GREEN BAY, Wis. — Days before the Wisconsin game, Les Miles was asked whether he would forbid his players from doing the Lambeau Leap.
Like LSU, us media types missed the mark. We should have asked if he was worried about the Lambeau flop.
On as pretty of a college football afternoon as you could ask for in early September, LSU beamed an ugly picture from Titletown to the rest of the USA.
It was, for a team purported to be a national championship contender, an embarrassing performance from the start by an offense that failed to mount any sustained scoring drives to a contemptible clothesline hit by guard Josh Boutte after a dreadfully thrown interception by Brandon Harris in the final minute.
In the end, the unranked Badgers did the Lambeau leaping after the final horn in deserved celebration of their 16-14 upset. Even though in the end LSU was within yards of being in range for a winning field-goal try, except for that boom-boom sequence in the third quarter when the Tigers took the lead, they were dominated throughout. Wisconsin took the fight to LSU all game long and should have won.
“We knew what was at stake,” said cornerback Tre’Davious White, whose 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third triggered LSU’s brief burst of impressive football. “Our goal is to win it all and go undefeated. It’s a hurtful feeling.”
LSU proved two things Saturday. One, it was comically over-ranked being No. 5 in the preseason Associated Press poll. Two, if Les Miles isn’t back in the sizzling skillet he occupied in November, he’s right next to the stove, being dusted in flour and seasoned, ready to be tossed in the oil.
“Tremendously so,” Miles said when asked how disappointed he was to lose for the first time in 43 nonconference regular-season games at LSU. “These guys had a brutal camp. They busted their tails, and we were right in position to win it.”
If you’re a longtime LSU fan, you must feel the disturbing tug of déjà vu. It’s arguably the most disappointing season opener since the 1989 Tigers, a supposed national championship contender that year, too, gave up an opening kickoff touchdown at Texas A&M and lost 28-16 en route to a 4-7 season.
This season doesn’t have to turn out to be that. Leonard Fournette is still one of the nation’s best players, though it's worth wondering after he came out on LSU’s final drive Saturday if the ankle injury that sidelined him during preseason camp has been aggravated to a dangerous level. History points to LSU teams that have bounced back from season-opening losses to Southeastern Conference titles, 1961 and 1970 being prime examples.
Those years are also worth mentioning because it continues to look like LSU’s passing offense is stuck in those ancient times. The Tigers ranked 105th in the FBS last year in passing yards per game. In a broad sense, this means virtually everyone in America except the service academies and LSU can effectively throw the ball.
This is how a fan base — one whose legions left behind floods and traveled cross-country by the thousands to watch their Tigers play Saturday — can be so fed up with a coach who has won a national championship and 77 percent of his games. For all the talk in the offseason that LSU was going to modernize its offense, it still for the most part looked like the same team that tries to overpower opposing defense with the run and passes the ball only as a matter of necessity, not of choice.
Brandon Harris’ ability to be that passer continues to be suspect as well. He made a few nice plays, but with Fournette on the sideline after a 15-yard run to the Wisconsin 30 (a 5-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 35), Harris wheeled away from pressure and threw a wild where-was-the-receiver pass that was picked off by strong safety D’Cota Dixon.
Adding insult to injury was Boutte’s cheap clotheslining penalty as he clubbed Dixon to the turf after he jumped to his feet in celebration. Miles suggested Boutte may not have known that the play was dead, but it’s a flimsy excuse at best. A senior should have better control of his emotions.
Boutte, who was ejected and may serve a Southeastern Conference-mandated suspension, deserves to sit out more than next Saturday’s Jacksonville State game. Hopefully Miles will come to the same conclusion after he reviews a vicious hit that should in no way reflect the values of LSU’s football program.
As bad as that moment was for LSU, it’s just one of the issues the Tigers must deal with now.
Worrying about how or how not to celebrate isn’t one of them.