself, and make tough adjustments. Based on the prior nine years under Les Miles, there is no reason to expect those corrections not to happen.

Brandon Harris, right, provided LSU a spark with the speed of a bolt of lightning in the 4th quarter. 4
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1) Image from www.al.com
2) Image from www.espn1420.com
3) Image from www.usatoday.com
4) Image from www.nola.com

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