Anyone who has ever seen a “Winnie the Pooh” movie knows the phrase:
“Bouncin’ is what Tiggers do best.”
But how do the LSU Tigers bounce back when all their goals of an entire year have been stripped away? How high can their ambition carry them when their greatest ambitions are locked away above a glass ceiling?
It is a different brand of anxiety which LSU carries with it into Tiger Stadium on Saturday night against Mississippi State.
A week ago against No. 1-ranked Alabama, the question was whether the Tigers were good enough to overcome their opponent.
Even in defeat, a 21-17 loss in which LSU dominated every statistical category save the final score, the Tigers proved that they were.
Now the question is whether the Tigers are good enough to overcome themselves.
To be sure, Mississippi State shouldn’t be left out of the equation. They have a substantial say in Saturday’s outcome as well.
The Bulldogs dot the field with talented players like quarterback Tyler Russell, tailback LaDarius Perkins and cornerback Jonathan Banks.
They have tightened a two decade-long gap with LSU to the point where the Tigers had to luck out and grind out victories on their last two visits to see the bright lights of StarkVegas — 30-26 in 2009, 19-6 in 2011.
But a flashy 7-0 start that had State looking like a threat to capture the throne in the Southeastern Conference Western Division has been doused by a two-game losing streak that has left the Bulldogs looking like an emperor wanna-be sans clothes.
State was undressed 38-7 at Alabama two weeks ago, then watched as Texas A&M went streaking past in a 38-13 victory last Saturday, rolling up enough yardage to stretch halfway down the Natchez Trace from Starkville to Jackson.
LSU and State may sport identical records (7-2, 3-2 SEC) and using comparative scores most often like trying to play football on a slippery slope. But one would be blind not to see that the way the Tigers fared against Alabama and A&M compared to the way the Bulldogs played against them is a night and day proposition.
While LSU gave Alabama all it wanted, taking a lead into the game’s final heartstopping minute, State didn’t put up a fight.
The Bulldogs fell behind 21-0 after Bama’s first three possessions and trailed 24-0 at halftime. While LSU’s was giving the Anaconda treatment to A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, slowly squeezing the life out of the Aggies’ offense until their football went pop, Johnny Football had time to run around a Bulldogs defense that looked mighty slow of foot and still make it to yell practice.
Still, it’s plausible to say that State was so physically unable to keep pace with A&M because it was laid low by Post-Crimson Tide Syndrome.
The question now is whether LSU will suffer from its own version of that malady when the Bulldogs come calling.
From way back in the preseason this has always looked like a tough spot for LSU. Win or lose, the Tigers would be coming off a euphoric victory or, as actually happened, a devastating defeat.
Time after time, however, Les Miles’ Tigers have bounced back like springy Tiggers, not moped about like Eyores.
In the Miles era, LSU has had a grand total of one losing streak, a two-game mini-skid to end the Pick Six-infested 2008 season. Overall, Miles’ Tigers are 16-1 within the same season in games following a defeat.
This game doesn’t have the feel of a contest that will buck that trend. Sure, State is capable of extending LSU’s misery, but seems a lot less capable than getting outscored 76-20 the last two weeks.
Then there’s that little matter of having lost to LSU 19 times in their last 20 meetings that clouds the issue as well.
Will the Tigers play with the same purpose, concentration and fire with which they did against Alabama? Hard to imagine how.
That was not just a game but a crusade, a crusade to prove LSU’s program is still championship worthy and to fan the flames of championship hopes.
Those flames have been doused. Now the Tigers must ignite a new spark, regenerate momentum for a finishing kick.
If they can, it could carry the Tigers all the way to a BCS bowl berth. If they can’t, this season will start to resemble 2008 and 2009, seasons that for most LSU fans are devoid of redeeming features.
The bet here is that the Tigers will get the job done. It’ll take some time to get going from the dead stop of a tough defeat — but bouncing back is what these Tigers do best.
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