OXFORD, Miss. — LSU’s 27-24 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday marked the earliest that the Tigers have suffered a second loss since the 2006 season.
There’s still a lot of football to play, and LSU has a lot to play for with games against Furman, Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas remaining.
The Tigers are mathematically alive in the Southeastern Conference race and can still make a significant bowl, perhaps even a BCS bowl.
But whatever LSU ultimately accomplishes the rest of the season must begin with a long look in the nearest mirror because as well as Ole Miss played, the Tigers had as much to do with their defeat Saturday as the opponent did.
Running back Jeremy Hill said LSU was “flat” to start the game, and who could disagree with him after seeing the relatively outmanned Rebels take a 10-0 halftime lead and increase it to 17-0 early in the third quarter?
Why didn’t the No. 6 team in the country, one with potential SEC West title-determining match-ups looming, not muster the level of passion necessary to ensure those future games have maximum meaning?
Why was it the opposition, which had lost three straight games, which lost on the final play a week earlier, which was playing without five injured defensive starters, the only team that initially attacked the task at hand like it was a title contender?
Safety Ronald Martin talked about “correcting mistakes,” and defensive tackle Ego Ferguson talked about “busted coverages.”
If that sounds familiar, it should, because it’s the same explanations that were offered for defensive breakdowns against Kent State and Auburn and especially Georgia in loss No. 1.
But that was September and this is October. This season is two-thirds over, and the loftiest of goals are already realistically unattainable, and the defense is still trying to figure basic stuff out.
It’s apparent, based on the 525 yards that the Rebels rolled up and the ease with which Missouri beat Florida on Saturday, that the Tigers’ marginal defensive improvement against the Gators two weeks ago was little more than fool’s gold.
It’s time for coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis to take a long, hard look at the depth chart and reflect on their favorite mantras.
They say they recruit players to go to the field right away, and they enjoy having them do so.
They dismissed the notion that losing eight defensive starters from last year’s team — mostly to the NFL — would trigger a significant drop-off, because they recruit to adjust to early departures without missing a beat.
Well, they’ve missed a beat — and a whole bunch of tackles.
Next, Miles and Chavis need to review the plaudits they offered about this year’s recruiting class and ask themselves if they’re playing their best players.
And if the answer is no, they have to figure out what that means for the future.
It wouldn’t hurt for the offense to do a little reflecting as well.
The least productive output of the season against Florida can be partly explained away by game plan, fewer snaps and the Gators’ talented defense.
But it’s harder to dismiss the shortcomings against Ole Miss’ mixture of first- and second-teamers — scoreless into the third-quarter, Zach Mettenberger’s decision making and lack of accuracy in the first three-interception game of his career, and an inconsistent running game.
After setting a record pace through the first half of the season, the offense hasn’t looked the same the past two games.
Is the appearance of regression by the offense as misleading as the apparent improvement on defense was? Or not?
Finally, there’s the fact that Miles let about 20 precious seconds evaporate before calling a timeout ahead of the Rebels’ tie-breaking field goal with two seconds left.
The only thing more confusing than LSU letting the clock run was Miles’ explanation for it. He said he was setting up a field-goal block, which, of course, makes no sense.
After this week’s homecoming game, the Tigers will get their much-needed first open date, which is a time teams traditionally use to self-scout.
LSU might want to get a head start on that right now, because it has a lot of questions to answer about itself.