Rough finish to a great season

COLUMN: After 13 games of domination, LSU sputters on the biggest stage.

NEW ORLEANS – Like clockwork, the sun rose as morning dawned on the Mississippi River in the Big Easy Tuesday morning.

 

Fittingly, though, for LSU’s football and its fans, there was some overcast to go with the new day.

 

The day after.

 

What was anticipated as a day of celebration for another national championship was instead a day of quiet reflection and analyzation for the Tigers.

 

To come so close to historical perfection and fall so miserably short has to be numbing for the LSU players, coaches, and yes, the fans.

Les Miles didn't have his best game on the sideline Monday.

 

And make no mistake the difference between the two teams was vast Monday night when Alabama thumped the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS Championship Game.

 

There will be a lot of slings and arrows shot at Les Miles, and fairly so. As much as I admire the guy and as good a coach as he has proven he is, he got taken to the woodshed Monday. And in large part it was because of Miles’ signature stubbornness, and that’s going to haunt him until and unless the Tigers get to this stage again.

 

There will be criticism of quarterback Jordan Jefferson, and it’s impossible to deflect that. He got to the biggest stage of his football life with a chance to erase all the controversy and inconsistency that pocked his time at LSU. Instead he was flat-out terrible, and then afterward said he thought he played well and threw the ball well. All LSU needed was for Jefferson to be steady, and he never approached that.

Apparently when reality set in for the rest of the Tigers, it skipped right over No. 9’s locker, much like it has throughout his career.

 

Tyrann Mathieu and the LSU secondary never came up with game-changing plays.

While those two will bear the brunt of the hurting LSU fans’ angst, be clear about this: As disjointed as Miles’ coaching night was and as poorly as Jefferson played, the Tigers’ offensive linemen got their backsides thoroughly kicked, the defensive line rarely got pressure on Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and the secondary played a very ho-hum night to finish a season when those six players always came up with game-changing jabs.

 

As stubborn as Miles was, John Chavis wasn’t exactly thinking outside of the box real quickly or effectively, either, when McCarron came out and started dissecting the Tigers’ defense.

 

Special teams was play was unproductive and shoddy and a major breakdown in punt coverage led directly to Alabama’s first points.

 

The gloomy facts for LSU are piling up like a heap of dirt dishes next to the sink.

 

The two that stick out: The Tigers ran four plays in Alabama territory all night and largely as a result, they are the first No. 1 team to be shut out in a bowl game since 1953.

 

Here’s what shouldn’t be lost, though. While there were a ton of LSU mistakes and a complete lack of execution across the board, Alabama deserves an awful lot of credit. This was a game the Crimson Tide came out and won more than one the Tigers squandered. McCarron played the best game of his life, the Bama defense saved its best performance for last and it wouldn’t have mattered who the LSU quarterback was.

 

This was Alabama’s night and the Tigers just happened to get in the way and wound up as national championship road kill.

 

Here’s a notion to chew on as well: Did LSU lose this game as soon as the rematch was revealed on Dec. 4?

 

While the game unfolded, the Tigers showed no desire to be aggressive and looked uncharacteristically intimidated at times.

 

Jordan Jefferson: To the end, he insists he played well.

Maybe the players and the coaches realized it had taken every ounce of what they had to win the first game against the Crimson Tide and – this shocks me to type this – they just didn’t have the fight in them to come out for round two.

 

As much as coaches want to insulate their players from hearing and reading stuff, it was inevitable that the LSU players absorbed all the chatter about Alabama wasting chances and not playing well and being the better team. Human nature makes you start to wonder if that stuff isn’t true if you hear it enough.

 

Alabama would’ve beaten any other team that stepped on the Superdome floor Monday night. I have a hunch the same can be said about the Tigers. That’s how clear it is that LSU and the Tide were the best two teams in the country in 2011.

 

For 13 games and a magical ride, the Tigers were the No. 1 team without question and deserved every accolade they received. Defining LSU’s season to reach New Orleans as one of the best in college history is justified. That should be something everybody associated with the program and the fans latch onto and remember fondly and forever.

 

It ended with a disheartening thud, though, and that’s hard to digest whether the sun shines brightly or not.


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