The rant was in full heat. Nervous laughter and assenting "mm-hmms" filled the gaps of silence. Brandon Taylor's sports sermon seemed to speak for everyone during LSU's postgame radio show, which, at times, felt like a eulogy immediately after the Tigers' worst loss since 1996.

Taylor's spirited tirade on LSU's 48-11 loss at Auburn lasted nearly six minutes. "You're playing for more than yourself," the former LSU safety said. He called out the players for their lax demeanor on the sideline, their lack of leadership and desire. He criticized parents, coaches and administrators for leading their players astray. "I don't care about hurtin' nobody's feelings. I ain't your daddy. I ain't your momma. I ain't gonna spare you... Y'all don't understand, bruh, it's more than this."

Taylor paused.

"I gotta stop," he concluded, "because I'm about to cuss on these people's radio and I want to get my check next month."

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Who all in Louisiana has been on the cusp of cussing? Who all has sat dumbfounded and despaired in front of their television? Who all has sat in their socially-distanced stadium seats, their frowns covered by surgical masks, wondering which Tigers are these and what happened to the defending national champions?

What exactly happened to this team? Where does it go from here? There's been plenty of time to think about it.

The memory of that Halloween loss on The Plains has somewhat faded, hasn't it? It's been nearly a month since LSU (2-3) played a football game. A scheduled bye week was followed by a small coronavirus outbreak within the LSU football team, and, after contact tracing, there weren't enough players to field an appropriate team against Alabama.

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Some welcomed the indefinite postponement of the Alabama game. The No. 1 Crimson Tide (6-0) opened the week as 22-point favorites, and pundits and reporters alike were faced with calculating just what would happen if LSU took another beating at home in Tiger Stadium.

Instead, LSU has a chance to even their record against Arkansas (3-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Razorback Stadium.

This is no regular tune-up against the Hogs. First-year coach Sam Pittman has rejuvenated the program, and, on Sunday, the Razorbacks opened as a 1½-point favorite before a COVID-19 outbreak within the team likely pushed them down to a 2½-point underdog.

LSU was a 42-point favorite in last season's 56-20 win, which makes this year's game one of the biggest point spread differences in consecutive seasons in the history of college football. The betting line shows just how far LSU has fallen as much as it does how far Arkansas has risen.

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And LSU is in danger of falling into historic company. Only 10 teams in the 84 years The Associated Press has named a national championship in college football have lost at least four games in the year immediately after winning the title. Only two teams — Ohio State (1943, 3-6), TCU (1939, 3-7) — had losing records.

For most teams, winning a national championship was either the beginning or the peak of a golden era in their program's history. Notre Dame winning the first of four titles in the 1940s. Oklahoma winning three in the '50s. Alabama with three in the '60s. And so on.

When LSU finished its record-breaking, 15-0 season last year — an award-filled campaign with classic victories that made them arguably the greatest college football team in history — it appeared the Tigers were beginning their own golden era under head coach Ed Orgeron and the program the Larose native was building in his home state.

Now — after gutting losses to Mississippi State, to Missouri, to Auburn — LSU is leaning more toward the troubled 10. The Notre Dame squad that went 4-4-1 to start the 1950s. The Penn State reigning champs that went 8-4-1 in 1983, then fell to 6-5 the following season. Auburn took their fall even further, going 8-5 in 2011, then 3-9 in 2012, forcing the firing of former head coach Gene Chizik. Auburn's stunning collapse hasn't since been replicated.

How does LSU keep itself from spiraling toward the same fate? The program doesn't have to look beyond its own history. The Tigers went 8-5 after winning the BCS National Championship in the 2007 season, and former players say their efforts within that 2008 season helped steer the program back in the right direction.

Says Darry Beckwith, a starting linebacker on LSU's 2007 and 2008 teams: "You're going to have those moments where this particular season, it's either going to make them a mediocre program and every blue moon they'll pop up and contend for a championship, or this moment and this season will make them a contender every year."

•••

Beckwith remembers standing before the team in the conference room of an Atlanta hotel. It was the night before the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Somehow, Beckwith remembers, "God was still good to us" and sent LSU to a decent bowl even though they'd lost the regular season finale in the final seconds against Arkansas.

In a game dubbed "The Miracle on Markham II," Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford just over LSU cornerback Chris Hawkins in the corner of the end zone to stun the Tigers with their fifth loss of the season.

LSU had nearly a month to dwell on the loss. On all the losses. On a 30-point walloping by Florida. Two-touchdown scathings by Georgia and Ole Miss. An overtime heartbreaker against Alabama.

The seniors finally had enough. They'd seen their championship defense swirl away like rain in a storm drain, and they spoke their minds that night in Atlanta. In front of the players. In front of the coaches. In front of the staffers. Everyone.

"It was a very intense meeting," Beckwith said. "All the seniors spoke up, and we talked about the pride. We talked about the LSU tradition. We talked about when we establish this program, even the people before us — the players before us who established this program — how do they want us to finish this season?"

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The next day, the slumping Tigers slugged favored No. 14 Georgia Tech 38-3, holding the Yellow Jackets and its Triple Option attack to 164 yards rushing. The explosive victory vaulted the program toward a three-year build up to another BCS national title appearance.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl win was vindicating. It showed LSU had it in them to be dominant all along. But it also left many of LSU's seniors somewhat frustrated an unsatisfied, wishing they'd just turned it around sooner.

"I was like, 'Why did it take so late?'" said former LSU safety Curtis Taylor, Brandon's older brother. "I think that fueled me going on into the league. Like don't wait for this to end when you can do it now."

