You’ve heard of the 24-hour rule.
That’s the edict handed down from single-track minded football coaches to take a day to enjoy or mourn the previous game, then burn the evidence.
Well, Les Miles and his Tigers talked about a 48-hour rule after last Saturday’s loss to Alabama.
If it was twice as hard to get over, you could hardly have blamed them. Or hardly be less concerned about LSU’s game Saturday at Arkansas.
The Tigers have physically faced some mighty tough tests this season: Wisconsin. Mississippi State. Auburn. Ole Miss. Alabama.
Sometimes they’ve conquered, sometimes they’ve been overrun. As the season has worn on, the Tigers have proven they’re up to the physical task of taking on a highly ranked foe, and considering the youth of this squad at critical positions, a 7-3 record is just about where you should have figured LSU would be with two games to go.
But over the course of a season, players and teams accumulate not just a physical toll but emotional scars as well. For No. 20 LSU, none of them is bigger than the one they will have to overcome at Arkansas.
There’s a song by the 1980s band Squeeze that captures the Tigers’ spirits after their 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama: “Slaughtered, Gutted and Heartbroken.” LSU gave it all it had, then gave away just enough of an opening in the final two minutes for the Crimson Tide to slither through and slip away from Baton Rouge with yet another “How’d they do that?” victory.
Now, LSU faces quite a challenge from without — and within.
The season’s macro goals are all gone. Before the Tigers and Razorbacks kick off at 7 p.m. in Frigidaire, um, Fayetteville, Arkansas, LSU will already have been formally eliminated from the Southeastern Conference title chase and SEC West Division race by the winner of the Mississippi State-Alabama game (it always seems to come down to the Miss. State-Alabama winner, doesn’t it?). The Tigers harbored slim hopes of a CFP bowl berth. That’s almost certainly gone as well.
So a tough question remains: How do the Tigers pull themselves together and give a winning effort in the chill of an Ozark Saturday night, in a place and against an opponent where such efforts have always been a struggle?
Physically, Arkansas is a tough out. Somehow the Razorbacks have managed to avoid an SEC victory for what has gone past two years now, but their stats make you wonder how that’s possible. Arkansas’ offense has the kind of balance the Tigers covet (248.2 yards per game rushing, 203.3 passing), operating behind five lumbering red moving vans that make up its offensive line.
The Hogs defense isn’t great but serviceable, ranking no worse than ninth in the conference in any major category. Heck, even No. 1 Mississippi State’s pass defense comes in last in the SEC.
Arkansas was even with Auburn at the half before losing 45-21, took Texas A&M to overtime before losing 35-28, matched Nick Saban and Alabama glare for glare in a fiercely fought 14-13 defeat and stubbornly succumbed 17-10 at Mississippi State two weeks ago.
That loss was the Razorbacks’ 17th straight in SEC play since their last conference win in October 2012 against Kentucky. One more loss and Arkansas ties South Carolina for the longest SEC losing streak since the conference added those two teams and went to divisional play in 1992.
Speaking of 1992, that season marked the only time LSU played in Fayetteville before a 20-13 two years ago. In a sequel to the 1947 LSU-Arkansas Cotton Bowl dubbed the Ice Bowl, both teams shivered through a game that actually was played on something like frozen tundra (there was ice on the artificial turf). The Razorbacks shoved LSU into the deep freeze with a 30-6 rout that was the final blow in a 2-9 season that ranks among the Tigers’ all-time worst.
This 2014 LSU season is far from that. It’s also not a classic. It was never going to be considering all the youth serving in key positions for the Tigers. If you were realistic, you had to figure 7-3 with some big wins and painful losses would be right about where LSU would stand with two games to go.
But where do the Tigers go from here? Can they go on the road to Arkansas and Texas A&M and enhance their bowl trip and their rankings and give themselves some strong momentum going into what promises to be a brighter 2015 season?
Or will it be the big chill in Arkansas for LSU once again?
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.