MULE': Let season end before casting blame

Wait one minute, back up, and take a closer look. Upon further review …

The fan was a little annoyed. He insisted on trying to put things in perspective.

It was noted last week in this corner that in the six big, regular season games of the last season and a half – including Auburn and Florida in 2006 – that not once could anyone state that LSU appeared to be the better prepared team.


Ellis Hugh, longtime observer of Tiger football and confidant of the late, great, New Orleans sportscaster Buddy D., called to offer a counterpoint: that LSU lost two games to two very good teams, and on the road. "Things happen when you have to play on other people's turf," Hugh stated in his raspy voice. "If football was intended to go according to hoyle, the pigskin wouldn't have an oblong shape. And, by the way, exactly when was the last time anyone thought LSU was the better prepared team?"


That could well have been against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4, 2004, when the national championship was secured by Nick Saban.


That BCS trophy is also the barometer, fair or unfair, by which everyone now measures Les Miles.


"The standard at LSU has been raised," Hugh philosophized, "because of that Sugar Bowl. People tend to think of that one game as representative of every one Saban coached. They have short memories. Not every game is a work of art, not for Saban, Miles or anyone else. It's the nature of the sport."


It's a cogent point. From the start of his LSU tenure to the end, there were moments when Saban fell short of reaching the coaching stature we tend now to think was always a part of him.


Remember Alabama-Birmingham in 2000, Saban's first year in Baton Rouge? He successfully snookered the media and fans into blaming quarterback Josh Booty for the loss because of an ill-advised late pass. But the score was 13-10. Somebody else was responsible for making the calls for the other 59 minutes – and, also, for not having the team ready to play.


Remember Ole Miss in 2001, a 35-24 defeat? That was a watershed moment – and a perfect scale to weigh early Saban with the current Miles. That was the 19th game in Saban's LSU career, and the Tigers gave 21 points to the Rebels on two turnovers and a blocked punt (one broadcaster Jim Hawthorne, but not the LSU coaches, saw coming before the ball was snapped).


At that point, Saban's overall LSU record was 12-7 and 7-6 in SEC games. It's not exactly the same thing, I know, but Miles is 16-4, 9-3.


"This season may be disappointing, but, you know, somebody's doing something right," Ellis Hugh said.


In 2002, how much did Saban have his team primed against Virginia Tech (8-26), Alabama (0-31), or Arkansas (20-21)? Were the Tigers better prepared in the holy title season of 2003 when Florida shredded LSU 19-7? In fact, remember the Gators took a knee the last few plays on the LSU 19. It's interesting to ponder if Florida had gone for another touchdown, to make the score one approaching a rout, would LSU have fallen so low in the polls that it couldn't recover and get back into the race for No. 1?


In Saban's farewell season of 2004, was LSU the better prepared team against Oregon State (22-21 in overtime), Georgia (16-45), Troy State (24-20), or in his last game, when Saban's mind was on his impending jump to the Miami Dolphins, in the Capital City Bowl against Iowa (25-30)?


"The point is," Ellis Hugh reflected, "is Les Miles isn't the first coach at LSU to have a bad game. Nick Saban had 'em, too, and he's right now viewed as a saint in Baton Rouge. Let Miles catch fire like Saban did, and he'll be canonized, too. Those fans have short memories.


"Remember, this LSU team is about where it is supposed to be: Auburn was the pick to win the SEC West, not LSU, and Florida was the pick to win the SEC East. So the Tigers, about the equal of any team in the SEC but having the unenviable task of trying to beat them at their home stadiums, are about where they are supposed to be.


"Let the season play itself out. Then we'll decide who to jump on."




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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