BATON ROUGE – In the aftermath of a gut-wrenching 21-17 home loss to No. 1 Alabama, Les Miles and the LSU Tigers were a "sick" football team.
There were undoubtedly a number of positives to take away in defeat, but the lead emotion and sentiment was understandably despair.
LSU let one slip away.
"Hurt, disappointment," answered right guard Trai Turner when asked the mood in the locker room. "We prepared pretty well, practiced hard the last two weeks, and it didn't come out the way we wanted."
The Tigers ended up on the wrong end of a four-point game, a setback set it stone when T.J. Yeldon hauled in a swing pass and scored from 28 yards out with 51 seconds left in the game.
Here, in one man's opinion, are the biggest takeaways – good and bad – from the contest from an LSU perspective.
- Zach Mettenberger played his finest game as a Tiger.
The stat line doesn't totally do his game justice.
Mett went 24-of-35 for 298 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. But the beauty in his game was how well he executed in the second half, especially on third down, when LSU needed to get back in the game and sustain drives.
He was accurate, didn't throw many intercept-able balls, and there was a tangible trust between he and the receivers for perhaps the first time all year.
"The receivers, the offense and I knew we were fully capable of that all year," Mettenberger said following the game. "There are finally things that are clicking for us. As well as I played, I would've traded three interceptions for the win tonight. We have something to build off of that we'll work on Monday so we can be ready for Mississippi State.
"I feel like we had a good rhythm the whole game. We handled the ball really well and had great defense. We played with confidence tonight. We executed well and didn't make a lot of mistakes."
Miles agreed. "I was thrilled with how Zach Mettenberger played."
- The receivers finally held up their end of the bargain.
Gone (for the most part) were drops and poorly run routes.
In were big catches, well-timed routes and a lot of improvement in both the vertical passing game and the intermediate/underneath passing game.
Jarvis Landry broke out for eight catches for 76 yards and a huge touchdown on a jump ball. Odell Beckham Jr. also flashed some of the amazing en route to 73 yards on four grabs. All-told, eight pass-catchers brought in receptions.
"I can tell you one thing, they had good chemistry between the receivers and that quarterback today," Miles said following the game. "That number three (Odell Beckham Jr.) made some spectacular catches. There was a lot of confidence in the throws and more confidence in the receivers."
More trust from Mett. More trust from the receivers. Ultimately, more trust from Miles and the coaches.
Can only mean good things going forward.
- The byproduct of the first two was a very efficient team on third down.
Not only did LSU roll up the time of possession stat, winning it 39:15 to 20:45, but the Tigers also were lethal on third down, particularly in the final 30 minutes.
The Tigers ran an amazing (especially for them) 85 total plays on offense.
The reason? Plenty of third-down conversions.
On the night LSU was 10-of-20 while Alabama was 1-of-9.
"We really knew this would be a tough game. LSU played a great game," Nick Saban said. "They had a great game plan. They did a great job of executing. I think their quarterback played really well. There was a stretch there in the second half where they converted seven straight third downs of five or more."
The Tigers knew they had it going, too.
"I think it was just a sense of urgency for us as an offensive line to make sure that we kept him protected, Zach getting the ball out of his hands and then the receivers running great routes," senior Josh Dworaczyk said on converting so well. "Having two weeks to prepare and then going out there and facing a defense that was exactly the way we prepared for it was huge for us. We didn't have to make a lot of game-time changes and things like that because we had already seen it on film.
"We were able to go out and execute some things on offense that we had been practicing for two weeks. To walk away with an ‘L' is tough. It really is."
- The defense was as good as it needed to be … until the last drive.
There's no shame in only giving up 331 yards to Alabama.
There's definitely no shame in holding A.J. McCarron to almost a 50% completion rate.
But the final 72 yards will haunt LSU for awhile. And the final swing pass to Yeldon in particular will really smart. The Tigers were in all-out blitz on the short-side of the field, and it was the perfect call.
Not sure John Chavis will get the best press ever this week, but I don't think he put the Tigers in a terrible position. Just couldn't cover players at the end when it mattered.
- LSU's game plan was just fine. Some of the spur-of-the-moment decisions were not.
The Tigers played ball control. They erased an early deficit. They won the turnover battle.
There were a lot of positives in how LSU was able to take Alabama out of its comfort zone.
"It was weird," Alabama center Barrett Jones said after the game. "I think we were calm the whole time. We never really panicked. It was a frustrating second half, really. I don't feel like we could have played worse in the second half. We didn't execute anything until the last 50 seconds of the game. Sometimes you have to win them like this, especially in a place like this. This is a great environment. What a night, something I'll never forget."
But, as good as LSU was in its approach to the game, some of the in-game moves were just as bad … and hurtful to the cause.
The fake field goal. The decision to let Drew Alleman try the 54-yarder after saying no to a shorter one earlier.
Miles said after the game he wanted a few calls back. It's pretty obvious to see why.
- The Tigers (and their coach) entered the game a peeved bunch.
Cue Miles on all the outside hate pregame: "Our football team came in here to win. We did not go timidly into the game. We went after it. I felt that we played extremely hard."
More Miles: "I can tell you one thing. It is really interesting. The idea that people would sit there and discount this football team before they even played the game is just unbelievable. There was no one in that locker room that thought they were going to do anything but win tonight, just so you know. The idea that someone could pick somebody else (I don't understand)."
- The Tigers (at least one player) leave the game a peeved bunch.
Cue Bennie Logan, one upset football player in postgame interviews: "We lost in the national championship game. That hurt. But to know that you had the number one team coming into your home stadium, and you dominated them from the beginning to the end, and just to see that one play cost us the game (it hurts more). Going into game day, you hear that ‘Alabama could compete with an NFL team. Alabama this, Alabama that.' Personally (I think) they're overrated. They're not what everybody said about them. They're a good team, don't get me wrong."
- LSU's team goals have now been "compromised."
Sam Montgomery had one take.
"I remember my first year here when we did not win a national championship, and somebody told me it's going to be your role to seek revenge. I can lead these guys to a title, but it's going to be the younger guy's responsibility to seek revenge in the future. Rivalries will never die."
Dworaczyk had another.
"I think it's all about our team and what we want to accomplish. Obviously we have some new goals, some new things that we're going to try to do throughout this season. It's real important that us seniors and anybody that's leaving early that we make the most out of this. You only get to play college football one time, so you have to make sure you make the best out of every situation."
Any way you slice it the national title is out of the picture.
After the game RB Jeremy Hill said he got rolled up on in the final two plays, but he said he should be fine. "I'll just get some treatment tomorrow and move forward into next week." … S Eric Reid admitted his injury was a re-aggravation of a chronic sternum problem. He too expected to be back.
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