DEVILLE: Tigers had best get a grip and fast

Our latest edition (BethBonner)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If it could have gone wrong, it did. It was truly one of the most bizarre games these eyes have ever seen.

In a game which LSU looked to have totally in hand nearing the end of the first quarter, the contest turned south faster than you can say muffed punt.

 

Was there any doubt in anyone's mind that the Tigers were in complete control when Eric Wilbur took the snap for his first punt of the game, which came with 3:46 left to play in the first quarter.

 

Everything was going LSU's way.

 

The Gators drove the length of the field and seemed to have the mighty LSU defense on its heels. But the ball popped loose, the Tigers recovered and nine plays and 73 yards later they had a 7-0 lead.

 

A nice start considering you are playing the No. 5 team in the nation at their place, which just happens to be The Swamp.

 

But to make things better, LSU's defense comes up with a huge stop, which includes a punishing hit on Florida quarterback Chris Leak by Ali Highsmith, and the Gators were punting the ball away.

 

Chevis Jackson walks out to the LSU 440 yard line, where the Tigers looked primed for outstanding field position to unleash more of JaMarcus Russell and the LSU offense.

 

MUFF…

 

Wilbur's punt bounces through Jackson's hands. And not only did it bounce, it rolled all the way back to the Florida 11, where Lutrell Alford recovered it giving the Gators' possession.

 

Six plays and 19 yards later, a game which should never have been tied at that point, was knotted up 7-7.

 

No problem, though. The Tigers responded with one of the most impressive drives of the season. A march which included four third down conversions, Russell looked ready to put the Tigers up by a touchdown heading into halftime with a first and goal at the one.

FUMBLE.

 

Russell mishandles the snap, which Florida recovers swinging game's momentum heavily in the Gators' favor.

 

And boy did it.

 

Instead of the possibility of taking a two touchdown lead by getting the ball first in the second half, LSU found itself in a 14-7 hole when Tim Tebow put the Gators up for good with a touchdown toss with just 11 ticks left in the first half.

 

Afterwards, LSU coach Les Miles said his team was upbeat at halftime and were ready to get back on the field to atone for the sins of the second quarter. But one has to think that team was shell-shocked by the run of mistakes (and bad luck) that struck in a quarter of football that could honestly change the course of an entire season.

 

Miles may deny it, but his team looked snakebit when they took the field in the second half. From surrendering a safety on the opening kickoff of the second half, all the way to Russell's dagger-in-the-heart interception that ended the game after a fourth quarter blocked punt, it wasn't to be the Tigers' day.

 

Fans may cry poor officiating, especially after Jacob Hester clearly scored a touchdown on the play before Russell's pivotal second quarter, goal line fumble. Despite the fact the replay officials could clearly see Hester's knee never touched the ground before the ball crossed the goal line, the Tigers still had plenty of opportunities to win the game. But boneheaded mistakes on offense – both on the players and coaches part – as well as horrendous errors on special teams cost LSU the game.

 

After Florida's nine-point outburst in the opening two minutes of the third quarter, the Gators threatened only once, which resulted in a missed Chris Hetland field goal. LSU had several chances late in the game, deep in Florida territory at that. But a missed field goal and two interceptions summed up the fact that it truly wasn't LSU's day in The Swamp.

 

In the aftermath, I logged onto TigerRag.com and saw fan posts on our message board ranging from a request for Miles' resignation to the execution of special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto. I want even mention the suggestions for what to do with Russell.

 

While the coaching staff can be held at fault for not having the team mentally ready to play, the blame also goes squarely on the shoulders of the players. Interceptions, fumbles, dropped passes, muffed kicks; LSU found a way to screw it up last Saturday in just about every way possible.

 

Luckily, the Tigers have two more weeks to figure out what is the problem before the schedule's next big test, a trip to Knoxville to face the Tennessee Volunteers. By the way, the Vols destroyed No. 10 Georgia 51-33 last Saturday – in Athens.

 

They had better find the cure for what ails this ultra-talented team because the Tigers – coaches and players – will get no more compassion from an ever-impatient fan base. Those fans who were on the fence with Miles have jumped off to the other side and the cries for Matt Flynn will be even louder come Saturday when Kentucky visits Tiger Stadium.

 

Also, toss in the fact that once thought to be winnable games against Alabama and now surging Arkansas still remain on the schedule, there still remains lots that can make this season even worse. Arkansas looks to be rounding into form whipping up on No. 2 Auburn 27-10 on the Plains and you know the Tide has to be chomping at the bit to try and de-rail LSU after last season's upset in Tuscaloosa.

 

This is still a very talented LSU team that can win the rest of its games and go 10-2, which is what I predicted at the beginning of the year. But for the first time, after Saturday's meltdown in The Swamp, the potential for a 9-3 – even 8-4 – comes very much into play.

 

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.

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