Setting the tone

When the closing seconds ticked off the clock in last year's Bowl Championship Series title game, the LSU Tigers claimed their second title in five years. For the seniors, it was the culmination of everything that they had worked towards. The two overtime losses had been forgotten in the midst of the end result.

In the end, the Tigers remained the lone team standing.


Yet, when LSU fans looked out onto the field this season, there were not a lot of familiar faces.


Gone was quarterback Matt Flynn, who had engineered a number of the Tigers comebacks behind his veteran arm and on-the-go decision making.


Gone too was Jacob Hester, who had been the workhorse behind the Tigers success on the ground, as well as the lifeblood in head coach Les Miles' fourth down decision making.


Standout defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey had made his way to the National Football League and Early Doucet did the same.


It seemed that while plenty of talent was set to come back for the Tigers, LSU would lose a handful of much more valuable goods. The senior leadership that had defined the team had moved on.


At 7-4, as well as 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers have found themselves a far cry from New Orleans and the BCS stage.


With one game left before the Tigers go bowling, the underclassmen taking the field Friday against Arkansas know that this is one of the last chances to set the tone before turning the page into another chapter of LSU football.


Despite the string of conference losses, sophomore safety Chad Jones said that the game against the Razorbacks still holds significant weight for the Tigers.


"We're going in and it's about our seniors going out on a good note," Jones said. "It's another SEC game where we're going in to try and be a dominant force as a whole and as a team. We're going to go into Arkansas and try and set the tempo for our bowl game."


While the graduating seniors leave as one of the most successful classes in LSU history, the leadership provided on the field has been something evidently missing in the Tigers 2008 run.


Getting back on track for 2009 will begin this week, and junior Rahim Alem said that he will not let the opportunity pass him by.


"This could be two games for me to set the stage for next year," Alem said. "My senior season people will be looking for me to produce next year so winning these last two will be big."


On Sunday, Miles challenged Alem and the rest of the Tigers to show that their actions speak louder than their words.


"I talked to our team on Sunday, and I challenged them," Miles said. "I challenged them very personally in their own meeting room, and I challenged them as a team.”


Alem said that the headman’s comments struck a chord across the Tiger locker room.


"Basically, I think he wants to reestablish why we're here and try to give us some motivation that we still have two games," Alem said. "Who's in and who's not in?"


For the underclassmen, being "in" will involve more than playing well in the Tigers final two games.


"I definitely see myself taking a role as one of our leaders and trying to get things right for next year," Jones said. "We had great leaders on our team this year with guys like Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman, and then on offense with guys like Brett Helms and Herman Johnson. I can see myself taking that role next year."


Junior tight end Richard Dickson said that the younger Tigers are already stepping into their new roles as leaders heading into the final stretch.


"Some of the guys have been maybe a little more vocal because things have to be said and you need as much leadership as you can get right now when you're struggling," Dickson said. "We have these two games left and we have to win them."


Jones said that the role has already been presented to him, and he is ready to take the torch and carry it.


"I've had some of the younger guys coming up and asking me about plays, and I'm not used to that because I had been the one doing that," Jones said. "I'm ready to pick up my role and be more of a leader."


While the underclassmen realize that this is the time and place to turn the corner, the graduating seniors see the Arkansas game as the last chance at salvation.


For Tyson Jackson, the chance to end his final season on a positive note is the best outcome available at this point.


"Just to go out and beat Arkansas," Jackson said. "Set the stage for a good bowl game where we can go out and play some real good competition and end the season on a positive note."

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