What took so long?

Taylor says he still hasn't figured it out. One day, he wants to sit down and pull up the old games on YouTube like his old teammate, former left guard Herman Johnson, does and pin-point exactly what went wrong.

He wants to finally settle the echoing memories of plays that went awry.

"You don't forget that stuff," he said. "You try to forget it. You think you forget it. But you don't."

Former Auburn linebacker Jake Holland has the same hauntings. If he'd been able to pin-point exactly what happened in the wake of Auburn's 2010 national championship, perhaps they'd have been able to turn things around.

"Probably so many different variables all at once," said Holland, a contributing or starting linebacker from 2010 to 2013. "It was kind of a perfect storm for us."

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Sometimes you just have to reach into that swirling, hurricane of problems and wall them off into separate sections.

SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic said the key points to identify in the success of a program are leadership, accountability, structure and experience.

LSU has the correct leadership in place with Orgeron, Cubelic says. Last year's nearly unanimous Coach of the Year is in the middle of his 35th year in collegiate coaching, and he's been a part of enough successful programs (Miami, Southern Cal) to build both a winning philosophy and a Rolodex of coaches deep enough to keep up with frequent staff changes.

"He has those relationships," Cubelic said. "He's made it fairly clear how he wants to build his program. So, if you're asking me which one is more of the one-off, this year or last year, I would say this year because of how I know he's going to build it."

Accountability?

Football performance has been graded and corrected in the Orgeron era. When philosophies and results famously bucked between Orgeron and former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the two parted ways. When offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger wanted help building the spread system LSU needed, Orgeron hired former passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Now that Bo Pelini's defense is struggling in his first year back as a coordinator, Orgeron has said they'll re-evaluate every coach's performance at the end of the season.

Does that necessarily mean there'll be a change at defensive coordinator?

That brings us to structure.

Enter the coronavirus pandemic. Cancel spring practice. Limit summer activities and preseason camp. Postpone football games and jumble up practices with player absences because of isolations and quarantines.

"I don't mean to say we should all have this excuse in our back pocket," Cubelic said, "but we do have to understand the reality of what's been happening and what's still happening."

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The pandemic has torn into the fourth factor: experience.

Add up the opt-outs before the season began: Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase, starting nickel safety Kary Vincent, starting defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin.

Each of those players were expected to excel in 2020. And it's not only their impact on the field that's missing now. The players behind them were suddenly thrown into the mix after spending the previous practices with either the second or third team.

"Who do you think was getting those (first-team) reps for a month-and-a-half of practice?" Cubelic said. "Those guys were."

Then add the in-season losses in personnel: reserve defensive tackle Siaki "Apu" Ika entering the NCAA transfer portal, reserve edge rusher Travez Moore opting out of the season then entering the portal himself. 

Pair it with the offseason departures: former five-star safety/linebacker Marcel Brooks transferring to TCU, quarterback Peter Parrish's suspension and move to Memphis, former linebacker Donte Starks' suspension and removal from the team after an arrest.

"You get to a point where you just lost so much that it's not sustainable," Cubelic said. "You're not able to just plug and go with the next guy."

•••

The biggest loss so far remains Myles Brennan.

LSU's starting quarterback has missed two games because of an abdominal injury that involves the hip, and it doesn't look like the 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior will return again this season.

True freshman TJ Finley has been inconsistent as a replacement — impressive against South Carolina, shaky against Auburn — and his only other competition is another true freshman in Max Johnson.

An offense that averaged 38.6 points per game in its first three games looked futile against Auburn, clouding optimism of a strong finish to the regular season.

Beckwith and Taylor can both relate.

One of the reasons LSU entered the 2008 offseason as a contender to win the championship again was because the pathway was cleared for former five-star Ryan Perrilloux to take over as the team's starting quarterback.

Some of LSU's players had come back for their senior seasons, Beckwith said, just because they knew Perrilloux was returning.

But, after a series of problems and suspensions, Perrilloux was kicked off the team at the beginning of the summer. Suddenly, LSU's offense was left in the hands of Harvard graduate transfer Andrew Hatch (who started in three games), plus freshmen Jordan Jefferson (two starts) and Jarrett Lee (eight starts).

"We loved Jarrett Lee," Beckwith said. "We knew what type of confidence, what the type of player he would be. But, man, when you know you have a quarterback who can get the job done, and, all of the sudden, he's gone, that takes a hit on you mentally as well. We all kind of suffered for it."

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Beckwith's not blaming it on that situation either, he laughed, "because our defense wasn't good either." The Tigers struggled during big SEC games in their one season under co-coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.

The defensive players took on a mental toll much like today's defenders most likely are. Beckwith remembers receiving fan mail that season, "a long-page letter, a typed letter from a grown man, who took the time out to say what we're not doing and what I need to do better."

"Was it hard going to practice, losing like that? Of course it was," Beckwith said. "I'm not saying it's easy."

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LSU can turn its season around, just like the 2008 season, Beckwith and Taylor believe. The Tigers can do it sooner than any potential bowl game, too. They just have to finally resolve that they've had enough and commit to change.

Star wide receiver Terrace Marshall spoke in front of the team during a player-only meeting Monday. It was a "really relevant" speech, starting left guard Ed Ingram said, a motivating talk that asked the players to come together and finish the season strong.

"They have it," Beckwith said. "They have pride or they wouldn't be at that level. They have confidence or they wouldn't be at that level. But it has to get to the point where, 'You know what? I'm tired of getting punched in the mouth, and I'm tired of getting ridiculed. So let's go out there and do something about it.'"

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.