Best to put Tech behind Tigers
Needless to say, LSU's season opener against Virginia Tech didn't go down like most had envisioned. Whether you picked the Tigers to win or lose, you expected a much closer game reflective of two teams expected to contend for their respective conference honors.
Well, the Hokies certainly looked like a team that could again challenge Miami in the Big East. The two-fisted backfield of Kevin Jones and Lee Suggs is a potent force, and quarterback Bryan Randall could be dangerous if he can settle into the Tech passing game. Defensively, the Hokies make up for a lack of size with speed, intensity and a well-executed scheme.
As for the Tigers, they don't appear quite ready to defend their Southeastern Conference Championship – yet. I still claim LSU has the talent to match up with almost any opponent, but there are some mental shortcomings that could stifle the Tigers' potential.
Matt Mauck has not yet found his comfort zone at quarterback and struggled to get the ball to his playmakers, some of whom had a hard time holding on to the ball. I liked most of the decisions he made against Virginia Tech, but his execution was lacking at crucial moments.
The defense showed big play ability but suffered fundamental lapses at times. Plain and simple, the Tigers were not tackling like they were taught. For the first 15 minutes of each practice, I watch the coaching staff work repeatedly with the defenders on tackling technique. Those lessons were applied sparingly against the Hokies.
Special teams breakdowns probably cost the Tigers the game against Virginia Tech. While the two blocked punts led directly to points for the Hokies, the penalty that negated Domanick Davis' touchdown on a punt return seemed to take some of the steam out of the LSU engine.
More so than any specific failure on a player's part, head coach Nick Saban said he was disturbed by the lack of passion he saw from his team against Virginia Tech. Even if the Tigers are able to replace the talent and experience they lost from last year's team, it will be useless if they cannot find the fire to get up for big games like the one they lost last Sunday.
"I just didn't feel like we played like we had the eye of the tiger today, with the kind of intensity you need to play with to have a good football team," said Saban. "I believe in our players and I believe we can have a good team and we're going to certainly go to work on trying to do that Tuesday when we start against The Citadel.
"I'm very disappointed in the way we played today, but I'm not disappointed in our players and I'm not disappointed in our team. And I'm not disappointed in the chances that we have to have a good team before this year is over."
The chances are indeed good that LSU can still have a very successful team in 2002, and hopefully the Virginia Tech game will be looked back upon as the catalyst that got them headed in that direction.
RV policy put into reverse
You could hear the high-pitched tones when passing by Tiger Stadium late last week.
It's the sound of LSU athletics director Skip Bertman throwing into reverse a new plan that moved recreational vehicles from their game day spots across the street from Tiger Stadium. Included in that number are the eight, long-time front row RVs that have become a widely recognized symbol of LSU football tailgating.
LSU announced a week ago that 43 RVs are being allowed to return to Lot C, the traditional motor home parking area across the street from Tiger Stadium. A news release indicated the change in policy was being made "in order to help maintain the festive atmosphere that has helped make Death Valley one of the most famous venues in the country for college football."
The RVs were being moved to make room for Tiger Transit, a bus service that will bring LSU fans to campus from remote locations around the Baton Rouge area. In an effort to reduce the number of vehicles coming to LSU on game day, the athletic department has been promoting the bus service as an alternative.
The RV policy reversal was a wise move by Bertman and the university community. Without any guarantees the transit service will be a hit, a lot full of RV revelers is a better scenario than a scattering of half-empty buses occupying prime game day real estate.
"After weighing feedback from Tiger football fans over the last several weeks, we have determined it would be in the best interest of LSU's unique game day atmosphere to return as many recreational vehicles as possible to Lot C on game days," said Bertman.
The eight motor homes parked along South Stadium Drive will be joined by another 35 motor homes. LSU was going to use a lottery, if necessary, to determine the recipients, and Bertman planned to contact all of the affected RV owners by overnight mail.
The original plan was to move approximately 80 motor homes out of Lot C and into Touchdown Village across from LSU's CEBA Building.
"We feel this adjustment will allow us to test the full measure of success of the Tiger Transit system while maintaining the festive atmosphere in the immediate vicinity of Tiger Stadium," Bertman said.
Another upside to the revised policy is that handicap parking spaces will allow fans to reach their vehicles in a more timely fashion after the game. The construction of the east side upper deck of Tiger Stadium caused LSU to move handicap spots in 2000.
"It was brought to my attention that handicap fans have waited up to an hour and a half after games for access to their vehicles," Bertman said. "Now we can better service those fans in need of assistance."
Bertman says the RV owners have been told the change in parking policy is a one-year opportunity to remain in Lot C because planned construction in the vicinity of the stadium will affect future parking policies yet to be determined.
The most likely plans will probably involve the razing of Alex Box Stadium for the construction of a new baseball/softball facility near the intersection of Nicholson and Gourrier. One plan calls for the old Alex Box Stadium area to be turned into a premium parking lot, and the new facility will also provide additional parking spots.
The problem is that all of these spots are needed now, especially since measures have been taken to eliminate parking under the oak trees on campus.
I applaud the effort to preserve the scenic beauty of the LSU campus but reiterate my statement that the parking problems created on game day should have been addressed long before the east side addition to Tiger Stadium was undertaken.
LSU leaves Bech hanging academically
Walk-on wide receiver/special teams holder Blain Bech returned to the LSU football team for the 2002 season after being suspended for the post-season. His suspension was attributed to academics and since the university must rightly protect the confidentiality of student records, there was no way to verify the exact circumstances that led to his discipline.
Bech has since opened the door on what took place last fall, and in doing so shed an unkind light on the way his case was handled. Showing high character, he accepted responsibility for a mistake that was really no fault of his own.
In a story that ran in The Advocate last week, Bech said that he failed two classes because an employee with LSU's Academic Center for Student Athletes made changes to his schedule without his knowledge. He attended the classes he originally signed up for at the beginning of the semester but didn't learn about the other two classes until it was too late. As a result, he was academically ineligible for the Sugar Bowl.
The employee who handled Bech's scheduling is no longer working at LSU, according to new ACSA director Dr. Roger Grooters. He declined to identify the employee to The Advocate.
The student-accessible computer system at LSU accurately affects all schedules, but Bech said he never thought to check his records since he had a printout from the university with all of his classes. But because he could have caught the error himself, Bech calls what happened to him a "misunderstanding."
I see it as a very gracious athlete taking far too much heat for someone else's mistake.
Bech's reputation took a blow when people applied the "dumb jock" label to him, assuming he shirked his responsibilities in the classroom. To make matters worse, LSU didn't see fit to clarify his situation for nearly ten months, leaving those who weren't in the know to assume the worse.
It was Bech who had to clear his own name.
As for the unnamed ASCA employee, let's hope he or she was one of the individuals purged from the center when Grooters took over its oversight. It is ineptitude like this that is largely responsible for the NCAA violations LSU self-reported last month.
Reporters on the LSU beat take heat at times for over-emphasizing the negative and under-reporting the positive aspects of Tiger athletics. In Bech's case, LSU had a chance to avoid a negative story and chose not to do so.
To Blain's credit, he has righted himself academically and earned a scholarship heading into his junior season with the Tigers.
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