Being a sportswriter in the Internet age is often times an interesting proposition.
Content is churned out at a dizzying pace and the takes better be as quick – and hot (especially if you like those clicks, and boy does our society value those clicks) – to keep up with the rest of the pack.
But, I’ve got to level with you: It didn’t feel like a forced quick take or a devil’s advocate-type move when I judged the 2014 LSU season over, at least from the usual 9-and-3 or better bar the program had set, following the home loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 20.
It sure felt like a measured take after watching the prolonged struggles versus Wisconsin in the opener and then in the State debacle, one in which the Bulldogs totaled 570 yards and laid waste to the Tigers on both lines of scrimmage.
No way were those issues, and the extent to which they had turned from bad to rotten, correctable during the course of a season, not when the schedule was about to kick into overdrive. So went the thought – LSU had who they had, they had trotted ‘em all out there and the results spoke for themselves.
Well, with the exception of an ugly loss at top-five Auburn Oct. 4, Les Miles’ men haven’t tasted defeat again. LSU, now winners of three straight after Saturday night’s heart-pounding 10-7 win over No. 3 Ole Miss, has managed to correct the uncorrectable, and the results are still speaking for themselves … only the message reverberating throughout TigerTown is a markedly different one.
And with that comes a mea culpa from this reporter and a necessary retuning of the dials to just what is possible down the stretch of the 2014 season for the Bayou Bengals.
I’m not saying the Tigers are back to being world-beaters yet, but, in the aftermath of ramming it down the Rebels’ throats on both sides of the line, it’s high time to acknowledge this young team has gotten better with time and coaching and is much more capable of staying in the ring with the big boys.
Transformations can be identified in numerous areas, but the two most notable are along the offensive line and with the defense as a whole.
With the O-Line there haven’t been any personnel tweaks since shifting Ethan Pocic over to right guard in advance of the Mississippi State game. As coordinator Cam Cameron theorized following LSU’s 41-3 win over Kentucky, those guys have simply improved with some time to gel and heal.
“We’re just getting better,” leveled Cameron. “Elliott [Porter] coming back, I think he’s getting more comfortable. We’ve been banged up a little bit. Vadal [Alexander] is probably as healthy as he’s been. Ethan Pocic is getting solid there at guard. It’s a lot of little things. Something that’s overlooked is all the movement we had early in the year, and it was significant.”
Defensively John Chavis’ crew has done a complete 180, benefitting from additional playing time for Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker, Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson at safety and the return of an injured Quentin Thomas for more snaps at defensive tackle.
LSU is playing more bodies on that side of the ball, and the younger guys are taking to their roles more aggressively, no longer allowing the game to come to them. Yes, it’s also true the Tigers haven’t encountered an offense the caliber of Mississippi State’s or Auburn’s since, but the gaping running lanes up the gut and players struggling with alignment/communication have gone by the wayside. That’ll improve a defense against any opponent.
And so, in the midst of a bye week, LSU (7-2, 3-2) prepares for a suddenly more appetizing ballgame versus rival Alabama on Nov. 8 with trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M, a combined 2-7 in SEC play, on the horizon.
The question has rightly turned from “Are we sure LSU will get bowl-eligible?” three weeks ago to “Could the Tigers possibly run the table and get to 10-2?”
It’s amazing how un-far-fetched that actually sounds these days. But that’s what some confidence, growth – and, as is the point of this entire piece, time to grow – will do for a team that started the campaign so inexperienced at a number of key positions.
Now they’re believing.
“Anything’s possible right now in the SEC,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said after the Ole Miss victory. “You know, a lot of people doubted us early. I think we have the utmost confidence in ourselves that we can win out.”
And who is anyone to say they’re wrong?
In fact here are my updated hot takes: Don’t judge a season by a few games; allow for the fact that a team can grow up and repair itself in-season; and rejuvenated LSU, whose arrow is now firmly pointing upward, is more likely than not going to give ‘Bama all it wants in front of a crowd that suddenly is remembering its role, too.