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Hobbs: Miles' biggest challenge this week is putting bounce back in Tigers' step

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 9:48 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Not to be an alarmist here, but I seem to detect all the early warning signals that portions of the Southeastern Conference are joining college football’s trendy point-a-minute fad.

So far they’re just sticking a toe in the water. There has been no West Virginia (70)-Baylor (63) eyesore yet. But look around at what happened last week.

Texas A&M 58, Arkansas 10 (OK, bad example, Arkansas’ defense was heavily involved). But Georgia, which was touting itself as finally having the hunker-down kind of defense to match up with LSU and Alabama in a bare-knuckles scrimmage, won a big game against Tennessee — 51-44, saved only by a tipped interception in the final minute. It was 30-30 at halftime, for crying out loud.

This, from the league that last year brought you the 9-6 Overtime Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa.

This was the week’s SEC showcase game, and Georgia head coach Mark Richt and Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at times looked helpless to control the track meet from the sideline, reduced to covering their eyes and just hoping the roulette ball landed in their slot when it finally quit spinning.

This while the SEC was still horse-laughing as the West Virginia-Baylor shenanigans gasped to a merciful, unsightly end just about the time the Dawgs and Vols were teeing it up.

The SEC tried this for a spell. Back in Steve Spurrier’s heyday at Florida, you better rev up some ball plays and light up the scoreboard or get your tail lapped by halftime. They adapted, studied up and learned the forward pass.

But these days even Darth Visor, now at South Carolina, is trying to win with ball control and defense, acting almost like a Stepford wife relative to the new order of Nick Saban.

It’s what supposedly separates the SEC from the pop-gun conferences, the difference in winning six consecutive BCS national titles and being a wannabe on the outside looking in.

LSU can play that game.

But, if this disturbing trend toward shootouts continues, one wonders how many times the Tigers can expect to sneak out of town with a 12-10 SEC victory decided by a safety.

If 50 is the new 20, LSU might be in trouble.

The Tigers can’t play Idaho (63-14) every week.

Meanwhile, the world is still awaiting the arrival of LSU’s promised big-time vertical passing game.

The big buzz around the LSU football complex on Monday was that quarterback Zach Mettenberger had been unshackled, ready to try something new and go forth boldly toward his destiny.

Mainly, he shaved off his mustache.

Yeah, that ought to do it, that’s the ticket. Hey, it’s a start at least. Or, at any rate, it can’t hurt anything.

Something obviously needs to change before LSU gets to Florida on Saturday.

LSU’s defense will be fine, although last Saturday the Tigers, for some reason — out of nowhere, really — tackled like they didn’t want to hurt Towson’s feelings.

The offense is (let’s put it nicely) a work in progress, still waiting on the big guns to go off.

Les Miles’ rant this week — as it was last week — was about cleaning up the mistakes that have derailed their best intentions time and again.

It’s a noble cause. Those turnovers and penalties can surely be a big nuisance.

But you’ve read my rant about that one before. The key to winning isn’t eliminating mistakes in a college football game. You’d sooner rid the world of teenage stupidity. Mistakes you can only hope to contain. The real key to winning football teams is overcoming those inevitable miscues and moving on in spite of them.

You do that with a certain confidence and, more so, an arrogant swagger that laughs in the face of second-and-25.

LSU’s biggest problem was evident right there below Mettenberger’s freshly shaven upper lip Monday.

It wasn’t a smile. It wasn’t a frown. It was a blank. He appeared weary. He appeared down.

He also looked very similar to the five or six teammates around him there for the weekly Monday meeting with the media.

For a team that improved to 5-0, there was nothing but negativity in the room as they were all but asked to apologize under oath for pretending to be the No. 4 team in the country.

A 38-22 victory over Towson may have wounded their psyche more than a 21-0 loss in the BCS national title game.

There was no cocky swagger in evidence. It’s a team that hasn’t really had enough of a challenge to develop much chemistry, let alone any real identity.

Maybe it’s there, waiting for the right time to get out.

But that’s Miles’ biggest challenge this week — lifting them up, putting some bounce in their step.

Fortunately, when it comes to coaching, that’s right in his wheelhouse.

A trademark of Miles’ teams is that they show up every week ready and excited to play. OK maybe last week was stretching it.

That conglomeration of long faces was only on Monday. They hadn’t even yet met with their head coach since getting chewed out for beating Towson right after the game.

He knows his team and he’s a master of pushing just the right emotional buttons.

There’s no doubt LSU will play focused and play hard in The Swamp. Book that. Maybe even smarter. Miles’ tricky part the remainder of the week is to find some of that 2011 chutzpah to go along with it.

Don’t put it past him.

Towson wasn’t the worst or surely not the most embarrassing victory of Miles’ career. That honor would surely still go to the 2010 clusterfusion spectacle, 16-14 win over Tennessee when LSU got a mulligan after the Vols’ 14-man defense trumped the Tigers’ own stupidity.

Somehow unbeaten at the time, they were ridiculed, laughed at, turned into punch lines and summarily written off.

The very next week they went to Florida.

And beat the Gators to turn their season around.

•••

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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