WORSHAM: On the Ball
Painful loss not the end of the world for LSU
A weird thing happened in the moments after LSU’s painful-beyond-words 21-17 loss to Alabama on Saturday night.
As I got up to leave press row and head down to the locker room for postgame quotes, I dropped the old iPhone 3 I use as a recorder, which sent the thing into a Thanksgiving night sort of coma.
A little technical trickery and resetting later, I had the thing rebooted and ready to record, and it successfully captured the aching voices of the Tigers from the locker room.
But as I returned to the press box for some postgame tidying, I couldn’t find the recordings, which are automatically organized by date. No entries existed for Nov. 3, 2012.
I then recalled the earlier drop and reset, so I checked the date on my phone’s system.
Jan. 9, 2012.
In case you’ve blocked that painful date from your memory, that’s the night LSU lost to Alabama in the BCS title game. The night Nick Saban stole the crystal ball from the team that beat him earlier in the season. The night LSU’s offense didn’t cross midfield.
Yeah, that night.
I’m not sure why my phone picked that date. Maybe it was a weird coincidence.. Maybe it was Saban’s ghost taking a victory lap around Tiger Stadium, taking out his wrath on outdated technology. Maybe I’m making this up. (I’m not.)
Whatever it was, it was weird.
And it was also wrong.
Saturday night wasn’t Jan. 9. It wasn’t the sort of loss that sends a fanbase into lunacy. It wasn’t an existential nightmare of ineptitude and impotence. It wasn’t a soul-destroyer.
Saturday night, instead, was a heart-breaker.
To have victory stolen the way Alabama stole it Saturday night, using a five-play, 72-yard drive to take the lead with 51 seconds left - that was tragic for LSU.
To finally get the breakout game from Zach Mettenberger, who was the best player on the field for the first time in his college career in the biggest game of his college career, only to lose - that was bitter for the Tigers.
To see Les Miles’ gambling finally get the best of him on two failed special teams tricks and some fourth-down failures - that was almost more than anyone in Baton Rouge could bear.
To watch Nick Saban and A.J. McCarron, and not Miles and Mettenberger, leave with national title hopes intact- that was unforgettable.
But if you ask me, an unforgettable loss like Saturday’s is far superior to a forgettable one like Jan. 9. To lose a game that could have been won is far preferable to losing one that you were never in.
To have your heart broken is better than to have your soul crushed.
Unlike Jan. 9’s loss, the loss on Nov. 3 provided something to build on, rather than something to forget about.
Mettenberger’s marvelous 14-of-17, 202 yard, 1 TD second half will inspire hope in an LSU offense that has sought a quarterback for five seasons.
On Saturday night, LSU found that quarterback.
Jeremy Hill’s 29 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown was his third straight game over the century mark, and this one came against the nation’s best rushing defense.
Not bad for a guy who started the season as a fifth-string tailback.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. finally lived up to their billing as go-to wide receivers in the SEC. Landry scored a touchdown and converted three crucial third downs, while Beckham hauled in one of the finest catches you’ll see all season to convert a big third down of his own. The sophomore duo racked up nearly 150 yards receiving between them, half of Mettenberger’s total.
The Tiger offensive line got the better of the nation’s best front seven, protecting Mettenberger effectively and establishing the run.
And the defense, minus two late-half slip-ups, kept the Alabama offense in check.
No, this was not Jan. 9. This was not a game that LSU forgot to show up for. This was a team that was told it couldn’t win, and still believed it could.
“Our football team came in here to play to win,” Les Miles said afterward. “We did not go timidly into the game. We went after it.”
This was a team as stubborn as its leader, as downright determined to win as the school’s winningest coach in history - a coach who, despite missed field goals, blown assignments, and several other game-deciding mistakes, took the bullet for his men after the game.
“I can tell you this, I’m proud of my team,” Miles said. I loved how they fought. I wish I could have a couple of my calls back, so you know.”
The fake field goal pass to Drew Alleman - yeah, Miles would like that one back. You could criticize him for the failed onside kick, the missed 54-yard field goal, and the conservative third-down play call on LSU’s penultimate possession that led to another missed field goal.
You wouldn’t be wrong. And Miles wouldn’t disagree with you.
Or, you could look on the bright side: the future is bright. Hill is a future pro. Mettenberger can be as good as he wants. The defense continues to impress. A 2012 title might be out of reach, but a 2013 title isn’t.
No, iPhone be damned, this wasn’t Jan. 9. This time, LSU didn’t play not to lose; it played to win. This time, LSU didn’t give up; it just ran out of time.
This time, the Tigers left it all on the field, including their broken hearts.
And that’s okay. After all, broken hearts can be mended.
Cody Worsham is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine covering football and men’s basketball. Reach him at email@example.com