No. 1 LSU seemed uninspired in its 42-9 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Safety Brandon Taylor agreed that the Tigers were “flat.” Coach Les Miles said the Tigers’ play “was not in any way an impassioned effort by us.”
Passion has been a hallmark of LSU’s play all season, but after the monumental 9-6 overtime victory at No. 2 Alabama a week earlier, it wasn’t unexpected that the Tigers might have one of their least intense efforts of the season.
“We were kind of beat up after Alabama,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of people beat up, and we were just trying to stay focused through that. I think it caught up with us a little bit, so we just have to go back and stay more focused this week.”
The Tigers had managed to avoid a lack of focus when similar opportunities to do so had presented themselves earlier in the season.
LSU opened the season against preseason No. 3 Oregon in the Cowboys Classic, the marquee game of Labor Day Weekend, one the players said they started talking about and focusing on right after the Cotton Bowl ended Jan. 7.
After that significant victory, the Tigers could have easily had a letdown against Northwestern State the following Saturday, especially with the Southeastern Conference opener against then-No. 25 Mississippi State looming five days later on the road.
But LSU wasn’t flat in that game, taking a 28-3 halftime lead on its way to a 49-3 cakewalk.
After beating two more ranked teams in State and then-No. 16 West Virginia on the road to complete a September to remember and ascend to the No. 1 position in The Associated Press poll, the Tigers could have easily looked past one of the worst teams in the SEC (Kentucky), especially with a ranked SEC team (Florida) following the Wildcats into Tiger Stadium a week later.
But despite a relatively slow start by the offense LSU rolled past Kentucky 35-7 and was businesslike in taking care of Tennessee on the road and defending BCS champion Auburn at home even as the Alabama showdown loomed ever closer.
So the Tigers’ level of intensity had remained remarkably constant for nine games, peaking for the ranked teams on a very challenging schedule and not dipping very far against the occasional non-ranked ones.
But Saturday was different, because the game against the Crimson Tide was different.
“I just think after playing the caliber of physical football at such a high level against Alabama at their stadium, after that game, I’m beaten down, I’m bruised, my mind is a little cloudy,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “I think playing under so much pressure last week and coming back out here our opponent had the edge just a little bit, because we were all mentally tired.”
The Hilltoppers came in having won their previous five games, and they were clearly focused but outmanned. They were what the Tigers needed in Bama’s wake, an opponent that couldn’t fully take advantage of LSU’s sub-par performance.
“I think this team is mature enough that we know (we didn’t play our best), and we came away with a win,” offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “We started slow, but we got our act together.”
Now, they have to get ready for the last two games of the regular season with the SEC West race in their control. After a game at Ole Miss, which is winless in the SEC, on Saturday, LSU will host No. 6 Arkansas on Nov. 25 with an opportunity to clinch a berth in the SEC title game and remain in the driver’s seat for a berth in the BCS title game.
Defensive end Barkevious Mingo said the Tigers know they can’t afford another lackluster effort.
“That’s one thing we know we can’t do, because any of the SEC teams can beat you any week,” he said. “We know that, and we know we have to prepare for all of them.”
Mingo said he expects the coaches to drive that point home at practice Monday.
“Monday will probably not be a good day,” he said with a smile. “It’ll be a good practice day, but I think we’ll probably hear about it.”
“I’m sure coach is going to be on us on Monday,” safety Eric Reid said. “We already know what to expect in practice this week.”
Taylor said the players are prepared for what the coaches will have to say in the film room.
“We’re ready for it,” he said. “We’ve just got to learn from it and not let it happen again.”
Montgomery said he expects the players to “get their bodies and their minds right” in time for the Ole Miss game.
“We got our wakeup call,” he said. “We’ve still got some growing up to do. We’re going to do that growing up.”