In Louisiana, we’re always trying to hold back the water.
We pile our levees into the hills we never had. We keep our pumps running day and night — most places.
Heck, even the land Tiger Stadium stands on was a swampy bottom land once, hardly a suitable place for one of the largest structures of its kind in the country.
If you don’t work at it, the water will reclaim everything.
It’s sort of that way with LSU football as well.
BAKER — There is a reason the Gage family’s living room is mostly empty.
Since 2000, LSU has built itself into a national power. Two national titles — only five schools have done that this century. Played for a third. A bigger slice of NFL opening-day rosters than any other school.
But the specter of losing, of tumbling back into the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s, always seems to be something LSU is trying to hold off at arm’s length.
Last week’s stirring 17-16 victory at Florida was a gritty, emotional rebound from one of the lowest moments LSU has had in many years: the loss at home to Troy two weeks ago. But it only counts for one win, and you only get to celebrate for so long.
In the Southeastern Conference, proving yourself is an every-week, every-down test.
And so it is for LSU as it returns home to host No. 10-ranked Auburn. Kudos, guys. Great effort in The Swamp. Now go out and do it again.
Frankly, you’ve got to go one better.
The gap between LSU and Auburn may only be the difference of one game on the ledger: Auburn is 5-1, LSU is 4-2. But for the first time since 1999, an unranked LSU team hosts a top-10 opponent in Tiger Stadium. And after kicking off in Gainesville as the betting favorite by a field goal, LSU goes off in this one as a touchdown underdog.
LSU players spoke last week of former Tigers linebacker Duke Riley coming back to inspire the men with a riveting pep talk. Maybe they need some moving prose from author John Ed Bradley, a center on the 1979 LSU team that fought heroically at home only to come up just short against No. 1 Southern California.
Or maybe they could just look within the walls of their own football complex, where after a rough and painful start to the season the Tigers found a blueprint for their biggest win yet.
The floor was most comfortable for Danny Etling — the floor.
“We didn’t want to let Troy beat us twice,” quarterback Danny Etling said.
“We gave it all we had,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “All week. It was every ounce of energy; every person in the building gave it. And that's what it takes. And our mindset was of that.
“We finally galvanized as a team. I don't think before we were playing as a team. I think we galvanized as a staff. I think that was important. We had better practices. And, again, it came down to one point.”
One point would seem like an even bigger victory this time.
“It’s not about Florida or Auburn,” wide receiver D.J. Chark said. “It’s about us.”
Well, it’s a little about Auburn.
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Those Tigers are playing at a high level of efficiency, with three straight SEC blowout wins over Missouri (51-14), Mississippi State (49-10) and Ole Miss (44-23). It may not be the four top-10 teams LSU had to deal with in 2006, but the State team Auburn crushed by 39 routed LSU by 30. If you’re playing the comparison score game, maybe LSU should claim that the technical issues that crashed the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday have had the team trapped in an elevator since then.
But they will play for real. Block and tackle, pass and catch, and in LSU’s case, shift five different players all along the line of scrimmage in hopes of confusing former LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s talented and veteran defense.
“I’m pretty sure,” Etling said, “he hasn’t seen an offense like this. A lot of teams haven’t.”
This assumes LSU will continue to play Matt Canada’s offense to the hilt — without another kumbaya between Orgeron, his coordinators and athletic director Joe Alleva.
To not do that would be deviating from the blueprint LSU’s players and coaches talked about. Not being all in would probably doom LSU before the game even starts.
“I feel like everyone is going to stay on the same level as last week,” cornerback Kevin Toliver said. “Auburn’s going to be the best team we’ve played so far. We’ve got to be prepared for them.”
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Even that might not be enough. Auburn is that good and playing that well. The real possibility exists that LSU gets housed and Auburn is lighting up victory cigars like it did the last time it won in Tiger Stadium, also in 1999.
After all the years of success and being the hunted, LSU again finds itself in the role of the underdog. The team giving chase. The upstart trying to ruin another team’s championship aspirations.
Throw a little cold water on them, as it were.