John Chavis stood in LSU’s locker room Friday night, facing a semicircle of reporters and recalling a long-ago lesson from Lou Holtz.
“Sometimes, you have to have adversity to draw the best out of you,” LSU’s defensive coordinator said. “I think there’s some truth there. Everything goes well, you get comfortable. If you get comfortable, you’re in trouble.”
Except for a half here or there, the 2011 LSU Tigers have never had a chance to get comfortable and, thus, irretrievably sloppy.
As much as their talent and their coaching, perhaps that’s why big purple 12-0’s shined down from the Tiger Stadium scoreboards after No. 1 LSU’s 41-17 dismantling of No. 3 Arkansas. Every challenge, every obstacle, every adverse situation, whether self-generated or otherwise, the Tigers have overcome.
Seven ranked opponents - four of them on the road. Five games when a player or players were suspended. A key injury to free safety Eric Reid, forcing Chavis to play a shell game with his secondary, moving Tyrann Mathieu from corner to Reid’s spot. Even a 14-0 second-quarter deficit to Arkansas after Alonzo Highsmith returned Michael Ford’s popup fumble 47 yards for a TD, putting LSU more than four points down for the first time and leaving Tigers fans to shift nervously in their seats waiting to see if the Tigers could answer a pair of haymakers.
Did they ever. LSU never stumbled and bumbled so much in its first 11 games as it did in that first quarter and a half against Arkansas, but somehow got its act together and scored on a 6-yard run by a tank named Kenny Hilliard. Then came Tyrann Mathieu’s 92-yard punt return to tie it. Then Jordan Jefferson’s 9-yard TD pass to Russell Shepard.
A left, a right, a left, and the challenger was down. Arkansas turned an ill-advised Jefferson interception deep in its end into a field goal to make it 21-17, but it was the only answer Arkansas, emotionally spent after losing teammate Garrett Uekman and hammered into the soft south Louisiana soil by that pile-driving LSU running game, had. The Tigers outscored a national championship contender 41-3 after spotting the Hogs 14. It was enough to leave Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino to point fingers and mutter oaths at Les Miles over the wreckage his team was reduced to by the Tigers.
Petrino shouldn’t feel so slighted. The Tigers have beat their seven ranked foes by an average of 20.6 points. The only team to get within 13 of LSU has been No. 2 Alabama, the team likely to be waiting for the Tigers on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
LSU still has one hurdle to clear - Georgia, next Saturday in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs have talent and momentum, and maybe the Tigers will feel so comfortable that they can play for the BCS title even if they let the SEC title slip away.
It’s possible, but unlikely. These Tigers don’t do comfortable, but they don’t do regrets, either.