LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger fumbles after being hit by Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier during the first half of their game on Sept. 22 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 10:06 PM
We all know Les Miles’ wants and likes — the odd-fitting ballcap, the Tiger Stadium Bermuda turf appetizer, long walks on the beach …
As for dislikes, by coaching standards he’s known for being fairly laid back.
He doesn’t like the word “lose” — normally in those rare cases it’s the Tigers “didn’t achieve victory” — and he sometimes has trouble saying an opponent’s name — “Our opponent” usually has to suffice.
But if you really want to get the LSU coach’s five-alarm dander up, just let a Tiger lose his grasp on the football.
If there was a torture dungeon in the bowels of Tiger Stadium — and as far as we know there’s not (not yet anyway) — it is reserved for those Tigers who fumble.
And this season is really trying his famous patience.
LSU’s six lost fumbles in five games might not exactly be a slippery-fingers epidemic, but it’s enough to tie with two other teams for second-most in the Southeastern Conference.
“Am I alarmed? Yes, absolutely,” Miles said after the Tigers lost three fumbles to contribute to the embarrassment of last week’s 38-22 victory over Towson. They fumbled five times but were fortunate enough to track down two of them.
“I think it is time we recognize we cannot go on the path that we are on,” Miles said. “It’s not the football we are used to.”
The football LSU is used to usually stays attached to the Tiger who is carrying it.
The quickest way to Miles’ doghouse is to go back to the sideline without the ball.
“We teach ball security very aggressively,” Miles said. “It is the first thing they hear every day.”
It’s never been much of a problem before, perhaps because Miles is obsessed with eliminating them in his lifetime and spends plenty of practice time driving the point home.
So the six lost fumbles — to go with five more that LSU managed to retrieve — is a head-scratcher.
By comparison, LSU lost five fumbles in last year’s 15 games.
Most alarming, perhaps, the previously immune running backs got into the fumble fest last week.
And they never fumble.
Going into the Towson game, LSU’s deep stable of running backs had combined for 211 carries without a fumble.
They made it to 215 before Kenny Hilliard lost the first fumble of his career in the first quarter, and Michael Ford later lost one deep in Towson territory.
Miles allows zero room for error when it comes to the bobbles.
“It is always the first thing I put on the practice schedule,” Miles said. “I know that our guys work at it. I promise you it is something that has not escaped us in any way.”
New quarterback Zach Mettenberger has thrown two interceptions, but he also has three of the fumbles, all in the last two games, that have added up to eight turnovers.
They haven’t just cost LSU possessions. All eight of them have had an uncanny knack to affect the scoreboard.
Both of Mettenberger’s interceptions — one each against North Texas and Idaho — were picked off near the goal line, presumably costing LSU points after the Tigers drove inside the opposing 10-yard line. One could be called a 14-point swing, when Idaho returned it 94 yards all the way to the LSU 5-yard line to set up one of the Vandals’ two touchdowns.
The five lost fumbles have been similarly disastrous.
Odell Beckham fumbled the opening kickoff against Washington, setting up the Huskies for their only points of the night on a field goal without benefit of a first down.
Mettenberger’s first fumble against Auburn sabotaged an impressive opening drive at the War Eagles’ 1-yard line, while the other came at the LSU 26 to set up Auburn’s lone touchdown.
Of the three lost fumbles last week, one set up a Towson field goal, another set up a touchdown and the other deep-sixed an LSU drive at the Towson 12-yard line.
Doing the math, turnovers have cost LSU (5-0, 1- SEC) a possible 28 points while being directly responsible for 27 opposing points.
That’s a 55-point swing in five games.
It has only kept Auburn closer than expected and contributed to the eyesore that was the Towson victory.
But Miles knows the schedule gets much tougher beginning with Saturday’s game at No. 10 Florida (4-0, 3-0).
“It will be fixed,” Miles said. “We can’t afford that as we go forward. I can’t imagine it won’t get addressed well and fixed.
‘We’re going to tighten it up very comfortably.”