Time after time, clock is LSU’s enemy
By CARL DUBOIS
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
I’ll try not to pile on, because it’s poor form - and because Lyle Hitt might fling me off the pile and onto the ground - but Les Miles and his LSU Tigers left the Capital One Bowl wearing some ugly residue.
No, not the muck from the soon-to-be-retired grass at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. This was Mississippi mud, remains from the meltdown at Oxford, a blemish so embedded in the fabric of the football team that LSU couldn’t Shout it out.
In the wake of a season-ending 19-17 loss to Penn State, the first bowl defeat for Miles as coach of the Tigers after victories in his first four, one wonders what LSU really learned from the debacle at Ole Miss.
Soon after Penn State kicked a field goal to regain the lead a few ticks inside the game’s final minute Friday, the Tigers found themselves a yard past midfield with 34 seconds left and no timeouts available. LSU called an inside screen pass, a slip screen that required Brandon LaFell to cut toward the middle of the field and away from the nearest sideline. As bad as that call was - it didn’t give LaFell the option of running out of bounds to stop the clock - what happened next was worse.
The play gained 4 yards, and with Penn State’s Navorro Bowman reclined atop LaFell in the quagmire, Hitt began jostling with Bowman, trying to pry him from LaFell so LSU could hurry into position for the next play. The clock stopped when an official threw a flag.
The call: unsportsmanlike conduct on Hitt and a 15-yard penalty that put the ball back to the LSU 40.
We could debate the wisdom and fairness of the call forever. Let’s not. It’s beside the point. Hitt should have been getting ready for the next play and letting officials sort out the bodies on the ground, and had they deemed Penn State guilty of delaying the game, the responsibility was theirs to make that call.
It’s not Hitt’s job to enforce the rules.
Hitt didn’t just try to remove Bowman from the pile; rather, he aggressively slung him aside. Hitt put himself in a position to be vulnerable for a personal foul, and an official whistled him guilty.
Had he done his job and let the officials do theirs, things might have turned out differently for the Tigers.
But as bad as Hitt’s decision was, what happened next was much worse.
The Tigers argued. They pleaded. They protested. They did not do what they were supposed to do, which was be ready for the next play. There were 23 seconds on the clock. I could hear the whistle from my couch in Baton Rouge, thanks to my television, but LSU players within a few feet of the official apparently didn’t hear it.
That, or they didn’t know what it meant.
Or, they didn’t know what to do next.
It’s pretty simple: Hurry up, line up, snap the ball and spike it.
They could have done that, had they been acting with a sense of urgency and worrying about what was within their control, and left themselves about 20 seconds with which to work. That’s enough time for three plays.
Instead, they slowly moved into position as the clock ran, and ran, and ran.
Count it aloud, so you get a sense of how much time they let disappear: 23 … 22 … 21 … 20 … 19 … 18 … 17 … 16 … 15 … 14 … 13 … 12 … 11 … 10 … and nearly to 9 before the shotgun snap reached the hands of quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Did LSU learn anything from the final minute at Ole Miss? Let’s see.
You expose yourself to ridicule when you blow any chance you have for a comeback? Check.
You need smart play-calling in crunch-time situations? Can’t put a checkmark there.
You must make efficient use of your time, especially with no timeouts? Can’t put a checkmark there.
Luck, more than design, helped LSU defeat Arkansas a week after the loss at Ole Miss. Had the officials correctly ruled Stevan Ridley down inbounds - instead of out of bounds - and kept the clock running, Josh Jasper might not have been able to send the game into overtime. The blown call covered up LSU’s problems in 2-minute situations and helped the Tigers win on a field goal in overtime.
Taken as a whole, the body of evidence of LSU’s game management in the 2009 season shows troubling inefficiencies. Specifically, the haphazard drives at the end of regulation against Arkansas and the end of the game against Penn State indicate a program incapable of learning from its previous, embarrassing mistakes and preparing for the unexpected.
A call goes against you? Have a play ready. No timeouts left? Know you’ve got to spike the ball as soon as possible after it’s ready for play. You move 15 yards backward instead of 15 yards forward? Think of and execute what you rehearsed in practice for when things go wrong.
There is one prerequisite for all of that: the rehearsal. You have to prepare.
All too often, LSU looked like an offense going through the motions, looking to the sideline for help, waiting for someone to make a decision, and lacking the how-to-win awareness in a leader who can seize the moment when the moment is getting away from the Tigers.
Teams often post the score of a bitter defeat all over the locker room for offseason inspiration. LSU needs to do the same with a thousand clocks until the Tigers develop a healthier respect for time and timeouts - and cultivate the inner tick-tock of urgency required when games are on the line and things go awry.
Carl Dubois has covered LSU athletics since 1999. Contact him at email@example.com.