By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- In LSU's last 21 football games, the Tigers are 19-2. One of the nation's truly elite programs, they are 29-4 over the past three years, winning 88 percent of the time they've taken the field. Each season has seen Les Miles' crew win at least five in a row, including a 13-straight a year ago. Miles' career record in Baton Rouge of 83-19 is the most successful stretch in school history.
So why, after just one loss, is everyone writing off LSU? The Tigers have become prisoners of their own success.
Granted, the loss was important, a 14-6 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Florida Gator program. LSU swallowed a dose of their own medicine in the Swamp, getting beat in the trenches as Mike Gillislee tore through the Tiger defense for 146 yards. For the first time in a long time, LSU wasn't the team physically imposing their will, instead playing the part of a squad trying to stop the bleeding. Those rare occurrences combined with offense struggles now have many questioning the Tigers' talent, while dismissing their hopes for the rest of the 2012 season.
But for those celebrating the Tigers demise, I hate to break the news. Don't count out LSU.
Ranked eighth in this week Coaches Poll, and ninth in the AP, Les Miles and company still have a National Championship destiny in their hands. Their next four games can erase all memories of Gainesville's failure, as the squads LSU will face have a combined 20-1 record.
All four teams are ranked in the top 25, and two of the teams (South Carolina and Alabama) are currently in the nation's top three. Three of the four contests will be played at Tiger Stadium. LSU is likely to be favored in all but one (against Alabama). Every one of those games will be on television, the sports world tuned in.
So, despite the early setback, LSU still holds the cards going forward.
A victory over South Carolina this Saturday can immediately right the ship, putting the Tigers in the place nearly everyone in the country expected they'd be when the 2012 season began. Among the SEC elite. For a team getting lots of "ink" thrown on their grave, one win can completely change their fortune, and a great four-week run can mean another trip to Atlanta and perhaps Miami.
When you reach the stratosphere of any profession, the microscope with which spectators watch only grows. The margin for error is less, and perhaps unfairly, you are always held up to a higher standard. Overreaction is normal, but the level to which people have dismissed LSU after just one loss lets you know how much the average fan and media member expects from Miles and the Bayou Bengals.
I wrote in my Monday "Three and Out" column that only wins matter. While that's true, it doesn't mean a win is absolute. There are always reasons for victory and defeat, and the ability to correct mistakes is paramount to long term success. So, looking back at last weekend's matchup between Florida and LSU, we can learn just as much about the losers (LSU) as we can the winners (Florida).
Let's start with the biggest stat of the game.
That's the number of consecutive rushes Florida ran against LSU, literally lining up and running over the Tigers to close out the contest. But that 24 can be misleading, because prior to the second half the Florida running attack was non-existent. The Gators gained just 47 yards in the first half, and were averaging 0.7 yards a carry. LSU shut down Gillislee, and harassed quarterback Jeff Driskel into a turnover. The familiar strategy was working, and Miles went into half up 6-0.
The LSU philosophy hasn't changed since Miles arrived in Baton Rouge. The idea is simple. Let the enormous amount of defensive talent dominate the game, leaving the offense to manage the score. You won't confuse the formula with Dana Holgorson's "Air Raid" attack at West Virginia, or even Chip Kelly's spread at Oregon. But, that script has meant victories (lots of them), and in the end why change what works?
6-0 at half shouldn't surprise anyone.
A further look shows three key moments that either LSU didn't covert, or didn't go the Tigers way.
Midway through the second quarter LSU recovered a Driskel fumble at the Gator seven yard line. Despite the wonderful field position, the Tigers could only come away with a field goal, moving the score to 6-0. A touchdown there changes the whole complexion of the game, but LSU failed to capitalize.
Early in the Gators first scoring drive of the second half, middle linebacker and lynch pin Keith Minter suffered an injury, missing a majority of the snaps on that possession. That injury, coupled with other defenders unavailable left LSU vulnerable. Florida, as good teams will, exploited the holes, and for the first time Gillislee found space to operate. Eight plays later, Will Muschamp's squad was up 7-6.
Another Florida defensive play was a game changer, as LSU attempted to mount a comeback shortly after. Tiger quarterback Zack Mettenberger found Odell Beckham deep down the right side, the type of big play LSU had sorely lacked. But, Florida's Matt Elam made perhaps the game's biggest play, causing Beckham to fumble with the Gators recovering.
That one defensive play flipped the field, taking the Bayou Bengals out of the field goal range and sending an already tired LSU defense back onto the field. It was momentum swing Miles and company would never recover from.
While every game has pivotal plays that define the outcome, you can argue LSU was very close to winning at Florida. All that despite an offensive performance that no Tiger fan would write home about.
But, is this year any different? When have the Tigers ever been known for their offense?
Despite a poor showing Gainesville, LSU is currently ranked 76th in the nation in total offense. While that might seem low, it is actually high for Bayou Bengals if you look historically. During that three-year stretch I mentioned earlier, where they went 29-4 mind you, here's where the Tigers ranked in total offense each season.
2011 - 86th
2010 - 86th
2009 - 112th
That means a year ago, when LSU was 13-0 and being hailed as one of the greatest college football teams in history, their offense could only muster 152 passing yards a game. I don't say this to disparage the Tigers, but to remind you that LSU is capable of winning without the need to dominate offensively.
LSU's formula, at least under Miles, has never been about offense. Not that they can't score on you (35 points per game last year), but they don't necessarily need that to win. The Tigers play to their strengths, and as long as they continue to produce top five defenses their yardage total won't matter.
What will matter is these next four weeks. Let’s not forget, five years ago LSU was upset twice as the nation’s number one team, and still won a National Championship because of their schedule and the craziness that is college football.
So, don't count out LSU just yet.