A day after LSU's 30-27 loss to Tennessee on Monday night in Tiger Stadium, questions shroud the Tiger football program.

After only two games in a very young 2005 season, there are very few certainties concerning the LSU football program.


Fans left Tiger Stadium Monday shaking their collective heads wondering what just happened. In 30-plus minutes of football, the 3rd-ranked Tigers went from leading No. 10 Tennessee 21-0 and an SEC title contender to a team with no identity, no leadership and more question marks than anyone could have imagined for a team with 17 returning starters.



Is JaMarcus Russell the right quarterback for LSU?


After the Arizona State game, the redshirt sophomore seemed to have risen to the challenge and looked poised to lead the Tigers' offense. However, in the wake of the Tennessee loss, Russell's numbers looked much better than actually he played and his lone, fourth quarter interception proved most costly for LSU. Russell lacked mobility and tried to do too much at times enduring costly sacks and a couple of ill-advised decision, a la the last play of the first half, cost LSU in the long run.



What happened to the LSU defense?


For the last couple of years, the LSU defense has built a reputation as one of the most dominating units in all of college football.


Under the tutelage of defensive guru Nick Saban, the Tigers possessed arguably the most feared defense in the land. Even after Saban's departure to the NFL, Les Miles made what appeared to be a quality hire in former Nebraska and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.


However, you could not convince an LSU fan of that a day after the Tigers' loss to the Volunteers. For the second straight game, LSU's secondary was sliced and diced, this time by a quarterback far from the credentials of Arizona State's heralded signal caller Sam Keller. Rick Clausen turned from LSU reject to Tennessee savior as he passed for 196 on 21 of 32 passing picking apart his former comrades.


Is the LSU defense this bad, Pelini this lost or was the loss of Marcus Spears, Lionel Turner and most especially Corey Webster and Travis Daniels that costly to the defense.


Stay tuned.



 Did Miles lose confidence in Russell, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher or both in the second half versus Tennessee?


Despite the fact LSU's offense didn't play all that great in the first half, the Tigers mustered 21 points and manufactured 200 yards of offense.


In the second half, LSU played with an obvious conservative, ‘play not to lose' approach on offense, opposed from a more attacking style they flaunted in the fourth quarter at Arizona State and in the first half versus Tennessee.


Did Miles, well-known as a hands-on offensive coach, put the breaks on Fisher's offensive scheme in the second half? Obviously the offensive play calling in the second half wasn't Fisher-esqe.


Russell was put on a short leash in the final two periods and when he did attempt a vertical pass in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Hefney returned the interception to the LSU three.



Is Miles the man for the job at LSU?


This seems to be a popular question making its way around Tigertown.


Nick Saban syndrome seems to be stronger than ever in Baton Rouge, more evident now in the wake of the Tennessee catastrophe. As fans long for the days of a conservative offense coupled with smothering defense and a killer instinct brought on by a national championship, what began as a murmur has grown into a collective groan in a manner of 24 hours.


Fans were skeptical when Miles was hired. Was he an acceptable replacement to inherit the keys to the LSU Empire built by King Saban? While he had turned Oklahoma State's program around from the doldrums of the Big 12, was the he a dominant coach that could sustain the program's winning ways in Baton Rouge?


Sure enough Miles wasn't as polished as Saban, nor was he as strong of a public speaker. But the players seemed to relate to the Michigan alum and he did a good job recruiting and, at the time, hiring assistant coaches.

In the blink of an eye and ticks on a clock, the same fans that were praising the man that kept LSU together through a month of adversity is being prepared for a pink slip.


Two games do not make a coach or a season, but Miles is one JaMarcus Russell miracle away from being 0-2 with a team regarded as one of LSU's most talented ever. Let's just say he had better get it together or the fans that have not yet turned, will follow the vocal minority.


Baton Rouge is not known for keeping a cool head when it comes to football. Miles was viewed as a nice guy when he arrived, but the opens arms with which he was welcomed in January came with a stipulation that he MUST win.




As for the grades, Tiger Rag will not be as generous as it was in the post-Katrina roller coaster in Tempe. A porous secondary and  sputtering offense (at times) was overlooked due to the circumstances and brilliant special teams play made up for a great deal of mistakes. Toss in a Hollywood ending and all was well when the team returned to Baton Rouge.


