OXFORD, Miss. — LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady hustled through the end zone like one of his prolific receivers, looking sharp in suit and tie and spectacles as he headed under the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium stands in search of a warm team bus.
“You good, coach?” someone called out to him nearby.
“Not exactly,” Brady replied. And this from one of LSU’s coaches on the offensive side, a unit that hung 714 yards and 58 points on the Ole Miss Rebels, a record for the Tigers in a Southeastern Conference game.
The numbers may not have added up to a win for John Rhys Plumlee, but the Ole Miss quarterback had a day to remember as he tore through LSU's …
Brady’s response was understandable, though. You win, lose, achieve and underperform as a team. And on this chilly Saturday night, Tigers and Tiger fans everywhere had reason to feel like this 58-37 victory was part victory, part loss.
“Obviously when you don’t play well on defense at LSU, nobody’s feeling good,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Safety JaCoby Stevens was blunt in his assessment of how the defense performed. Or, more to the point, did not.
“I felt like I got dominated and I don’t like it,” Stevens said after LSU surrendered 614 total yards. “I’m not about to let it go.
“This was definitely a loss for the defense.”
Yes, LSU ran its record to 10-0 for just the fourth time in program history, and there is definitely achievement in that. And the Tigers are now just one virtually certain victory next week at home against woeful 2-8 Arkansas (Oooh, wee, pig) from clinching a berth in the SEC Championship Game three weeks from now against SEC East champ Georgia.
But championships, SEC or divisional or national in variety, will be hard to come by unless the Tigers find some stopping power. The opponents will be leaps and bounds better than Ole Miss in the postseason. To borrow a line from “The Shawshank Redemption,” judgment cometh and that right soon for LSU.
True, defensive backs like Grant Delpit — who frankly has underwhelmed much of this season after showing All-American chops as a sophomore — and Kary Vincent were hobbled. It was a minor surprise that Vincent played at all, but a second-half interception of slippery Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee seemed to indicate he was better than expected.
Then Vincent ripped off his helmet to celebrate the interception. LSU was docked 15 yards and the Tigers eventually had to settle for a 52-yard Cade York field goal instead of making the Rebels pay with a touchdown.
The mistake was indicative of a night in which little went right for LSU’s defense. A defense that has stars with players like Delpit and Stevens and Derek Stingley and K’Lavon Chaisson and Rashard Lawrence.
But there are faults in LSU’s stars. Big ones. And it’s more than a little puzzling to figure out why.
“It would be different if we didn’t have the talent we do have,” Stevens said. Defensive coordinator Dave “Aranda put us in position to make plays and we didn’t.”
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa unfortunately went down for the season Saturday with a serious hip injury about 100 miles away at Mississippi State. But last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, he was still healthy enough to throw for more than 400 yards to his bristling array of receivers in a game LSU held on to win 46-41.
A lot of whatever defensive deficiencies the Tigers had in Tuscaloosa were mostly submerged in celebratory sports drinks splashed all over coach Ed Orgeron and his happy tears after leading LSU to such a deeply redemptive victory. But once the waters subsided, the defensive issues were still there to be exposed, just in a different way by the Rebels.
The most explosive offense in LSU history now has a wide receiver etched atop its record books to sit alongside its quarterback.
They honored Archie Manning and the 1969 Ole Miss team that won the Sugar Bowl on the field here Saturday night. Fifty years ago, Manning almost single-handedly ruined LSU’s undefeated season with a 26-23 upset in Jackson that had a hand in the 9-1 Tigers being denied a major bowl.
There were times Saturday night when it looked like Archie was running and passing and generally tormenting LSU once again. But he never ran for 212 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers like Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee did Saturday night. Heck the only quarterback to do better against LSU was Auburn’s Cam Newton with 217 yards rushing in 2010.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy that year. There were times LSU made Plumlee look like a Heisman winner himself. The Tigers were grasping at air the entire second half, looking a lot like Alabama and Mississippi State and other practitioners of the dark wishbone offense arts used to do against LSU back in the 1970s and 80s.
“It was nothing about him, it was about us,” linebacker Patrick Queen said. “We were not doing our jobs. Our responsibilities. We weren’t doing what we were coached to do.”
A stand-up sentiment by Queen, to be sure. The question is, what do the Tigers do about it? The answers are few at this point, and so are the weeks left in which LSU can make improvements.
Meanwhile, it is a win, and a three-touchdown win at that. If this was LSU’s wakeup call, it could have been much more painful.
But don’t be surprised if the Tigers aren’t still No. 1 when the CFP rankings come out Tuesday. And justifiably so.
Is LSU the best team in the country? At this moment, not exactly.