Rabalais: Play here, player there could have been difference for LSU

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) looks for a receiver downfield in a practice earlier this month.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) looks for a receiver downfield in a practice earlier this month.

I may not be able to tell you how LSU’s 2013 season will unfold, but I can tell you something about the Tigers’ 2012 campaign:

Looking back, it isn’t as bad as many people first imagined. In fact, getting to 10-3 and being within one stop or one score of winning all three of those games is downright remarkable.

Last season I took a red marker and made a note in LSU’s media guide every time the Tigers lost a player for the year or for a significant amount of time.

By season’s end, I needed a new marker. And that media guide was running red like a “ghost shark” had chomped on it (more on that later).

In all, 22 players listed on LSU’s preseason roster were either injured for most of or the entire season, were academically suspended, dismissed or transferred.

And yet, this LSU team finished 10-3 with losses to teams that finished in the final USA Today coaches’ poll top 10: No. 1 Alabama (21-17), No. 9 Clemson (25-24) and No. 10 Florida (14-6).

One stop or one score might have made the difference in any of those games.

Or one player.

The Tigers led 17-14 going into the final moments against Bama until the Crimson Tide mounted a game-winning drive, with AJ McCarron throwing a 28-yard screen pass touchdown to T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds left.

Cornerback Jalen Mills turned in a fine freshman All-American season last year, but he admittedly misplayed the coverage on that play. He was playing in place of Tyrann Mathieu, who had long since been banished from the team.

Certainly Mathieu might have botched the coverage as well — being an every-down cornerback has never been the Honey Badger’s strength. But making big plays is, and maybe he would have stripped Yeldon or sacked McCarron or done something else to halt that last drive.

One score. One player. One moment. All else being equal, if LSU wins that game it’s playing Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game for the right to move on and squish Notre Dame like an overripe orange in the BCS title game down in Miami.

LSU lost its starting tackles for most of the season, Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst. Starting tailback Alfred Blue went down in Week 3. The linebacker corps was beset by multiple injuries and illness, including All-American middle linebacker Kevin Minter having to twice leave the Florida game because he was cramping with dehydration. Just so happens Florida scored its touchdowns both times Minter went to the locker room for IVs.

Look, attrition in football is part of the cost of doing business. But before knocking Les Miles and Greg Studrawa for what, at times, was a critically ineffective offense, it’s worth remembering the hand they were dealt.

What does all this mean for this season? Well, the Tigers have already suffered some brusing blows.

Starting left guard Josh Williford, first severely concussed in the Florida game in October, is out again after suffering another concussion earlier this month that has been described as career-threatening. Miles, who’s M.O. is to dish out injury information with an eye dropper, admitted Friday that Williford may not return. One can take that to mean he is unlikely to return, at least in 2013.

The offensive line depth chart is now as thin as the paper it’s written on. Wide receiver is still a deep position, but Avery Peterson (broken ankle) and Armand Williams (broken leg) will also miss at least most of the season.

If anything, though, LSU fans should have hope that Miles and his staff will be able to deal with adversity thrown their way. They did in 2012, perhaps better than any of us realized at the time.

And the Oscar goes to …

Miles may have a penchant for predictable offenses, but the man himself is anything but.

He chews sideline grass. He climbs down the side of skyscrapers. And Friday, he revealed he was all set to play the bit part of a small-town coastal mayor in the Syfy cable channel’s film “Ghost Shark.”

The production got pushed back last year by Hurricane Issac and Miles had a football team to coach, so the part went to someone else.

But that isn’t the point. The point, yet again, is how delightfully quirky Miles is. And whether it’s chewing grass or doing a commercial or angling for a movie role or deciding the best way to discipline Jeremy Hill, he is a man completely comfortable in his own skin and not worried about the slings and arrows of the world.

Is Miles’ world just all erratic happenstance or actually carefully crafted self image? Like most things it’s probably a measure of both.

Some would say Miles marches to the beat of his own drummer. Some would say he doesn’t have a drummer. I say he keeps the rhythm of his life in his head, and it’s for the rest of the world to keep time.