FISCHER: Outside the Box
Bama’s dreams almost die in Tiger Stadium
Tiger Nation will never forget Les Miles’ first fourth down as LSU head coach.
With the ball at his own 10-yard line, the debut coach allowed punter Chris Jackson to throw a pass to Ronnie Prude for a first down.
It was quite the Broadway premiere, and the ‘Mad Hatter’ was born.
Miles continued his string of taking wacky risks - most of which worked with flying colors - until a little something happened along the way.
He became a close-to-the-vest head coach and began winning games the simplest way possible: defense, special teams, intangibles and just enough offense to get by. The arrival of defensive coordinator John Chavis seemed to coincide with that change.
However that strategy wasn’t gonna be good enough to get by Alabama…the team that the national media (thanks, Spurrier) pontificated about whether they could beat the worst team in the NFL all week…or so we thought.
Therefore, Miles pulled some tricks out of his hat. Tricks that had worked time and time again.
But the Tigers botched a fake field goal attempt.
They botched an onside kick attempt.
And they failed on a fourth down conversion attempt from the ‘Ware-cat’ when a 41-yard field goal could have been attempted.
On Chavis’ defensive side, the Tigers uncharacteristically surrendered a game-winning drive in the game’s final 94 seconds to an Alabama squad that had completed one pass for zero yards in the second half to that point. His uncharacteristically soft defense got the Tide into striking range, and then a perfect play call versus an over-reactive, all-out blitz put the nail in the coffin.
However, the Tigers almost overcame all of those retrospective coaching snafus because they played the best game they’ve played since dismantling Washington eight weeks prior - most notably QB Zach Mettenberger.
Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence was almost.
Mettenberger almost led the Tigers to a victory he would have cemented his name in Tiger lore for by showing all the potential he was supposed to have upon enrolling at LSU.
And where the heck did it come from?
In four career SEC games, the Georgia native completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes three times and had one touchdown compared to two interceptions.
But he saved his best game for when the lights shined brightest. Mettenberger completed 24-of-35 passes for a career-high 298 yards. In the second half, he went six-for-seven on third downs, all for first downs. And right as LSU’s resident quarterback in the press box Bobby Hebert was being escorted out of Tiger Stadium for drunken behavior not becoming of a media member, his counterpart on the field, Mettenberger, almost shared an iconic moment with Jarvis Landry on their 14-yard, back-shoulder connection in the south end zone Saturday night.
But there’s that word again. Almost.
Mettenberger’s heroics in the biggest game he’s ever played in shouldn’t be forgotten and should be appreciated even if he ended the game in the arms of Damion Square in the backfield rather than the arms of his teammates in celebration.
He and said teammates did all they could and deserved a better outcome Saturday night.
Unfortunately for them, their coach reached back into his bag of tricks, and his luck ran out at the most inopportune time - in a game where the Tigers likely didn’t need those tricks to come out on top. But who knew LSU would outplay the nation’s No. 1 team so decisively? Not me. Not many realistic fans. Probably not even Les Miles (although he would never admit it). That’s why you can’t blame him for pulling plays out of his hat just like you can’t blame him for those plays not working. He’s not a genius when they work, and he’s not a buffoon when they don’t. You can’t have it both ways.
However, his failed risks and LSU’s late-game defensive troubles cost the Tigers an opportunity for “visitors’ dreams to go to die” one more time in Death Valley.
Even though LSU and Mettenberger’s greatness almost overcame it.
Richard Fischer is the associate editor of Tiger Rag Magazine covering football and baseball. Reach him at email@example.com.