Scooter Hobbs column: LSU still in shock, not awe

Published 10:16 am Friday, September 24, 2021

Oh, the humanity …

And not just LSU.

The carnage from that Saturday a year ago sent shock waves throughout the entire proud Southeastern Conference.

Tiger Stadium appeared to be smouldering, the embarrassed real fans, limited by the pandemic, envious of the emotionless cardboard cutout substitutes on the front rows.

But the rest of the conference peered through the debris and looked on aghast.

Panic in the streets. Terror in the film room.

All that summer the league had privately snickered at Mississippi State for daring to bring the rascally, wise-cracking pirate, Mike Leach, and his silly pop-gun offense — the “Air Raid,” he called it — into this league of real men and honest defense.

Good one, Bulldogs. But don’t be toting that junk in here. You shush on back to the Left Coast, you hear?

And then … you almost had to squint your eyes.

Mississippi State 44, LSU 34 wasn’t the half of it.

It was worse than the scoreboard looked.

First time out of the starting blocks and Leach and Bulldogs threw for an SEC-record 623 yards— against the defending national champions — without even getting limber with the new offense.

Oh, gosh. Imagine when the Bulldogs get comfortable or recruit the proper pieces to make this foul thing hum.

Just look at that. As is, it was a turkey shoot. Touchdown passes, easy as you please — 75 yards, 43 yards. Why not 37 or 34? Here’s one for 31 and another for 24.

Against DBU itself.

Even Leach was glibly shocked at how effortless it seemed.

Oh, Leach. What hath thou wrought on this conference?

So anyway, the next week Mississippi State lost to Arkansas — which had lost 20 consecutive SEC games — and the following the week the Air Raid did not score a point in a 20-2 loss to Kentucky.

The SEC breathed a sigh of relief and LSU’s defense went to stand in the corner — well away from any receivers — while fitting new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini for a dunce cap, his LSU coaching days numbered.

Alabama would later yawn at the Leach tomfoolery and pitch a 41-0 shutout and the Bulldogs finished 3-7 in the league.

So, yes, it was a false alarm. Despite the shock and awe of the Leach debut, things got back to normal in the SEC pretty quickly.

But one could make the argument that LSU hasn’t been the same since.

That game set the tone for one of worst national title defenses in college history and certifiably the worst LSU defense ever.

“It was embarrassing,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron remembered. “I was embarrassed as a coach.”

Maybe it was fitting that LSU would give the Bulldogs such an unfounded confidence in their new play toy.

Those bad LSU teams of the 1990s would always play the Bulldogs early, never did figure out a way to lose them, and would leave mistakenly thinking they’d turned some Curley Hallman corner.

But that’s not important now.

The Tigers, the lone SEC team known to get the jitters around Leach’s crazy offense, now have to go face it in StarkVegas, a vacation paradise best sampled with social distancing in place.

Maybe it’s the turning point. Maybe not.

But perhaps LSU needs some closure. Pick up a win and move on. Get itself back to the old normal.

It’s also possible the Tigers will never learn how to defend all those simple crossing patterns that were in Leach’s blueprint.

Even with a new defensive coordinator, Daronte Jones, UCLA seemed to use the same blueprint, at least in the passing game, to confound the Tigers’ secondary.

The defense looked better against outmanned competition the last two weeks.

But this game against Mississippi State, just as it did a year ago, could well set the tone for the rest of LSU’s season.

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