LSU coach Les Miles knows how it feels to be No. 1.
He also knows how it feels to be knocked off before getting comfortable, a short-lived stretch in the top spot that his Tigers earned in 2007 with an unforgettable win over Florida and handed back the next weekend with a heart-breaking loss at Kentucky.
“I went through the learning process a little bit,” Miles said. “It humbled a very talented team. We’ll recognize that a talented team being named No. 1 didn’t necessarily fare too well the next week.”
Despite that triple-overtime loss 43-37 to the Wildcats, and a second triple-overtime loss at home to Arkansas, LSU finished that 2007 season playing for a national championship in New Orleans – the same destination that the team has its sights set on four years later.
That’s where we come full circle.
Carrying the nation’s No. 1 ranking for the first time since the end of the 2007 season, LSU gets Kentucky for the first time since that 2007 loss in Lexington.
That’s a mouthful, huh?
LSU fans are hoping for another triple-overtime affair – in the evening’s SEC showdown of the week between Alabama-Florida game, of course. Because on a rare Saturday morning in Baton Rouge, hung-over LSU fans are likely the only Tigers to get caught sleeping.
“We are completely focused on this game,” cornerback Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s a mission we are on, to be the best, and we go week by week.”
If there’s anyone LSU fans can trust to shoot them straight, it’s Mathieu – the sophomore with a swagger who leads the Tigers in tackles and intimidation.
And judging from the tone of the defensive players this week, Mathieu and his band of brothers are looking to take out a little frustration on the Wildcats.
“We don’t want to let them score,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said.
Kentucky can thank West Virginia’s passing attack for that.
In a road win that launched LSU into the top spot in the AP poll, the LSU defense didn’t have an answer as quarterback Geno Smith passed for a season-high 463 yards and two touchdowns.
The silver lining for the Tigers in a defensive battle with a twist of trash-talk: There was no retreat.
“I didn’t see any backing up or withdrawal from our secondary, and I enjoyed that,” Miles said. “We need to improve on some of the tremendous mistakes that were made, but they weren’t made because they didn’t have confidence or play aggressively to the ball.”
During preseason camp it was the secondary that drew the biggest praise from the staff, and there’s little doubt that the unit will be back to form this week. Just chalk it up to an off night against a great passing attack.
After all, it’s Morgan Newton that the Tigers have to stop. Not Cam.
How about the offense?
This time last season, Miles was being peppered with questions about identity and quarterback play. But with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback, the offense has managed to shift most discussions at media gatherings back to the defensive side.
The players used to describe the offense as complex. Now it’s pretty easy to figure out.
Run to set up the pass.
“We all feel pretty confident with the calls the coaches are putting in and how we’ve carried them out,” quarterback Jarrett Lee said. “It’s got us in a rhythm.”
The method seems simple.
And with Florida coming to town next weekend and the thick of Western Division play on the horizon, expect an even more conservative offensive approach. There might be a couple shots downfield to get Russell Shepard into his own rhythm, but the rest of the script should be easy to predict.
Miles will probably give Ware a light workload, allowing the Wildcats defense to get their licks in on Ford and Alfred Blue. The offensive line is also banged up, so don’t be surprised if backup tackle Greg Shaw and guard La’el Collins get in the mix earlier than usual.
Then there’s Jordan Jefferson.
On Wednesday a grand jury reduced the charges levied against Jefferson to simple battery, and later in the day Miles lifted his former starting quarterback’s suspension.
Jefferson returned to practice on Thursday as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, and Miles didn’t rule him out of action for the weekend. That means if the game is in hand and Miles sits his starter, Jefferson will jump into the huddle and quarterback the Tigers.
Stick in your seats this weekend, and not just to get a look at the nation’s most experienced backup quarterback.
The nation’s No. 1-ranked team is coming home, and their opponent has already proven once that moments on top can be fleeting.
So soak up the spotlight, LSU fans. You never know how long it will last.
ANALYSIS: Kentucky at No. 1 LSU WHO HAS THE EDGE: Kentucky vs. No. 1 LSU
WHO HAS THE EDGE: Kentucky vs. No. 1 LSU