Who to thank for the Tigers’ 11-win season in 2011
LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee, pictured left vs. Tennessee, and offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert, pictured right celebrating after the team’s Cotton Bowl win, were integral parts of LSU getting to 11-2 (Lee photo by Maggie Bowles; Hebert photo by Ben Love).
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
All right now, who is responsible? LSU has been running up 11-win seasons of late at a jackhammer rate. Four in Les Miles’ six years in Tigertown seems less like a record and more like a trend.
But, admit it, there weren’t many people picking this LSU team to go 11-2, especially after lucking out against North Carolina in the opener and a sluggish showing against Vanderbilt. More people were saying how much Jordan Jefferson hadn’t improved at quarterback than saying the Tigers have improved enough for a double-digit victory season.
So what happened? What was the catalyst? Coaching staff aside, against a daunting schedule that included seven ranked opponents, who transformed what seemed like a rudderless rag-tag bunch in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in September to the crisp, efficient, volatile group we saw in Dallas’ Jerry Jones Stadium four months later?
It’s one man’s opinion, but if I were voting on the MVP of this Tiger team - which finished three touchdowns short of an undefeated season - it would be split between two players that will receive no consideration at all by the folks whose votes really count.
The first would be to T-Bob Hebert, the backup center. In the game-ending debacle against Tennessee, Hebert, in for injured P.J. Lonergan, made what may have been the play of the year.
Remember, it was third-and-goal for the Tigers at the Vol 1 with LSU behind 14-10 and time running out. With the coaching staff inexplicably sending in a last-second flood of substitutes - and Tennessee trying to match the Tigers’, . . . . well, let’s call it “strategy” - Hebert was the only one on the field with enough presence of mind to snap the ball.
It was botched, and Tennessee began celebrating its “victory.” But that was short-lived. The Vols had too many people on the field, LSU got an untimed play and scored a touchdown for a 16-14 victory for its fifth “W” of 2010.
The point is, Hebert, unlike any offensive LSU coach, knew without a snap the Tigers were doomed. By making a play, whether it worked or not, LSU had a chance. Had the Tigers not scored, the entire season could have spiraled out of control. With swing games against Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas still to be played, there easily could have been - maybe even should have been - a disastrous finish, one that would not have ended in a memorable climax in the Cotton Bowl.
The co-MVP would be backup quarterback Jarrett Lee (and wasn’t it classless that he wasn’t given a series or two, like Les Miles said he would, in the Cotton Bowl, before his home-state friends and family?).
In the same Tennessee game that went down to the wire, Lee got his first extended playing time. And, although LSU didn’t score much, LSU had its best offensive showing to that point, 434 total yards.
Tennessee was never the better team that day, it was simply that LSU didn’t take advantage of its superiority. And it was Lee (who was 16-of-23 for 185 yards) who took the Tigers on the 16-play, 69-yard drive that had them on the goal-line. Without Lee that day, Hebert might never have had the opportunity to rescue LSU.
One week later, coming in for Jefferson, it was Lee, who went 9-of-11 for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Florida - the winning play, Lee to Terrence Toliver, coming with six seconds to play.
It happened again against Alabama, when Jefferson left the game in the fourth quarter against Alabama. With less than three minutes remaining, and LSU clinging to its 24-21 lead, Lee came in looking at a third-and-13 at the Tiger 20. All Bama had to do was stop LSU there, get the ball in good field position, and play for the tying field goal, then possibly win in overtime.
Lee hit Rueben Randle for a 47-yard gain, and the game was effectively over.
Yes, LSU had more noteworthy players on this squad. But without these two backups a solid case could be made that this 11-2 team might have been more in the neighborhood of the same dissatisfying 9-4, 8-5 seasons of the last two years.
Would Les Miles’ interest or disinterest in Michigan be a hot topic of conversation in that very close-to-being-real scenario? Or would everyone be calling for Miles’ head?
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.