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Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith sacks Florida's Jeff Driskel during the second half of the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night in New Orleans. (Associated Press)

Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith sacks Florida's Jeff Driskel during the second half of the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night in New Orleans. (Associated Press)

Hobbs: There are fates worse than losing to Clemson

Last Modified: Thursday, January 03, 2013 7:34 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

So it turns out there are fates worse than losing the Chick-fil-A Bowl on the final play of the game when you didn’t trail the entire time until the clock struck double zero.

For instance, LSU fan, you could have been the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl and basically not shown up until the clock was heading down the homestretch.

LSU lost a game. Hey, it happens, even occasionally when you’re the more talented team.

The Tigers had nothing to be ashamed of. They left everything they had on the field.

Florida seemed like it wanted to be anywhere but in the Superdome playing football Wednesday night.

The Gators should have given their bowl swag back. The effort surely didn’t earn a shopping spree in an electronics store or whatever the Sugar Bowl dished out for their presence.

The teams’ fans were very much excited about their bowls in advance.

By kickoff, the Chick-fil-A Bowl had a decent crowd even with some gaping holes in the upper deck of Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. It appeared to be about a 50-50 split with LSU and Clemson fans.

The Sugar Bowl had its smallest crowd since 1939, when Carnegie Mellon lost to TCU (Carnegie Mellon fans are notorious for not traveling, and haven’t been invited back to New Orleans since). Louisville fans far outnumbered the Gators. Florida sold well under half of its allotment of 17,500 tickets.

So both LSU and Florida had reason to wonder how much sis-boom-bah was in their fan base over their bowl appearances.

LSU began the season in the same breath as the national championship discussion and fell off, losing two games, and then getting passed over for (on paper) more prestigious bowls that selected teams the Tigers beat.

They had a ready-made excuse to pout.

Florida, which began the season with fair-to-middlin’ expectations, was in a certified BCS bowl.

The Gators didn’t win their division but still got the SEC’s No. 2 spot in the bowl picking. That’s a reprieve from the governor.

They should have been ecstatic to be playing in New Orleans. What was the Gators’ excuse?

There was concern that LSU wouldn’t be excited about playing Clemson in a bowl that wasn’t on its preseason bucket list. The players assured one and all that it was a football game, it was on the schedule, and they’d be ready even if their fans weren’t.

And the Tigers delivered the goods, if not the victory.

The Gators said not to worry, they were excited to be in New Orleans even if their fans weren’t.

And lied.

If you’re an X-and-O junkie watching clinical game film, the results were similar.

Both LSU and Florida had really good defenses with hit-and-miss offenses. LSU had a passing quarterback who couldn’t run and Florida had a running quarterback who couldn’t throw.

But neither LSU nor Florida could protect their quarterback, and that’s what the games kind of came down to.

And that’s about where the similarities ended.

Both defenses had talented quarterbacks to deal with, maybe even better than they’d imagined coming in.

I can’t remember a defense looking more impressive while giving up 445 yards than LSU’s did Monday night — flying around the field and making somebody pay for every yard.

I don’t know what Florida’s defense was thinking. Maybe spring break.

Both had opponents that showed up breathing fire with something to prove.

LSU said “game on” and the bowl was as intense from start to finish as any LSU played in this season. The fans who did show up got their money’s worth.

Florida reacted to Louisville’s obvious fire and brimstone like it was more interested in “styling” and staying cool without putting up much of a fight.

So after playing their butts off, fighting through cramps and still going down swinging with their last ounce of energy, afterward several LSU players, like safety Eric Reid, were tweeting agonizing apologies left and right to LSU fans.

They had nothing, really, to apologize for. They played their tails off from encouraging start to the heartbreaking finish. They lost, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. What more can you ask for?

After thoroughly embarrassing themselves and their fans, the Gators’ top stars seemingly couldn’t get to the locker room fast enough, where three of them showed their remorse by promptly declaring for the NFL draft before they got their shoulder pads off.

It does make you wonder where their minds were before and during the game.

Somehow the “ready to showcase my talents in the NFL” speech loses a little luster when it comes minutes after dogging it for 60 minutes and stinking up the Superdome.

Say what you will about Les Miles — and, given the circumstances of LSU’s bowl loss, a lot will be said around the water coolers for a while.

But, for all his quirky faults — a discussion for another day — he gets his teams to play hard, week after week, no matter the intangibles or lack thereof.

There’s something to be said for that.

Watching the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night, apparently it’s not as easy as he makes it look.

• • •

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

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