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October 27, 2008
Two losses feel different this year for LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. – Two losses aren't necessarily cause for alarm. Just a year ago, LSU lost twice and still won the national title.
After Saturday's 52-38 loss to Georgia, LSU again has two losses. But the similarities to 2007 abruptly end there because comparing this season's Tigers to last season's is like viewing a reflection in a funhouse mirror – the image is distorted.
Last season, LSU lost twice in overtime. This season, the Tigers twice have been overwhelmed. Quarterback play is inconsistent and the defense has been vulnerable.
"We have to turn around and look at ourselves and figure out who we really are," running back Charles Scott said. "It's about pride. It really hurt our pride with them coming in our house and beating us like that."
The lopsided loss to Georgia – two weeks after a 51-21 loss at Florida – left the Tigers seeking redemption and solutions to problems that have turned a season of great expectation to one of greater disappointment.
The Tigers have issues, all right, including some with roots that can be traced all the way to northeast Alabama, where Ryan Perrilloux is now playing quarterback at Jacksonville State.
Perrilloux was supposed to be next in LSU's long line of successful quarterbacks. But after repeated violations, Perrilloux was dismissed by coach Les Miles over the summer. That put the Tigers' offense in the unproven hands of redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and junior Andrew Hatch, a transfer from Harvard who had rarely played.
But pinning all of LSU's issues on Perrilloux's departure would be a gross mistake. True, Lee threw three interceptions against Georgia – including two that were returned for touchdowns – but blown coverages and missed tackles were just as costly.
Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno torched the Tigers for 163 rushing yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run. He also had a 47-yard run. Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs gained at least 20 yards on eight plays.
"You can't make mistakes," Miles said after the loss to Georgia. "When you play a quality opponent, you cannot give them turnovers. You can't un-cover people in coverage. You can't let runs that should be tackled go un-tackled. Our football team has to learn that."
Last season, LSU's defense was third overall, ninth against the pass and 17th in scoring defense, allowing 19.9 points per game. This season, the Tigers are 35th in total defense, 61st in pass defense and 68th in scoring defense. Before this season, LSU had not allowed 50 points in a non-overtime game in 12 years; now, they've done so twice in a month.
Perhaps the drop in defensive performance should have been anticipated. All-America defensive tackle Glen Dorsey, All-America safety Craig Steltz and cornerback Chevis Jackson were taken in April's NFL draft. Three other starters from last season's defense also are gone.
LSU has so many premier athletes that there was some thought that new starters such as cornerbacks Jai Eugene and Harry Coleman would step in and play to the same level as their predecessors. That hasn't been the case.
"I told our team the answer is going to come from within this room and the fact that's it's going to be about a team, and it's going to be about a team and it's not going to be any other way," Miles said. "Everybody is going to have to further identify their role and play positively and efficiently within that role. That's where we're headed."
The Tigers still have a chance to win the SEC West. That would require winning the rest of their regular-season games, which includes a clash against second-ranked Alabama – and former coach Nick Saban – on Nov. 8.
"We have some games left in the season," Miles said. "The season is not over for us. We are going to put it behind us. It will be hard, but we are a good team and we will learn from our mistakes."
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.