LSU experiences Thanksgiving discomfort

You might want to bookmark this Tiger Rag.com page for future reference.<br><br>When it comes time to share a Thanksgiving meal with relatives, you might have second thoughts about your choice of food and libation based upon your adverse reaction to the offerings of 2002.

That's when you need to come back to this column and remind yourself that the nausea, discomfort and indigestion had nothing to do with the food and family (expect maybe that one in-law) and everything with the disappointing ending of the LSU-Arkansas game last Friday in Little Rock.

 

Just as your stomach was settling down from a Thanksgiving Day gorge, the Tigers came up short in their bid to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions. The 31-yard touchdown pass from Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones to DeCori Birmingham in the game's final minute had the same effective on LSU fans as massive dose of laxative.

 

The ending of the LSU-Arkansas game has been compared to the Tigers' miraculous escape with a win at Kentucky earlier this season. Anyone who saw the expression of the now-infamous Kentucky student with the blue tie, who suddenly realized his Wildcats weren't going to win, can now sympathize with the poor lad who probably lost his lunch on the field at Commonwealth Stadium.

 

Unfortunately for the Tigers, there really isn't much benefit in rehashing the reasons why the 2002 SEC West Division championship ring slipped from their fingers at War Memorial Stadium. But that won't stop the questions from coming in the meantime.

 

Why would LSU opt for a field goal late in the game instead of trying to put things away with another first down – and perhaps a touchdown?

 

It looked like a good gamble at the time since the LSU defense was playing very effectively against the Arkansas defense. On fourth-and-5 at the Razorbacks' 12, most teams would take three points and force an Arkansas team that hadn't fared well throwing deep to score a touchdown in 40 seconds.

 

There is no question that the Tigers' ultimate objective was to keep the football and the clock moving late in the fourth quarter. But perhaps the decision to run LaBrandon Toefield three straight times was erring on the conservative side. Toefield was averaging two yards a carry up until that point, and quarterback Marcus Randall was the hot man on the ground at that point.

 

The quarterback draw gets harder to run on a shorter field, and it looked like Toefield was ready to churn out the needed yards when he gained 5 on first down from the AU 17. But after Toefield lost a yard on the next play, his third down run up the middle looked like a concession move – the safe choice.

 

And had the Tigers executed their prevent (ugh, the "P" word) defense, the field goal would have been the right choice and their 6-point lead would have been safe.

 

A cardinal rule of the prevent scheme is not to allow the opposition's receivers to get behind coverage, but Richard Smith managed to race past LSU's dime coverage deep enough to drag down a 50-yard toss from Jones. LSU's pass rush was lacking on the play, but the Tigers used only three players on the line and kept the linebackers in the middle of the field to take away the dump-off routes.

 

The pass rush again was not a factor on Arkansas' first-and-10 play from the LSU 31, but Jones could not connect with Carlos Ousley in the end zone.

 

Knowing the Razorbacks had to get the ball into the end zone, the Tigers elected to stick with the three-man pass rush and keep the linebackers honest in the middle. The defensive backs, meanwhile, had to deal with Arkansas receivers crossing the field looking for gaps in coverage. Jones found one and threw a perfect pass that only Birmingham could get his hands on and LSU cornerback Randall Gay could not.

 

Would it have made a difference if Gay had looked for the ball instead of tracking Birmingham? Should the Tigers have blitzed one of their linebackers to make life difficult for Jones?

 

Well, that's akin to asking what if the Tigers had run their intended routes on the Hail Mary play at Kentucky instead of the mish-mash that resulted in the winning score. For every blessing bestowed upon a team, there are probably about five other instances where they're on the other end of someone else's good fortune.

 

It might take a little while for LSU fans to get over the events of last Friday, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Head coach Nick Saban has taught his players not to accept mediocrity, so it is understandable for Tiger supporters to be very disappointed when the team fails to meet his expectations.

 

There would be more reason for concern if LSU players and coaches came away from Little Rock satisfied with being in the game for just 59:20.

 


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