LSU’s football facility was abuzz Monday afternoon.
Music blared from the team’s weight room. Players squatted and benched racks of weight. Others ran sprints across the indoor practice facility, and some raced up staircases and did pushups.
Things mostly seemed normal.
Things aren’t normal, though.
LSU’s football program is in a “crisis,” its coach, Les Miles, suggested Monday in his weekly press conference with reporters.
The Tigers (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern) are on the edge of losing three straight games for the first time in 16 years. They’ve lost consecutive games for just the third time in Miles’ 11 years – a span of 141 games. They dropped a third home night game in the last 14 months – as many as they lost in Miles’ first nine seasons.
They’ve slipped from No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, bound for, at worst, the Sugar Bowl to this – suffering back-to-back double-digit losses, one at home, as they head for a road game at No. 25 Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2).
“It’s a time where as a coach, you just bury your head and you go to work and you coach like there’s no tomorrow and it’s time to step up,” Miles said. “I think our guys understand that. They understand crisis. They understand finishing second in a ballgame and what you need to do. I look forward to taking the field with them today (at practice).”
Some players on Monday shot down the notion that LSU is in a crisis situation, but most spoke with a sense of urgency expected from members of a squad whose season goals are all but gone.
“I wouldn’t say crisis,” senior defensive back Jalen Mills said, “but we know what we have to get done this weekend. Nobody is panicked. Nobody is stressing out or pulling their hair out. We just know what we’ve got to get done this week.”
Mills and his team sit here – their championship hopes dashed, their season on the brink – because of a hellish last two games.
In just a few weeks, an offense ranked at the top of the SEC is having trouble scoring points. The Tigers have reached the end zone on four of their last 22 drives against SEC competition. They’ve punted 15 times.
An offensive line praised so much early in the season is struggling to open holes and protect quarterback Brandon Harris. Arkansas and Alabama sacked Harris a combined 10 times, and those teams held running back Leonard Fournette, once the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, to a combined 122 yards.
“It’s a situation that we put ourselves in, but it’s a situation we can handle,” starting right tackle Vadal Alexander said of the two-game skid. “I think everybody knows we have talented guys on the team, guys capable of doing great things.”
In just a few weeks, a swarming, athletic defense that suffocated opposing offenses is allowing chunks of yards. Bama running back Derrick Henry gashed LSU for more than 200 yards rushing, and Arkansas scored touchdowns on plays of 80, 69 and 52 yards.
A sore spot throughout the season, special teams had a hand in the most recent loss – even Miles admitted that Monday. Arkansas returned a kickoff 40 yards in the third quarter, squashing any momentum on an LSU comeback. The Hogs followed the return with a 10-play drive eating up nearly six minutes of clock and ending with a field goal to put the Tigers in a 10-point hole.
In a 30-minute press conference Monday, Miles addressed all of this.
He admitted to being stunned himself at LSU’s offensive start against Arkansas. The Tigers ran 14 of their first 17 plays of the game in the shotgun, an odd scheme change that resulted in two punts and 44 total yards.
Miles said Harris “can play better” but, at times, was “brilliant” during LSU’s two-minute drill offense.
The coach, without being prompted, analyzed each offensive position, reaffirming his confidence at each spot. He blamed the offensive line’s pass protection woes on LSU’s lengthy third downs. The first three sacks came on third down with LSU needing at least 13 yards to gain a first down.
“When you do that, you tell that defense to come (and) get you and they did,” he said.
As for the defense, Miles pointed to Arkansas’ big plays – and the big plays alone. The Razorbacks gained 239 yards of offense on 53 plays, and they gained 201 on the three scoring plays, he said.
Miles said Dwayne Thomas slipped on the 52-yard touchdown pass. It appeared that Thomas covered the wrong receiver, according to a replay of the game and ESPN play-by-play man Todd Blackledge’s comments during the game.
Safeties Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams were at fault, respectively, for the 80-yard Alex Collins run and the 69-yard end-around, Miles said without mentioning the two players’ names.
“As soon as the player sees the film, he’s going to go, ‘Absolutely correct,’ and not have any doubt where he was supposed to be,” Miles said.
The coach questioned and blamed himself for the sloppy performance during Monday’s news conference, just as he did Saturday night.
“There had to be some piece there,” he said, “a string I’m not yanking on.”
Players, meanwhile, say they’ve moved past Arkansas and are focused on the Rebels. Several players said they watched the film of the Arkansas game in player-only gatherings Sunday. They were scheduled to watch tape with coaches on Monday afternoon.
“We know we lost two games, but at the end of the day, we have a lot to play for,” starting right guard Will Clapp said.
There will be no players-only meeting, Mills said.
“Everybody knows what has to get done this week. Period,” he said. “We lost two. That wasn’t the goal coming into this season. Everybody knows what has to be done.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.