By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It was difficult to watch LSU’s most indispensable player relegated to the sidelines on his Senior Day.
And no, as much as it might’ve helped to have Leonard Fournette on the field for that final fourth-and-goal rush, that’s not who LSU missed most in Saturday’s devastating 16-10 loss to Florida.
Reporters have written for two years now that the player the Tigers would have the hardest time replacing his inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Even with solid running mates, his prowess and role in the defense coupled with the relative lack of depth behind him all made him beyond essential.
Turns out we got that one right.
LSU’s vaunted defense didn’t look itself once Beckwith left in the second quarter with a reported knee injury. The unit only allowed 16 points, so the loss isn’t on them, but given the Gators’ rash of injuries and recent offensive struggles, it was surprising to see them move the ball effectively in the second half.
Particularly the way Florida ran the ball down LSU’s throat with Donnie Alexander filling in for Beckwith alongside Duke Riley.
Consider that 99 of Florida’s 126 rushing yards came after halftime against a defense that prides itself on pitching second-half shutouts. Florida’s yards-per-carry average jumped from 2.2 in nine carries with Beckwith on the field to a poultry 4.8 on the game’s final 26 attempts.
“He’s the physicality of the defense,” Arden Key said of Beckwith. “The run stopper.”
“He’s so versatile,” John Battle said. “It’s a really like a D-tackle at linebacker.”
Florida ran on 12 of 15 plays during the 15-play, 70-yard (57 rushing), seven-and-a-half-minute spanning drive that set up Eddy Pineiro’s go-ahead field goal from 26 yards.
Gator starter Jordan Scarlett rushed 22 times for 108 yards. Freshman spell back Lamical Perine rushed seven times for 38 more, highlighted by a bruising 22-yard run that featured him taking All-SEC safety Jamal Adams and a host of other Tigers for a ride inside the 10-yard line.
“Very uncharacteristic of them,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of the missed tackles. “Going into the game we knew Florida’s backs were as good as we face. Probably the only team that had better backs were us. We emphasized tackling all week. I think missing Kendell in there hurt us a little bit. But uncharacteristic. We were not a good tackling team tonight. It’s something we have to fix.”
There wasn’t an update on Beckwith’s status for the Texas A&M game Thursday. The Aggies don’t have the same kind of punch-you-in-the-mouth physicality in their running game, but playing on a short week coming off a tough loss, it’ll be tough assignment if LSU is without its all-important man in the middle.
- Donte’s Rough Day
On the topic of ill-advised decisions, Florida quarterback Austin Appleby appeared deadest on going after Tre’Davious White in the first half.
Antonio Callaway hauled in a 15-yarder the first time Appleby threw White’s way, but White broke up the next four passes thrown at him in the first half. He blanketed the explosive Callaway to two catches — both on that first drive — for 12 yards.
White has now allowed a grand total of two completions on passes thrown more than 10 yards, with the first coming last week against Arkansas.
After halftime Appleby wised up. He adjusted his sights to the other side of the field and went after Donte Jackson to hit the deep ball that changed the game. Florida had taken over at its own 2-yard line after holder Josh Growden botched what would’ve been a chip-shot field goal.
Appleby dropped back into his own end zone and uncorked a bomb down the right sideline. Tyrie Cleveland got a step behind Jackson, ran under the ball and shook off a tackle attempt on his way to the longest pass play an LSU defense has ever allowed in Tiger Stadium.
“Got beat one-on-one,” Orgeron said. “We talked about one-on-one matchups, our speed against their speed. We got beat.”
“We just got to make that tackle,” added Battle. “The safety, that was me. I got to be more deep in the middle of the field. We just got to make that tackle, man.”
To make matters worse, Jackson later fumbled a kickoff return after running into the back of his own blocker. The giveaway allowed Florida to extend its lead from 13-10 to 16-10 without earning a first down.
Those kind of miscues are magnified in a game lost at the goal line needing a touchdown.
- It’s Complicated
Joe Alleva’s search for LSU’s next head coach got more complicated Saturday.
Obviously LSU’s loss deeply wounds Orgeron’s prospects for having the interim tag removed, which likely would have required the Tigers win out post-Alabama to earn a Sugar Bowl berth.
Orgeron has done a wonderful job as LSU’s interim coach. He’s breathed life back into a season that could have bottomed out after Les Miles and Cam Cameron were fired. His players adore him and have never quit on him.
“We love Coach O,” Battle said. “He does a great job preparing us and motivating us. This loss is on us. It has nothing to do with coaching.”
“I think LSU needs to hire Coach O for the full-time job,” Ethan Pocic said. “That’s my opinion.”
It’s not up to LSU’s players.
Saturday’s loss serves as a reminder that Alleva can’t settle for half-measures. Keeping Miles with a stern warning clearly didn’t work. And Saturday’s loss felt eerily Miles-ian, from sloppy mistakes by the offense and special teams units to the chaotic nature of the finish. More change is prescribed.
Meanwhile, Texas lost to lowly Kansas, which all but erases any doubt that the Longhorns will fire embattled coach Charlie Strong and pull on the full-court press to land Houston’s Tom Herman. And nobody’s resources match Texas.
Two days prior, the young Houston coach reaffirmed his status as America’s hottest coaching commodity by orchestrating a stunning beatdown of fifth-ranked Louisville.
Now the pressure is on Alleva to pry Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State. He’s been the most oft-linked candidate to the LSU opening dating back to last November, and now that the safety net of Orgeron winning enough to get the job has been diminished, the expectation will be that LSU does all it can to land the only obvious candidate.
There’s other coaches who Alleva and his team will take long looks at, and maybe whoever he lands would work out in the long run, but in the eyes of people monitoring Alleva’s job performance, the new hire’s reception likely won’t be positive if Fisher says no.