Um, sorry. I dozed off during the early part of my column. Kind of took my cue from the LSU Tigers’ effort Saturday night against Eastern Michigan.
Hey, guys, a little knowledge for you: Just because your school paid a $985,000 guarantee to the Eagles to play this game, there’s nothing in the contract that says it guarantees a win for you.
The Tigers haven’t lost a regular-season nonconference game since Leonard Fournette was in first grade, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. And that 7-0 start that we all — this writer included — have said is LSU’s for the taking like it’s some sort of birthright isn’t an automatic, as Saturday’s 44-22 final score can attest.
We tend to think teams exist sealed inside a vacuum of our own expectations. The reality is college football is a highly fluid game, and collegeathletes are a highly unpredictable bunch.
Auburn was supposed to be primed for Southeastern Conference domination but flamed out, its ashes an afterthought. Saturday we saw what it meant to Alabama to be an underdog for the first time in six years as the Crimson Tide took a rolled-up newspaper and paddled the Georgia Bulldogs’ backside in Athens 38-10.
And Florida, which comes to Tiger Stadium two weeks hence, and which didn’t look very impressive offensively despite rolling to a 4-0 start, looked mighty impressive Saturday night in demolishing No. 3 Ole Miss 38-10 in The Swamp. That game now looks like anything but the gimme putt everyone thought it would be.
Things change. And they had better change quickly for LSU, or the Tigers won’t make it to November unbeaten as everyone came to expect after that nifty SEC two-step to open the season with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn.
Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Aside from Fournette wrapping his beefy forearms around the lead in the Heisman Trophy chase and lugging it to the horizon, perhaps LSU isn’t very different from the team we thought it was before the season.
The Tigers are flawed in some fundamental ways, flaws that came home to roost in disturbing fashion against a 45-point underdog.
LSU’s passing game, which showed improvement at Syracuse, devolved into a hot mess against Eastern Michigan. At one point, Brandon Harris was 4-of-15 passing for 80 yards with the season’s first turnover, an interception that occurred when Harris was hit while trying to throw deep in his own end. That set up Eastern Michigan’s second touchdown and left LSU with a very squirmy 17-14 lead late in the second quarter.
It wasn’t all Harris’ fault. Not at all. Harris was victimized by three or four drops by his receivers: Travin Dural inside the 10 as open as can be and Malachi Dupre in the end zone almost as much in the clear. I swore I could make out Anthony Jennings on the LSU bench turning to the stands and mouthing, “See? It wasn’t just me.”
“I wish we had not dropped balls, but we will work on that again,” coach Les Miles said, putting a cold mountain of understatement on display. “We’d have thrown for 150 or 200 if we’d just caught balls.”
LSU’s special teams were again less than special. Short kickoffs by Trent Domingue led to long kickoff returns by EMU and forced LSU to switch to Cameron Gamble, who was flagged for delay of game, of all things, before one kick. (That happened to Gamble last year, too.)
LSU’s penalties improved a bit — seven for 51 yards — though when you are flagged 14 times, as the Tigers were at Syracuse, anything in single digits is improvement. At least LSU didn’t have any scores called back.
The painful truth for the Tigers may be that Fournette may be so good that they’re relying on him too much, expecting him with his other-worldly talent to cover up too many sins in too many critical places. He even had to make a touchdown-saving tackle after Harris was intercepted.
“I’m glad that we responded the way we did,” said Miles, who had to be thinking of Fournette’s breathtaking 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half. He flirted with the LSU single-game rushing record for the third straight week, coming up 18 yards short with 233 yards and three TDs. Still, in the process he became the first back in Southeastern Conference history to rush for 200-plus yards in three straight games, making Herschel Walker’s gush that Fournette is better than he was sound not so outlandish.
“Certainly, we’re not perfect,” Miles said.
LSU doesn’t have to be perfect to keep winning the big games on its schedule. But it does have to be better.
You’d expect improvement, a more concerted effort going forward. But it isn’t like flipping on the switch for Tiger Stadium’s floodlights.
LSU had better have learned a lesson from a bitter-tasting victory Saturday, or an even more bitter defeat is soon to be on the menu.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.