MULE': Place your bets - 2003 versus 07

If forced to place a bet, who would you put your money on, the 2003 LSU Tigers or the 2007 team?

The thought hit home, again, watching the vaunted Bayou Bengal defense give up 480 yards to Ole Miss, the 97th-ranked offense in the land.

It may be unfair, and things admittedly have changed with more teams using refined spread offenses, making things more difficult for defenses. Still, nobody can be confident about what they've seen of the Tiger defense of late.

Despite the misleading stats that say – and that we keep hearing from commentators – LSU is a premier defense, when exactly was the last time LSU fans saw a solid defensive performance – one that just rocks and stops opponents cold – from the Tigers? I'll tell you: It was at the end of the first half against South Carolina, seven and a half games ago.

From that point on, LSU has given up 177 of the 191 points the Tigers have allowed this season. That's an average of 25.2 points, which, coupled with sloppy execution and undisciplined play, allows lesser opponents – like Ole Miss – to stay with a team allegedly on the scent of a national title.

The No. 1 Tigers of '03 surrendered a total of 122 points in the regular season, and no more than 24 in any one game. The current Tigers have given up that many or more five times. There's a big difference between having superior athletes and playing superior defensive football. LSU has not been performing well as a defensive unit, and no team can continue to depend on its offense to just outscore opponents.

Say what you want about Lou Holtz, but he's right: This LSU team is living on the edge. Remember, it will only take one bad game to ruin all the accomplishments of this year, no matter what the ultimate won-loss record is.

Give, say, Georgia, or even a motivated Arkansas, the same sort of sleep-walking defensive efforts the Tigers have been putting forth the last seven games and this could still turn out to be a disappointing season. It would be awful to have to look back at 2007 and realize LSU played its best game – its most complete game – in its second week of the season.

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The big question this week is who will Alabama coach Nick Saban try to hang his team's 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe on? When LSU had a similar embarrassment against Alabama-Birmingham in 2000, he successfully fostered the blame on quarterback Josh Booty for changing a play and throwing an interception in the last minute, even though it was someone else calling plays for the other 59 minutes of the 13-10 game. He also pointed his finger at the trainer of the Miami Dolphins when he passed on free-agent quarterback Drew Brees and went with Daunte Culpepper instead. Had Saban evaluated the prospects correctly, he might still be coaching in the NFL – where he always said he wanted to prove himself. … And here's the thought of the week: Saban, the highest-paid coach in college football at $4 million a year, was beaten by ULM's Charlie Weatherbie, who ranks 130th in the sports' pay ladder at a paltry $120,000 a year. … The LSU victory over Ole Miss was significant. It gave the Tigers their 10th victory. In its first century of football (1893-1993), LSU enjoyed three seasons (1908, 1958, 1961) in which the Tigers won 10 or more games. In the last 10 years, LSU has won 10 or more games six times (1996, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, and now, 2007).


Marty Mule' can be reached at

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