Hobbs: Feel free to push the panic button now

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Now that panic has officially set in, LSU can get on with the task of perhaps fixing the season.

Isn’t that the traditional first sign in the eight-step road to recovery — the uncontrollable fan shrieking, the cuss-texting, the rumor-tweeting and message-board finger-pointing?

Once that settles down, you move on to step 2, admitting you have a problem.

And right now LSU has a problem.

Reality hit the Tigers in the mouth Saturday just has hard as Florida did in a 14-6 thumping.

If they needed any more sobering news, the LSU charter flight would have landed back in Baton Rouge just about the time Georgia scored a late, meaningless touchdown to pull within 35-7 of the Tigers’ next opponent, South Carolina.

Yes, by all means, feel free to push the panic button now.

It won’t get any easier.

There’s nothing particularly shameful about losing by eight points to a good team in one of college football’s toughest pits to play in.

And it’s not just that panicked fans had no reference point for a regular season loss since the 2010 season.

It’s just that it felt and looked so much worse, given the way Florida manhandled LSU in the second half.

It’s also true that it didn’t really deep-six any of the goals the Tigers had when they were widely acclaimed August’s best team in the nation.

Win out, beating Alabama, and it’s all still on the table since this was a non-division game and ...

But, come on, let’s get real.

Watching LSU play Saturday, you wonder where another October victory is coming from before the Crimson Tide gets to Baton Rouge in November.

Even Arkansas doesn’t look like such a Thanksgiving bargain anymore.

Worse than any stat sheet for LSU was its body language.

Afterwards, they looked as beaten as they ever have in a long time, maybe even more so than the BCS debacle with Alabama last year.

Once Florida took the lead, there was nothing in LSU’s pep and step that suggested the Gators needed to worry about a comeback rally.

Instead, the Tigers looked like a fragile, frustrated team wondering where all the confidence and swagger from last year went.

If you want the inevitable comparison to 2010, last year’s team always looked like it was having fun playing the game.

Not sure that’s the case right now.

They almost look like they’re hoping for the best.

LSU’s biggest problem Saturday was its disjointed, anemic offense, but the most mystifying was watching a Tiger defense melt in the second half, powerless to stop a Florida team that didn’t even bother throwing the ball on its last 25 offensive plays of the game.

LSU was one worn-down defense.

Yeah, it was hot and very humid, but it’s not like the Tigers were snowbirds coming to Florida.

What happened to all that defensive depth?

Maybe there are limits to it.

Florida must have detected something. Head coach Will Muschamp looked at a halftime stat sheet that showed him with 16 yards rushing on 24 attempts and decided (maybe it was the five sacks) that he could run at will on the Tigers. He threw only four passes in the second half — only two of them risky enough to cross the line of scrimmage —and still pounded out 160 on the ground and outscored LSU 14-0.

Even though it worked, I’d be willing to write that off as an LSU defensive aberration.

If there is something really wrong with the Tigers’ defense, the season is over anyway — because this offense is just mind-boggling.

In this new offensive age where most teams seem to hiccup and accidentally burp up 40-45 points a game, LSU is suddenly celebrating first downs and wondering what an old-fashioned touchdown felt like.

Maybe, it’s time to re-think what they’re doing. It can’t be as simple as cleaning up those pesky mistakes (and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anyway).

But surely don’t blame it all on the quarterback, always a popular knee-jerk reaction.

Earlier in the year, maybe.

But at least Zach Mettenberger has shown some progress since the start of the season, his first as a college starter. Saturday he had mostly good reads and good throws but a lot of out-and-out drops with little in the way of out of the ordinary catches.

Besides, this offense has a long way to go before it can claim it’s a good team in search of a quarterback.

Mainly, LSU has to figure out a way to block somebody — anybody.

Or get fewer of them around the line of scrimmage that need attending to.

Lately, the defensive blueprint against LSU hasn’t changed whether it’s Towson or Florida. You stack everybody plus the tubas and glee club near the line and, when in doubt, send the house.

Remember over the summer when LSU promised the vertical passing game would force teams to back off from that kind of boorish behavior?

It hasn’t.

Mettenberger is looking at a lot of team portraits, which hasn’t done much for the running game either.

It probably isn’t as simple as just throwing it deep more. Mettenbeger has that shot in his arsenal, but he would likely have to buy even more time.

But it’s worth a shot. LSU has to so something different.

And quick.


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