However, in the wake of what is being called one of the worst losses in LSU football history, let's just say this report card will land Miles and the Tigers in study hall for at least the next semester.



The Offense:


Lots of people are blaming the defensive travails for the collapse versus Tennessee.


But if you check out the stat sheets, it is obvious the lack of production in the second half is what spelled certain doom on the Tigers.


In the first half, LSU gained 200 yards of total offense and scored 21 points. Even though the Tigers held a commanding 21-0 lead at the intermission, LSU scored three touchdowns off a Tennessee fumble deep in its own territory, a trick play "flea-flicker and a three-yard interception return for a touchdown on a bonehead pass from Vol quarterback Erik Ainge.


What semblance of offense LSU showed in the first went away in the second as the Tigers went totally conservative allowing Tennessee to get back in the game.


Time and again LSU went three and out, turned the ball over and left a helpless Tiger defense to try and combat a surging Tennessee offense.


By the time LSU got to the latter stages of the fourth quarter and even more obvious into overtime, the Tiger defense was beyond winded. When LSU's offense was unable to score a touchdown on its first possession in overtime and was forced to settle for a field goal, it was painfully obvious Tennessee would win the game when Gerald Riggs picked up 10 yards on first down.


LSU did manage to run the ball well in spots as Joseph Addai carried most of the load. But Justin Vincent failed to produce little at all and Shyrone Carey, while shifty, isn't the back to call on several plays in a row.


Grade: D-



The Defense:


While it seems the offense's ineptitude is to blame for the defense being worn out in the fourth quarter, it isn't quite that easy.


While the LSU stoppers did a good job containing Tennessee's ground attack and the SEC's top runner in Riggs, the secondary was once again porous allowing former Tiger fourth stringer Rick Clausen to look like a Heisman Trophy candidate.


In the first half, it wasn't that LSU's defense affected Erik Ainge as much as Volunteer receivers dropped wide open, catchable passes. Had Tennessee converted a few of those receptions and the first half might have played out a little different.


It wasn't until Ainge departed and Clausen entered that the Volunteers took advantage of the short routes – which Clausen hit time and again – marching up and down the field for 24 second half points to force overtime.

Cornerbacks Ronnie Prude and Chevis Jackson looked lost more times than not and there were at least three occasions when Volunteer receivers were running free, uncovered well downfield.


Grade: D+



Special Teams:


Again, LSU's special teams played well.


The Tigers managed to convert every extra point attempt and Chris Jackson and Colt David each made good on field goal attempts. Jackson punted the ball well twice downing punts deep inside Tennessee territory, once at the one yard line.


Skyler Green proved he might be the best punt returner in college football. Green's swivel hips wowed the crowd and led to excellent field position for the Tigers throughout much of the first three quarters.


However, a costly penalty on one return cost the Tigers prime field position and another sure scoring opportunity.


Grade: A-





All responsibility falls on the shoulders of the coach, so Les Miles is to blame for Monday's loss to the Vols.

While the 21-point lead was the largest advantage lost in recent memory of LSU football (at least the last 10 years), it has not been so rare of an occurrence for Miles.


Just a year ago, Miles went to Austin and had Mack Brown's Longhorns on the ropes leading 35-14 at halftime. In the second half, though, Miles' Oklahoma State team gave up 42 unanswered points, blowing a 21-point lead, and was soundly defeated 56-35.




While players are held accountable for certain mistakes – a la Russell's interception and Kyle Williams lining up offsides on more than one occasion – Miles made two major gaffes that were blatantly obvious to everyone.

At the end of the first half, following Russell's inability to collect a first down nor get out of bounds, Miles opted to race the field goal team on and attempt a field goal rather than have Russell and Co. spike the ball to stop the clock. The result was LSU running out of time and squandering a prime scoring opportunity.


Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied and Tennessee trying to move into position for a game-winning field goal, LSU junior safety LaRon Landry intercepted a Clausen pass at the 50 with roughly 30 seconds remaining.

With the clock stopped for change of possession, Miles raced onto the field desperately trying to call LSU's final timeout. A heads up LSU assistant quickly corralled the head coach for wasting the team's final timeouts.


These are mistakes a coach at this level should not make. Fans are questioning the leadership. While LSU has played only two games, many more mistakes like these could cost LSU dearly.

Grade: D-

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