REYNOLDS: Tigers Refused to Throw in the Towel
While many weren’t overly enthused with the Chick-fil-A Bowl, it was a must-win for Les Miles and the Tigers
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
(At left) LSU running back Charles Scottscored three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech. (Photo by Steve Franz/LSU)
When the official announcement in mid-December came out pairing LSU with Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the feeling of the outcome of this game was overwhelmingly unanimous from Baton Rouge clear down to Peachtree Street.
In fact, the majority of college football fans and so-called experts thought they had this one pegged a cool 20 days before the teams took the field.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a portly fellow we’ll call “Nostrodamus from Swinetown” that read: “As if LSU wasn’t embarrassed enough in Little Rock by a far less talented team, Georgia Tech is going to make Les Miles wish he would have taken the offer from the boys in Ann Arbor.” And for what it’s worth, I still wonder why people send me emails like this, as if I work on LSU’s coaching staff or something.
Anyway, it seems as if it were written in the stars. Georgia Tech was going to feast on the battered and broken LSU Tigers like a pack of dire wolves on a gang of poodles.
As it turns out, the hammer and not a ball was dropped in Atlanta on New Years Eve. But it was the Rambling Wreck that was on the wrong end of the slaughter.
With LSU leading 35-3 at halftime, ESPN College Gameday analyst Lou Holtz made an interesting point. The former Notre Dame head coach said that there were a couple of statistics that nobody was talking about before this game and one of them was that LSU had beaten ACC schools in 17 straight contests.
But it was easy to overlook that statistic if you look at what Georgia Tech was able to do with its option attack during the regular season or if you had seen how completely lost LSU’s defense looked all season long. And lets be honest, most of the nation witnessed the debacle that was LSU’s title defense this season, as the Tigers were a cool 0-5 on nationally televised CBS games this season. The curse of the Gary Danielson!
Here are several things that contributed to LSU’s surprise 38-3 drumming of the Yellow Jackets:
1. The embarrassment factor.
While there were a number of low points throughout the season, the Friday after Thanksgiving in Little Rock was, for lack of a better phrase, rock bottom for LSU. Some of the players were angry, some shocked and some seemed just ready for the nightmare to be over. At this time, it appeared to be a strong sense of disenchantment and division on the LSU team and many people started to question if the Tigers had punched the clock after the loss to Alabama in early November.
So for over an entire month this LSU team, less than a year removed from a BCS National Title, had to hear how much of a disappointment they were. And throw in the fact that they were a colossal underdog in the public’s eyes against Georgia Tech, and just maybe that must have motivated the talented bunch from Baton Rouge.
Linebacker Perry Riley, who earned defensive MVP honors in the game said, “We played with an energy that we haven’t played with all year.”
That’s an understatement Perry.
It could have been that the Tigers were playing at supersonic speed that night, but Tech’s option ground game looked like they were running through a tar pit.
2. It was a must win for Miles.
We all know that in the modern age of football, it’s all about “what have you done for me lately.”
Forget the fact that Les Miles has a record of 42-11 during his time at LSU and has produced two SEC western division titles (2005,2007), one SEC championship (2007) and one BCS crystal ball (2007). With five losses in the regular season and a coaching staff blunder that led to the Tigers having the worst defense in the SEC this year, Miles was feeling pressure that I’m sure he never could have imagined possible back before the ’08 season began.
It didn’t help that former LSU coach Nick Saban lead SEC west foe Alabama to an undefeated regular season and pulled out the victory in his homecoming to Baton Rouge in November.
It’s no secret, the purple and gold nation was questioning if their coach was a man that could stop the fiasco before the wheels completely dismantled beneath the program.
This win was crucial for LSU, but more importantly it showed that Miles could get a 7-5 team up off the mat and deliver a knockout punch in the 13th round and keep his bowl record a flawless 4-0 at LSU.
3. LSU had their quarterback.
Some point to the defense as the catalyst to the disastrous conference play this year. Sure, that was a huge problem, but the quarterback play should take the brunt of the blame.
We all know the story by now about how and why Jarrett Lee was forced into the starting quarterback role. But what is still unclear is why in the name of everything that is sacred did the coaching staff not play Jordan Jefferson earlier in the season?
It would be easier to dismiss if Lee was setting the world on fire, but he was actually setting the scoreboard on fire, but for the wrong team.
Jordan Jefferson was the only other option for most of the season, after Andrew Hatch broke his leg in the Georgia game, so how did someone not see that Jefferson was the better option when watching him at practice?
He’s more athletic, stronger, durable, and mobile. And makes better decisions or at least that’s what it looked like on game day.
It took Lee getting knocked out of the game against what we now know is a stellar Ole Miss team, to see Jefferson getting thrown into the mix. Even then, it was obvious that Lee’s days could be numbered as LSU’s quarterback. Now it is crystal clear.
What the true freshman did against Georgia Tech was the same thing he did every time he was given a chance this season. He didn’t cripple his team with his mistakes.
But the difference in the Chick-fil-A Bowl than Jefferson’s previous two games was that there was over a month where the coaching staff fully focused on preparing him as far as the playbook is concerned.
The results were the same. Instead of hurting the team, he improved it. And the rest of the team responded to his leadership.
Could that have been the problem all along?
Matt Reynolds is the assistant editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.