Last season, this was when it began.
Sure, it was another three weeks before Ed Orgeron landed the LSU permanent head coaching job after the Tigers walloped Texas A&M and then Tom Herman rebuffed LSU's interests, but this is the time it really began — a game at Arkansas after a 10-0 loss to Alabama.
LSU whipped the Razorbacks on the road, impressing many of the school’s decisions-makers, a rebound performance that justified Orgeron’s talked-about motivational skills. It started Sunday afternoon following that Bama loss, the Tigers strength and conditioning staff switching into motivating mode, clapping and yelling around the facility. It carried into the week of practice and meetings.
On the team plane to Fayetteville, Arkansas, staff members continued their tactics, commissioned by Orgeron to fuel a squad that Bama beat down seven days prior.
They need a repeat this week, and the LSU coach said it won’t be a problem.
“We’re going to finish. There’s a lot of belief in our locker room right now,” Orgeron said Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a seventh straight loss to the Crimson Tide. “Those guys would be ready to play a game tomorrow morning right now.”
Bama snapped a three-game LSU win streak — same as last year.
The Tide crushed the Tigers’ hopes of competing for a Southeastern Conference championship — same as last year.
Nick Saban’s group won a hotly competitive game by two scores — same as last year.
So what now?
“We’re not going to let something like this knock our spirits down and knock us off track. "We're trying to stay on that track and finish,” guard Garrett Brumfield said.
The 24-10 loss to the top-ranked and undefeated Tide behind them, the Tigers (6-3, 3-2 SEC) get reeling Arkansas (4-5, 1-4) and embattled coach Bret Bielema in an 11 a.m. kickoff LSU's earliest at home since 2011.
The Razorbacks begin LSU's three-game finish against struggling opponents. The Tigers, who slipped out of the AP top 25 but are ranked 25th by the coaches, travel to Tennessee a week later and finish at home against Texas A&M. The three remaining opponents have a cumulative SEC record of 4-12.
The Tigers’ sights are on a 9-3 final record and a 6-2 mark in the conference. That would be their best SEC finish since 2012.
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To accomplish such a feat, they’ll need to overcome what’s known around Baton Rouge as the dreaded “Bama hangover,” something that has lingered over this program in the past. LSU played sloppy a week after facing the Tide in 2014 and 2015, with 17-0 and 31-14 losses to Arkansas.
That changed last year, a 38-10 trouncing in Fayetteville that helped get Orgeron the full-time gig. The Tigers get a sluggish Hogs squad this year at home but with a morning kickoff.
“That’s the hand we’re dealt with,” Orgeron said. "I think we kicked off at 11 a.m. (versus) Louisville,” Orgeron said, referring to a 29-9 win in the Citrus Bowl last season.
“Let’s go!” he barked to a room full of reporters to end his answer.
The Razorbacks come in somewhat crippled, having nearly lost to Coastal Carolina at home last week and playing with a redshirt freshman quarterback after an injury to starter Austin Allen. Allen is expected to return this week, but Bielema was coy about his quarterback situation after the Hogs’ 39-38 win over the 1-8 Chanticleers.
“I think the great thing is we’ve got two guys who have won football games,” Bielema said. “According to the game plan, I’d like to keep that a surprise for Saturday, not today.”
For LSU, it’s all about rebounding and the future.
The competitive game against the Tide — LSU out-gained Bama 306-299 — gave some “comfort” to this team, acknowledged Brumfield. The Tigers held the Tide to its lowest rushing total of the season (116 yards), ran for 151 yards themselves, sacked Alabama QB Jalen Hurts four times and converted 9 of 19 third downs.
“We played really hard. Coach O told us in the locker room, ‘You guys played your hearts out,’” Brumfield said. “We wanted to come out, put (our) heart on the line and hope everything turned out the way we wanted it to. Unfortunately it didn’t.”
A moral victory?
“I want to say ‘yeah,' but no,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said. “We want to win. That’s what we want to do here. You could say we held them to the least rushing yards. You’re still going to feel it in your heart.”
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Orgeron and a few players looked to the future afterward, suggesting that Saturday's performance is a sign that LSU is inching closer to closing the chasm between the two programs.
The future is bright, linebacker Devin White said. White and defensive Rashard Lawrence, both sophomores, walked off the Bryant-Denny Stadium field together Saturday.
“We just said, ‘We’ll be back.’ Next year, it’s going to be our year. It’s really going to be our team. We’ll be juniors,” he said. “We’re going to have to lead. The way we’re leading the team right now is just the start for the future. We know we’re going to get the job done. We got big goals. We set the goals before we even came to LSU.”
For a few of the guys, they won’t get another crack against the Tide. Outside linebacker Corey Thompson has more losses to Bama than anyone on the team. He’s 0-5.
“It sucks to have to go out without having beaten Alabama,” said the sixth-year senior, “but I feel proud we played as hard as we did. Just have to move on to the next game.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Big brother is still boss.