MULE': LSU better learn from past sins

Alabama was one of those rally-'round-the-flag games – and LSU spent the day running up the flags.

For a team supposedly on the scent of a national championship, the Tigers were either remarkably undisciplined or lacked any of the poise required of all title teams with 14 penalties. FOURTEEN penalties! Let's face it: LSU – and its 130 yards in penalties compared to the Tide's paltry two for 15 yards – is what kept a lesser opponent in the game.

The Tigers were on the verge of blowing out the Crimson Tide early in the second quarter, had a 17-3 lead, had just held Bama for three downs, and was about to get the ball again in good field position.

Wait a minute! There's a flag. LSU roughed the passer on third down, giving the Tide new life. Bama went from there to a touchdown … and an eventual 20-17 halftime lead.

In a case of one step forward, two steps back, LSU was almost done in – and maybe deserved to be – with self-inflicted wounds. The coup de grâce very nearly came in the fourth quarter when the Tigers climbed back in the game with 10 straight points to tie the score at 27. Seeming ready to take command, LSU faced a fourth-and-inches at their own 36. LSU lined up, clearly in a situation to try to draw the Tide offsides – and did. Except that center Brett Helms was ruled to have moved the ball in a simulation of a snap.

To make matters worse, Tigers lineman Carnell Stewart jumped up to protest, taking off his helmet, an automatic and additional 15-yard penalty. Bama's Javier Arenas ran back the ensuing punt 61 yards to put the Tide back in front.

LSU had to beat two teams Saturday: Alabama and itself. It says something good about the Tigers that they found a way to prevail and stay in the running for a BCS berth on Jan. 8 despite their remarkably ragged performance.

But I know this: Against a really good opponent, like Ohio State or Oregon, or even against one of the contenders in the SEC Championship Game, an unfocused outing like LSU had Saturday will result not only in defeat, but an embarrassing defeat.

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Events of the last week reminded us of the fascinating story of former LSU coach Paul Dietzel and his up-close view of history-in-the-making.

A center on the Duke University team at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dietzel left school after his sophomore season for the Army Air Corps where he became a B-29 pilot. Dietzel flew 12 bombing missions over Japan, including one that earned the crew of his ship (the "Banana Boat") a presidential unit citation.

Based on Tinian in the Marianas Islands in the late stages of World War II, Dietzel and many of the personnel there noticed something different – and secret.

On a runway adjoining the one used by the Banana Boat was a solitary and different-looking B-29, one without gun turrets, obviously being fitted for new equipment. A chain-link fence went up around a nearby large building. An extra-large contingent of military police surrounded the fence.

"We were told they were working on a new type of photo reconnaissance ship," Dietzel recalled. "But things did seem kind of strange."

Eventually, the Banana Boat crew, now battle-tested and savvy, was sent back to California to train as a lead crew in the continuing bombing of Japan. While they were there, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

"Little Boy," the bomb, was assembled in the building behind the chain-link fence on Tinian, and the "recon" ship on the adjoining runway was the Enola Gay, the plane that delivered the bomb.

Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, died this week, bringing to mind Dietzel's proximity to perhaps the most world-changing event in history.

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Bear Bryant, as every LSU fan knows too well, owned LSU when he was head coach at Alabama, running up a 16-4 record against the Tigers. Bryant stepped down after the '82 season, and in the 25 years since, counting Saturday's victory in Tuscaloosa, LSU and the Crimson Tide are tied at 12-12-1.

Last year, in a snide, left-handed compliment, sage old ESPN commentator Lou Holtz said LSU was the most talented team in the history of football to lose two games. The question is this: Now that Southern Cal, called by some in the preseason as the most talented team ever assembled, has lost twice, where does Lou put the Trojans? Or even Florida, overflowing with talent, but saddled with three defeats?

For those questioning why LSU, with three victories that could have gone either way and one that did get away, should be in the mix for the BCS title game, listen up: because the Tigers' gaudy 8-1 record was achieved against the most demanding schedule of any of the contenders. LSU has played six (Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama) teams that were ranked at the time they met. No one else has, including No. 1-ranked Ohio State. As CBS' Spencer Tillman said, the Buckeyes, playing in the Big Ten (or is it the Little Eleven?), are taking the path of least resistance.

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.


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