September 05, 2010
LSU 30, North Carolina 24. This night was basically a microcosm of Les Miles' career at LSU: The Tigers unleashed a cache of clearly superior talent for a blistering start, appeared invincible at the midway point, watched the offense retreat into a shell for no apparent reason as the outmanned competition gained ground and momentum, shot themselves in the foot with bizarre mistakes and finally came out ahead, anyway, by the slimmest possible margin. If LSU fans don't like winning this way, they have to give back at least a third of the wins from the 2007 BCS championship season.
On the other hand, the analogy breaks down a little when you start comparing North Carolina offensive coordinator John Shoop and quarterback T.J. Yates in the second half to, say, Nick Saban and Alabama. Carolina languished near the bottom of the ACC last year in passing yards and efficiency, and came in 108th nationally in total offense. Coming into his fourth season as a starter, Yates was generally viewed as a liability to the championship aspirations of UNC's blue-chip defense. Instead, with virtually the entire D watching from the stands – along with his top two running backs and best receiver – he delivered by far the game of his career: 410 yards, three touchdowns and a school-record 97-yard strike, to Jheranie Boyd, that made a burgeoning blowout a game again in the fourth quarter.
Some of the Tar Heels' late comeback push did seem like a puckish spasm of the cosmos: In the last three minutes alone, UNC recovered an onside kick, came up with a random LSU fumble with the Tigers in clock-killing mode and had a shot at the winning touchdown with one of the best cover corners in the country, Patrick Peterson, writhing on the sideline with an ill-timed case of leg cramps. But ultimately the slings and arrows didn't lead to any Carolina points; a career night for a mediocre starter missing his top target in a typically lo-fi attack did, at least in part because LSU coaches apparently thought they were out of the woods when they pulled Peterson ahead of the bomb to Boyd in the fourth quarter. It was reminiscent of last year's lackluster opening-night escape from Washington, with all of the ominous overtones that suggests for the Tigers' ability to compete with Alabama and Florida and the rest of the conference's heavier hitters.
And yes, LSU did just beat a nominal top-20 team in dramatic fashion, and flashed some sorely-needed big play pop from hyped sophomore receivers Russell Sheppard and Reuben Randle in the process. How much that matters when they start running into full-strength defenses, though, we still don't know. How much getting shredded in the secondary by a previously woebegone passing attack is going to matter, we don't know. We do know that this looks like another typical, slightly schizophrenic Les Miles team, capable of just about anything at any given moment. Whether "anything" looks more like the first half or the fourth quarter tonight over the rest of the season, well, that's the $3.75 million question.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.