Losing is losing. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat.
It’s become fashionable in the Les Miles era, or perhaps it’s a coping mechanism, for LSU fans to categorize, rank and, many times, explain away losses that otherwise feel inexplicable.
The Tigers’ painful 20-13 home overtime loss Saturday night to Alabama certainly had elements late in the ballgame that defy reasonable explanation, but it was different than what’s befallen Miles and LSU in the past.
The clock-management monster didn’t rear its ugly head.
LSU didn’t fail to finish a fourth-quarter comeback, a purple-and-gold staple under Miles; on the contrary it couldn’t hold a tight lead grabbed in the contest’s twilight.
The defense did bend and yield points in the face of a desperate (less-than) two-minute drill, but it wasn’t in the same ballpark, metaphorically that is, as the LSU-Alabama game in 2012, when the Tide out-and-out won the game on a last-ditch drive and also scored at the end of the first half in a similar vein.
This one felt like no other loss for LSU under The Hat.
It felt given away and taken away at the same time, the former by the home team via a series of mind-numbing blunders – Trent Domingue’s kickoff out-of-bounds with 50 seconds to go, Melvin Jones’ dropped pass in the flats in overtime – and the latter by the boys in stripes, a group that was inconsistent and, at a minimum, is more a part of the discussion on the game’s outcome than an officiating crew prefers.
Somewhere in the middle of all that Alabama deserves a modicum of credit for having the wherewithal to complete the drive that ended in a field goal with three seconds left in regulation and to put LSU on the back foot quickly in overtime with a well-designed first play.
But, and this is the salient point, it sure as hell didn’t feel like Alabama won that game.
The two teams were remarkably even and, despite each outfit making plenty of small mistakes and playing it extremely close to the vest (consider that Blake Sims’ 24-yard pass to Brandon Greene in overtime was the longest offensive play of the night), LSU was in a position where most teams in America slam the door shut with precious seconds remaining.
They couldn’t do it. They couldn’t capitalize on Jamie Keehn’s peach of a punt and Deion Jones downing it at the one. They couldn’t make good on what was by and large a spectacular effort by John Chavis’ defense. They couldn’t parlay more than 38 minutes of possession into a win.
External forces – read, officiating – didn’t aid the Tigers in their quest to spring the upset, but when you chalk up that many instances of “they couldn’t,” the reality is you don’t deserve to win.
Alabama didn’t particularly deserve it either, but in a coin-flip game with the score that low and tight for 60 minutes, the margin for error is incredibly narrow. The Bayou Bengals blinked first, and most, and the Crimson Tide played grateful beneficiaries.
“I don’t know that giving the game away is how we would describe it in any way,” Miles told reporters with defeat still fresh in the air around midnight.
“I’ve got a team that played a great game, played a tough game, played a very physical game, and could’ve expected to finish first in that game,” he continued. “That’s tough. That’s a tough one. Yeah, I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth from that game.”
Finishing second, as Miles is wont to say, makes any competitor somewhat sick. Losing the way LSU did Saturday night, however, should rightfully trigger the gag reflex of all gag reflexes.
All losses count the same but they’re sure not created equal.