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At the bitter end, there was quite the Cajun stew of bubbling emotion. None of it pleasant.
There was shock. There was deep disappointment. There was rising anger.
When LSU had finished laying an egg – a goose egg – in the BCS Championship against Alabama right there in its home state, the purple-and-gold portion of the crowd spilling out of the Mercedes Superdome was equal parts stunned silent and raging mad. Many looked dazed. But just as many were spewing outrage into the air over a dream season gone horribly wrong at the end.
Then radio host, former Saints quarterback and player father Bobby Hebert put a name and a face to the outrage by jumping all over Les Miles in the postgame press conference. That was the bizarrely appropriate coda to a very bad night.
The No. 1, 13-0 Tigers weren’t just beaten 21-0 last Jan. 9, they were owned. They were owned by a rival led by a former LSU coach. Worst of all, they were beaten by a team the Tigers had beaten 9-6 on the road two months earlier.
With the stakes at their highest, they had pretty well stunk up the Superdome.
“It will stick with me and haunt me the rest of my life, probably,” said T-Bob Hebert, a senior offensive lineman on the 2011 LSU team and Bobby’s son. “Being that close, and to fall apart at the end, it’s not fun.”
LSU gets another shot at Alabama on Saturday, about 10 months after the debacle. This time, revenge is a prime motivator for the Tigers. But as the game approaches and memories from last January surface, the bad taste still lingers for many on the bayou.
There have been three great flops in BCS title game history. The previous two at least made a little more sense than this one.
When USC beat Oklahoma 55-19 for the 2004 title and Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 two years later, we found out that one team was simply much better than the other in ways that weren’t obvious going into the game. When they got on the same field, the mismatches became obvious.
But with LSU-Alabama, we already had plenty of evidence that the Tigers were as good or better than the Crimson Tide. Then something drastically changed over the course of two months, to the point that LSU not only failed to score, it didn’t even cross midfield until there were eight minutes left in the game.
Yeah, Alabama got better. Quarterback A.J. McCarron improved immensely. The ‘Bama staff fixed a few things and had a smarter gameplan than in Tuscaloosa. Revenge was a great motivator, too.
But more than anything, LSU simply played horribly and had a badly flawed gameplan. That was the biggest takeaway from the dud of a title game.
“I think the coaches could have done better in some respects and the players could have done better,” said T-Bob Hebert, who currently works as a radio sports talk show host on the ESPN affiliate in Baton Rouge. “We just got our butts kicked.”
Before the game, much of the talk centered on whether LSU would go down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time. It had beaten nine bowl teams. It had handily beaten eventual Rose Bowl champion Oregon on a neutral field. It had handily beaten eventual Orange Bowl champion West Virginia on the road.
“Hell, we beat the national champion,” T-Bob said. “It sucks. That loss does overshadow the season kind of.”
T-Bob chalks up a lot of it to coaching error. Bobby Hebert said in that bizarre postgame press-conference rant what tens of thousands of LSU fans were saying at home and in the stands: why didn’t Miles turn to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee when starter Jordan Jefferson was playing so poorly?
“I don’t see why we didn’t play Jarrett,” T-Bob said.
Instead, LSU stuck with Jefferson as he flailed to 53 yards passing and 15 yards rushing. Maybe that was because the Tigers prepared with almost singular focus on running the option against Alabama, which was certainly a stronger suit of Jefferson’s than Lee’s.
But guess what? It didn’t work. Largely because Alabama was completely prepared for the option after being hurt by it during the regular-season matchup.
“We game-planned the option so hard, it’s basically all we practiced,” T-Bob said. “It was a little crazy to think they wouldn’t be ready for it. “
More than a little crazy. That was Nick Saban on the other sideline. Nobody is better at breaking down a game and improving on areas of weakness, yet LSU appeared to be under the assumption that it could change nothing and beat the Crimson Tide a second time.
That stark preparation mismatch rekindled the old complaints in Louisiana about coach Les Miles. Those complaints about him being a strategic lightweight and an in-game fire drill of a coach had largely been buried under an avalanche of wins – Miles was 75-17 at LSU heading into the BCS title game.
But that’s the thing with Les: You never know.
Just when you believe he can’t coach, he does something spectacular to win a big game. And just when you think he’s an underappreciated savant, he waltzes into the BCS title matchup with a gameplan many self-respecting high school coaches would disapprove of. He never lets a consensus opinion on his acumen develop without offering a compelling counterargument.
Certainly, Bobby Hebert gave Miles all the argument he wanted postgame. The harangue was long and loud enough that the press-conference moderator finally had to intervene and ask if there was actually a question for the head coach.
“I don’t control my dad or have any input on what he says,” T-Bob said. “That was all him. But that’s his job. I don’t think he was wrong in asking the question. These college coaches get so much money, they should be able to answer any question that’s asked.”
But another question came out of that game, one that has become more persistent in recent weeks.
Was there a leadership issue among the players?
When Tyrann Mathieu, the best player on the team, was booted in August because of drug issues, the revisionist skepticism intensified. Then, when Mathieu, Jefferson and two other teammates were arrested on marijuana charges last month, it became a full-blown declaration: LSU lost the national title because there was a drug problem on the team, and the players went off the reservation in the month between the end of the regular season and the BCS title game.
Not true, Hebert said.
“No, that’s just stupid,” he said. “We got tested all the time. I know for a fact we have one of the most thorough testing programs. Our compliance office absolutely does not mess around. There was not a drug problem on that team.
“And I don’t think you can have a leadership problem when you go 13-0 and play for the national championship.”
[Y! Sports Radio: Les Miles talks about LSU’s opportunity against ‘Bama on Saturday]
For his part, Miles is continuing to put distance between that dispiriting loss and the huge opportunity in front of his team Saturday night. They can assume the role of hunter this time, angling to take down the No. 1 team and ruin a dream season.
“I recognize that’s a history some of the guys on our football team carry with them, but I think it is more of a last-year issue than a this-year issue,” Miles said. “Our guys understand that we need to play our best against a quality opponent, and that’s the focus. It’s not really looking back at last year’s tape. For both teams, there are a lot of different guys in uniform.
“This is a different LSU team and we’re looking forward to playing well and being representative in our stadium.”
LSU fans are looking forward to the same thing. Anything is better than a repeat of the feeling they had in the early hours of Jan. 10, 2012, when a championship season unraveled around them.
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