There isn’t much to smile about in the aftermath of LSU’s season opener.
After injuries, bad games or any hint of adversity, the newest, most popular phrase is “a minor setback for a major comeback.” For recruits and players, that certainly holds true. Torn ACLs, interceptions or missed tackles — I get it.
But does a shocking 16-14 loss to unranked Wisconsin fit the bill?
No. 5 LSU went down, miserably, on college football’s opening Saturday. Coach Les Miles was same old Coach Les Miles, sporting a frustrating display on offense and leaving more to desire out on the field.
The Tigers boast 17 starters from last year’s 9-3 squad, including nine on the offensive side of the ball and eight on the defense. Did that veteran experience forget to make the trip to Lambeau Field?
No, but Miles opted not to use it.
An offseason of hype and elevated expectations set the stage for a disappointing debut on Saturday. Dave Aranda displayed his defense, which for the most part, gave LSU a fighting chance. Senior cornerback Tre’Davious White played the part of a hero, snagging a third-quarter pick-6 and recovering a fumble, which set up the offense’s lone points.
If not for that defensive tailspin at the end of the third quarter and Brandon Harris’ lone touchdown drive, LSU did little to play like the nation’s fifth-best team.
We know about Leonard Fournette, who became the fastest Tiger to eclipse 3,000 career rushing yards in the contest behind a patchwork offensive line. Up front, LSU failed to consistently pave running lanes for the nation’s best running back or give Harris enough time to try and pass the ball.
Speaking of Harris, LSU’s quarterback has drawn a ton of praise coming off his third fall camp. However, his coach and offensive coordinator did little to let Harris shine in the loss. They put LSU in obvious passing situations and displayed an all-too-familiar style of offense that would frustrate any junior quarterback. It’s not Harris’ fault that LSU follows a basic script that has failed too many times before.
In Miles’ post-game press conference, he often suggested he had to review the film before next week’s home opener against Jacksonville State.
We don’t need to see the tape to know where LSU went wrong.
An experienced, talent-laden team can’t drop the ball like that to start a season loaded with expectations. The No. 5 team knows what it takes to win and — believe it or not — has all of the tools needed to make it happen.
However, a continued theme has been Miles’ baffling stubbornness to stick with his ways. LSU’s offense showed little upside. In this type of season, there shouldn’t be questions about who should start under center heading into Week 2. Perhaps an offseason of praise and promises raised the bar just a bit too high.
It’s always better to lose early than to lose late. The problem with that is there’s even more pressure for LSU to run the table for the rest of the season. That begins on Saturday with Jacksonville State before the team dips into its SEC schedule.
Of course, the date circled on everyone’s calendar is Nov. 5 when Alabama rolls into town. Ignore that — for now — because Jacksonville State is the next big game for this team. Then Mississippi State, then Auburn and so on.
If LSU’s offense doesn’t turn a corner in what should be a confidence booster next weekend, then you should expect another warm seat under Miles. Last year athletic director Joe Alleva came close and reached out to Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Why would Alleva hesitate to do the same if Miles fumbles away a team of this caliber?
The season is not over, but the pressure, certainly, is mounting.
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.