Closing with Wins

After a closer than expected bout against a non-conference foe, the Tigers look to finish stronger than they did in 2008.

Quick, think back to your least favorite moment as a Tiger football fan in 2008.

With five Southeastern Conference losses and even more interceptions tossed and returned for touchdowns, it shouldn’t be too tough.

Some of you might go with Oct. 11 in Gainesville.

The exact moment you hit rock bottom was probably when Gator linebacker Brandon Spikes intercepted Jarrett Lee and returned it for a 52-yard touchdown, giving Florida a 41-14 lead and turning the afternoon into a nationally televised blueprint on how to dethrone a national champion.

Others will go with Nov. 8.

Against No. 1 Alabama, Death Valley experienced the highest highs and lowest lows within a possession of the football. When a blocked Tide field goal attempt sent the 21-21 affair past four quarters, the valley roared its’ mightiest roar. When Lee was intercepted on third-and-6 from the 21, the Tide capitalized, using two plays to record the winning touchdown. All that broke the silence was the scattered cheers from the Alabama faithful.

If you were wondering, the LSU players would not go with either of those outings.

Instead, most settled on Nov. 22.

At home against Ole Miss, the Tigers were beaten – and beaten handily.

The score read 31-13, but a closer look begs the question of how LSU even managed double-digits. The Tigers were held to 37 yards rushing and 178 yards passing, they went 3-of-13 on third down, Lee tossed two interceptions and the Rebels held the ball close to 10 minutes longer than the Tigers.

“Ole Miss was the one team that beat us,” said linebacker Perry Riley. “We felt like all the other games we beat ourselves, but Ole Miss handed it to us in all phases of the game.

“That is why it hurt.”

Ole Miss was the better team that day, but that doesn’t tell the entire tale of the loss.

A week prior, LSU needed the biggest comeback in school history to defeat Troy, a non-conference opponent that the Tigers felt they could beat simply by suiting up and running out of the tunnel.

As a few fans willing to stick out the cold weather and uninspired effort witnessed, that was far from the case.

Those same fans sat in Tiger Stadium this past weekend, where they witnessed an eerily similar uninspired effort against a less-talented, non-conference foe.

Sure, Les Miles didn’t need a 37-point comeback to get the win. But trailing after halftime and still stuck in a battle into the fourth quarter, Miles did need running back Keiland Williams to pick his offense up and carry them to a 24-16 win.

The root of the problem is not that Troy or Louisiana Tech was a more talented side than LSU. Neither was.

Instead, it was when they ran into the Tigers on their schedule. In both years, LSU’s struggles outside the SEC followed a loss to an undefeated Alabama team.

“We were still hung over,” said senior linebacker Harry Coleman.

“We felt we were going to roll over Louisiana Tech, and we didn’t respect them as much as we should have,” Riley added. “We figured they would lay down. That is our fault. We went in with the wrong mindset.”

What followed Troy was a loss to the Rebels and an equally deflating loss to Arkansas in Little Rock.

With both schools on tap once again, how can the Tigers make certain that they don’t follow the same road of missed opportunities that they traveled in 2008?

“We have a lot more to play for, and we have to realize that,” Riley said. “I’ve heard people around campus talk about it, but we aren’t going to let that happen. We plan on getting two victories.”

When thoughts of last season roll through your head, most of you probably feel like LSU safety Chad Jones.

“It just leaves a bad taste in the back of your mouth,” he said.

To erase that taste, the remedy is finishing strong. Two games present two must wins for Miles and his Tigers, a definitive statement that the team has bounced back to form.

“The finish that we’d all like is to be a team ranked five and above and be an elite team in this conference,” Miles said. “That’s how we see ourselves; that’s how we will play. With two games remaining and two quality opponents in conference, that’s the goal that lies before us.

“If you look at the opportunity to finish four of the last five years in the top five, it would be a great goal for any program.”

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