GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The knee-jerk reaction to LSU’s 14-6 loss to Florida on Saturday is to wonder if the 5-1 Tigers can still win the Southeastern Conference championship and have a chance to play for the BCS Championship.
For the record, if LSU were to win its remaining six games, it would win the SEC West, play in the SEC title game and be poised with a win there to advance to the BCS title game.
But come on.
The season is halfway over, and the focus right now shouldn’t be on whether this struggling team can beat South Carolina and Texas A&M and Alabama, etc.
The focus should be on things such as:
Can the offense block consistently well enough to produce a consistent, credible running threat in the ongoing absence of top halfback Alfred Blue?
Can the offense, whether it’s running the ball well or not, protect Zach Mettenberger well enough for him to continue his adjustment to the speed of the college game?
Can Mettenberger, regardless of how well the running game is going and how well he’s being protected, stem the rash of turnovers that has hamstrung the team for a month and a half?
Can the wide receivers — who way back when gave themselves the inappropriate nickname of “The Fab Five” — get open, catch the ball and, if and when they get open and catch the ball, hold on to it until the play is over?
Can the offense, defense and special teams reduce the penalties they’ve been trying to, and failing to, reduce since the season started?
Can the defense, which has been by far the most dependable of the three units, raise its level to the point that, when necessary, it can carry the offense and, if need be, the special teams, to victory? Can it produce points on its own when the offense is unable to score a touchdown when the defense gives it the ball at the opponent’s 7-yard line, as was the case Saturday?
Can someone, anyone — and preferably more than one — step forward to shake this team out of its funk and help it regain its – let’s not call it “swag” — just confidence?
And speaking of confidence, when will the coaching staff regain its confidence in the passing game, or more precisely when will the passing game give the coaching staff reason to restore its confidence in it?
After six games it’s long past time to acknowledge that Mettenberger isn’t the final piece to a BCS championship puzzle, and that’s as much because of the discovery of other missing pieces as it is due to Mettenberger’s shortcomings.
Mettenberger certainly was a big part of the offense’s inability to get in the end zone Saturday or score a point in the second half, and obviously his lack of ball security during the first five games — five turnovers, three near the opponent’s goal line — affected the play calling in key situations.
The Tigers drove to a third-and-10 at the Gators’ 21 on the first possession of the game. LSU minimized the risk of a turnover — and consequently the chances of gaining a first down – by throwing a dump pass to fullback J.C. Copeland, one of the least elusive ball handlers on the team. Copeland, playing with a sore knee, did a nice job of gaining 7 yards, but a bold call rather than the meek one LSU chose would have had a better chance of gaining 10.
A sack and a fumble forced by Bennie Logan and recovered by Barkevious Mingo gave the Tigers a chance to increase their 3-0 lead to 10-0 at halftime if the offense could have gained 7 yards in three plays. On third-and-goal from the 4, instead asking Mettenberger to get the ball into the end zone, LSU turned to Terrence Magee.
Magee, a wide receiver/running back who had touched the ball once in five games, lined up as the only back behind Mettenberger. Magee’s presence was a hint to the Florida defense and 90,000-plus others in The Swamp that something unconventional was afoot, and Magee was at the center of it. In case there was any doubt, the Tigers called two timeouts, allowing anyone slow on the uptake to catch up.
The play — quite possibly the most important one LSU had all day — was for Mettenberger to give the ball to Magee, who’s two years removed from being a standout quarterback at Franklinton High School — to throw a jump pass to tight end Nic Jacobs.
But what was planned to be the first pass of Magee’s two-year career turned into a run for no gain as Jacobs was well covered. Thus, the Tigers’ inability to execute key plays in the passing game and their desperation because of such was all rolled into one play.
By the way, the first BCS rankings come out next Sunday, but until LSU starts blocking and passing and catching better, and eliminating mistakes — on a week-to-week basis — any thoughts of standings or polls or rankings will have little meaning around here.