LSU is what its record says it is
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
When you think back on 2012 LSU football, remember what Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are.”
Les Miles’ Tigers finished 10-3, and looking back on the season in which there were those that expected a No. 1-challenging team, that’s about where under-achieving LSU should be. Disappointing. Again.
We’ll all remember second-and-2 in the fading minutes of the Chick-fil-A Bowl for a long time. But you know what? Even if the Tigers had made it and run out the clock, all that would have meant was they would have stolen a game they had no business winning.
The bigger question was: how in the world was this game as close as 25-24? The Clemson offense ran 100 plays to LSU’s 48, out-gained the Bayou Bengals 445-219, and the Clemson defense sacked Zach Mettenberger a half-dozen times.
For whatever reason, LSU thought it deserved a better bowl and the Tigers didn’t show up on the field against Clemson, Tiger fans didn’t show up in the stands, and Tiger enthusiasm for this game never showed up.
The second-and-2 fiasco that has everyone in a dither right now (and conveniently ignores LSU’s overall ineptitude) was emblematic of the season as a whole. We know there was talent and ability after sterling performances against heavyweights Texas A&M and South Carolina. But in each of the Tigers’ three defeats there were lapses in strategy and less than sterling performances - although it should be pointed out that LSU’s three defeats came by a total of 13 points, and two were against Top 3 opponents.
The first, against Florida, came when LSU recovered a fumble at the Gator 7 near the end of the first half, and used that opportunity more to line up a field goal attempt than work at a touchdown. A 10-0 lead at that point would have been huge. They got a 28-yard field goal to make it a shaky 6-0 lead at intermission.
Then, the most memorable play of the day, breaking an 0-for-9 string on third down, on third-and-8, Mettenberger lofted a 56-yard bomb down the sidelines to Odell Beckham Jr. - who had it stripped by safety Matt Elam. Florida went 77-yards from there against what we came to know as a pretty iffy Tiger defense for the touchdown that sealed its 14-6 victory.
The second LSU loss, against No. 1 Alabama, was highlighted by the infamous fourth-and-12 fake 47-yard field goal in the fading minutes of the half. Bama used the momentum from that stop to drive for its second touchdown and a 14-3 halftime lead.
Then, after LSU regained its footing and took control of the game with a surging offense against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers had a chance to nail down the victory - then went conservative and ran three straight mundane rushing plays only come up empty when Drew Alleman missed a 45-yard field goal.
That opened the gates for Bama’s winning drive in its 21-17 victory.
Those handful of plays tell the story of a promising season gone awry.
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It was hard not to mentally compare quarterback play with LSU’s Zach Mettenberger in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater in the Sugar Bowl, considering the backdrop to the respective stories.
Mettenberger is being made one of the goats of the Tigers’ defeat, although he played reasonably well (14-of-23 for 120 yards and one touchdown) when he had time to breathe after the snaps. Put more of the blame on the offensive line that didn’t protect him. When Mettenberger wasn’t being sacked, he was often pressured. He may not be Johnny Football, but considering the circumstances he did about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. It’s not his fault he wasn’t born with quick feet.
If someone needs to be blamed, put it on the coaches who called the plays and didn’t have their team ready to play.
Louisville and Bridgewater were more than ready for Florida, pulling off the biggest upset in the Sugar Bowl’s 79-year history. The two-touchdown underdog No. 23 Cardinals beat No. 3 Florida 33-23.
Bridgewater was 20-of-32 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and when his line collapsed he often bought time with nimble footwork.
That he was wearing red-and-black instead of purple-and-gold was due to LSU’s ham-handed recruiting tactics. Bridgewater could have been with the Tigers in 2012 either as a starter or a backup to Mettenberger.
When he was being recruited two years ago, he originally committed to his hometown University of Miami. But when the Hurricanes fired Coach Randy Shannon, Bridgewater de-committed, opening the door for then-Tiger assistant Billy Gonzales. Bridgewater was saying last week in Sugar Bowl interviews he was very interested, even though he knew he’d have to bide his time behind Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. He was perfectly willing to red-shirt.
But as he was preparing for his official visit, he got a call from LSU asking him to postpone it because the whole Tiger staff was preparing to go check out this junior college quarterback - Mettenberger.
The way it was handled sent a clear message he was being viewed as a fall-back prospect in case LSU didn’t get Mettenberger.
Goodbye LSU, hello Louisville.
Things don’t always work out the same way in different situations, but Bridgewater threw for 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2012.
It was one of the more interesting background stories of the postseason.
Marty Mule’ is a graduate of LSU Journalism and can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.