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Hobbs Column: Miles, Tigers can take a page from past

Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 10:15 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

ATHENS, Ga. — As Georgia crossed midfield late in Saturday’s game, a buddy in the press box wondered aloud if LSU ought to just go ahead and let the Bulldogs score now.

I replied, cleverly I thought, that if it had been me, I’d have just let the Bulldogs run the previous kickoff back and be done with it, still with a leisurely four minutes to play with.

As it was, Georgia scored soon enough for a 44-41 lead, and it appeared that LSU’s game-long strategy of “being the last team with the ball” was working to perfection.

The execution was just off a little bit at the end. They can work on that.

But just to clarify here, the exciting loss to Georgia Saturday, though not the kind of thing LSU fans are used to watching, was not the end of the world. None of LSU’s goals went down the drain. The margin for error was erased, but the season can still come down to who wins the LSU-Alabama game. So nothing changed.

Saturday just altered the way you look at LSU. And it will take an attitude adjustment.

This will be tough for most LSU fans, but you could take a lesson from Nick Saban here.

Saban’s Alabama’s defense had been widely questioned ever since the Tide’s deflating victory over Texas A&M exposed it, and there were some gullible worry-warts promoting the notion that Ole Miss’ high-powered attack was a good candidate to upset the Tide.

Alabama 25, Ole Miss zero.

That’s the simple solution. But that’s not it. It may not apply here.

LSU’s defense can get better, probably will with some nurturing. Presumably the coverages could be simplified, maybe go back to Morse code for communication, because whatever fancy stuff they conjured up for Saturday’s game confused and frustrated the Tigers far more effectively than it bothered Georgia. It barely annoyed the Bulldogs.

Communication seemed to be the buzz word during the postgame autopsy Saturday. Miles also admitted to numerous blown coverages.

Almost every Georgia play seemed to snap with three or four yellow helmets still looking away from the Dawgs, still desperately staring toward the LSU bench, presumably pleading for guidance that was either too little or, more likely, too late to be of much good.

Most of Georgia’s big pass plays ended with two or three LSU defensive backs staring at each other and throwing their arms up in the air. No finger-pointing that I saw, but the body language usually suggested, “I thought you had him!”

They seemed to be out of position as much as they were just beaten.

That might come under the heading of what Miles likes to dismiss as “easily correctable,” and maybe he’s right. Certainly, it’s something that will get a lot of attention in practice.

But, frankly, I don’t know what he’s going to do with a defensive front that still has trouble tackling and treats quarterbacks as gently as if they’re kid sisters. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw 34 passes and, not only wasn’t sacked, nothing turned up that the game stat crew even classified as a “hurry.”

He was forced to scramble once (albeit untouched for 11 yards).

Sometimes it’s bad angles, tons of them. But the really glaring thing up front —particularly for a defense that has always prided itself on being so physical — is how often it gets run over, how many yards after contact come with a pile of LSU bodies moving backwards.

Maybe with this LSU defense — to borrow an expression I have no idea what means — it is what it is.

LSU can live with it. Other good teams have.

Saban, the defensive guru, even managed it once, although he doesn’t really like to talk about it.

He denies it to this day.

He’s too proud of his defense and too much a football traditionalist not to make his specialty the focus of any team accomplishment.

But his first SEC championship, with LSU in 2001, was fashioned only when he admitted (though only to himself) that his defense just wasn’t very good.

It had been average at best, but LSU’s offense played it straight — run first, ball control, don’t mess anything up — through a nondescript first half of the season.

But then came Ole Miss, and couldn’t begin to slow down Rebels in the second half, blew a lead with stubborn ball control and lost 35-24, dropping to 4-3.

Saban said before the next game that the defense had to get better.

But the next week he suddenly took the restraints off and turned Rohan Davey loose on Alabama. SEC records were set that day that stood for more than a decade —Davey threw for 523 yards, Josh Reed alone caught 19 passes (still the conference record) for 293 yards.

LSU needed every one of them to beat a bad Alabama team 35-21.

Saban kind of denied that there was any change in thinking. Just, you know, taking what the defense gave them. That kind of stuff.

But the Tigers saw the light.

Henceforth taking the field each week with the attitude that they weren’t likely to win many 14-10 games, they play-called and gambled accordingly, and they didn’t lose again.

Saban probably had to turn his head at times, but I can’t remember such a dramatic midseason change in philosophy. But it was capped in the Sugar Bowl when they gave up 34 points to Illinois — and won easily by scoring 47 with reckless abandon.

Saban still doesn’t like to talk about it.

But that may be the reality for LSU right now.

Miles doesn’t really have to make this attitude adjustment.

He’s already there.

Or maybe he’s just staying out of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s hair and giving him free reign.

But LSU, with Zach Mettenberger playing quarterback at a whole different level than you’ve seen around LSU in eons, the Tigers surely have the offense to play this strange kind of game.

It could be fun. You just have to throw out the old rules to watch it.

• • •

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

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