WORSHAM: On the Ball
Unlike fans, Tigers showed up Saturday
Since the Superdome clock hit all zeroes Jan. 9, there was only one date on the mind of every player, coach, and fan affiliated with LSU football.
Nov. 3, 2012.
Of course, that was the next time LSU would face off against Alabama. Not only would Nick Saban and co. be back in the state of Louisiana, but they’d also on LSU’s very own turf in Death Valley.
But when the Tiger Stadium clock hit 0:00 on Nov. 3, there was no such tendency to look forward Nov. 9, 2013, LSU’s next matchup with Alabama. There was no looking forward at all, really - only a strange combination of pride in an exemplary effort and somber reflection on a stolen 21-17 Alabama victory.
It wouldn’t have been all that surprising, then, had LSU taken the field Nov. 10 with a hangover worthy of the Cajun Cannon. With all the build-up to Nov. 3, a letdown on Nov. 10 wasn’t just a possibility, but a probability. The question was just how “down” LSU would “let.”
Instead, on Saturday, with championship aspirations all but done and dusted, the Tigers took the field like champions. Les Miles’ team came out focused and energetic, even without a clearly energizing goal upon which to focus.
That’s a feat not even Saban’s Alabama - defeated by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at home 29-24 - could pull off.
Against a much-improved Mississippi State team whose quarterback played one of the best games of his career, the Tigers overcame an early punch in the mouth - in the form of a quick 7-0 State lead - to roll on to a 37-17 victory.
No, there’s no doubt the LSU players showed up on Saturday night. The same can’t be said for LSU’s fans, however.
Ignore the 92,000+ announced attendance - that’s a paid figure. In real terms, the stadium was under 90,000 at kickoff. (Blame Johnny Football’s triumph in Tuscaloosa pushing into the kickoff, I suppose.)
Even worse, by halftime, the stadium was, at best, three-quarters full, and with State driving down the field to make it a one-score game with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter, Tiger Stadium had a Spring Game crowd. The half-empty stadium cheered loud and proud, but its chants reverberated off vacant seats and lost serious amplitude.
The most damning evidence to fans’ no-show, however, was how scant postgame traffic was. A week after this writer crossed the Mississippi River bridge, made a u-turn in Port Allen, and returned to mid-city via I-10 just to avoid the traffic radiating from campus, the roads were eerily empty by 10:30 p.m., just as Charles Hanagriff’s post-game radio show got under way.
Personally, it rubs me the wrong way that a ticket-wielding fan base can be so quick to complain about rising prices yet forfeit half the ticket’s value by skipping out after 30 minutes.
It rubs me even worse how the Tiger not-so-faithful can so quickly boo a quarterback for throwing an interception or a receiver for dropping a pass, but can’t stick around to watch Zach Mettenberger and Jarvis Landry begin develop the makings of one of the SEC’s deadliest duos.
I suppose that’s the fanbase’s right. But it doesn’t make it right.
Before I move on, let me be clear: I don’t mean to over-generalize here. In addition to the many personal individual reasons many ticket-holders couldn’t attend, it would be unfair to characterize an entire fanbase on the actions of around 40,000 people. LSU’s fans are passionate and proud, and some of the best in the country.
But even the best have bad nights. Just ask Alabama.
And on Saturday night, the fans didn’t have their best night. They didn’t show up. Not like they’re capable of. To compare apples to oranges, the half who weren’t in the stands late in the third quarter performed about as poorly as the Tigers did on the field Jan. 9.
Blame the 2012 team for losing twice and putting itself out of the national championship hunt. Blame the team for failing to meet expectations. Blame the media for setting expectations too high. Blame the hangover from Alabama. Blame a hangover. Blame me for pointing it out. Blame Saban. Blame Obama.
Blame whomever you’d like to blame. The fact remains: a very capable LSU fanbase didn’t perform to its abilities on Saturday night.
The goods news: it didn’t matter - because the Tigers did.
Mettenberger built on a breakthrough showing at Alabama with another masterful outing, completing over 60% of his passes for 273 yards and his first two-touchdown game in conference play. He became the first LSU quarterback with consecutive 200-yard passing games since Jarrett Lee in 2008.
Landry put up 100 receiving yards and a score in the first half alone, the first time a Tiger has done that in over a decade.
The defense held MSU to less than two yards a carry; forced two turnovers; returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown - just the third 100-yard scoring play in LSU history.
The Tigers did all this and more, and they did it without the support they deserved.
Next week, LSU wraps up the season with a 2:30 p.m. game in Tiger Stadium against Ole Miss. The seniors will take the field in Death Valley for the last time.
Hopefully, they’ll do so in front of 92,000. And hopefully, they’ll leave the field in front of as many.
Even with two losses, they deserve at least that much.
Cody Worsham is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine covering football and men’s basketball. Reach him at email@example.com.