LSU coach Les Miles was asked after the Tigers’ 17-6 victory against Florida on Saturday if coming in he believed his team could win such a game.
That is, if his team could win when Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. weren’t putting up video-game numbers. When the defense had to make a modest 17-point output hold up.
In other words, win the way LSU used to win routinely before nearly the entire defense bolted to the NFL and Cam Cameron brought an NFL offense to the Tigers.
Miles’ reply? “You betcha.”
Others could be forgiven for being more skeptical before LSU won behind stifling defense and physical running.
It’s uncharacteristic that it took seven games for LSU to show it could win the way it was accustomed to winning in recent seasons, but it’s less important how long it took than that it finally happened.
“That’s the strength of a really fine football team,” Miles said. “The ability to win in different ways is what makes it very, very difficult (for opponents).”
The Tigers made things difficult for the Gators by containing their running game, getting them into obvious passing situations, pressuring the quarterback and not allowing big plays.
LSU ran the ball right at the top run defense in the country, and Jeremy Hill’s 121 yards were 10 more than the Gators had allowed to any other team.
The Tigers responded with a drive to a crucial field goal after Florida got within one score in the fourth quarter — and 49 of the 61 yards came on the ground. After the defense got a stop, LSU ran out the final 3 minutes, 51 seconds.
Miles almost giddily referred to the late running success as a “scrum” twice.
Hammer-and-nail references aside, the Tigers couldn’t run the ball when they lost to Florida last season (42 yards on 25 tries), and they couldn’t run out the clock when they lost in the final moments to Alabama and Clemson.
So adding that component to the record-setting passing game and an improving defense positions LSU to be one of the most well-rounded Southeastern Conference teams down the stretch.
LSU demonstrated throughout the first half of the season that it could win primarily with its passing game if need be, and that may be necessary against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. What the Tigers hadn’t shown — and hadn’t really had to — was that they could win when the offense didn’t carry the team.
But at some point, perhaps at Alabama in a few weeks, they might have to win in a more conventional way. At the least, LSU will have to be able to lean on its defense more than it was able to in the 44-41 loss at Georgia two weeks ago.
It might not have to shut a team down the way it did Florida, and it might not need to score the way it did in a 59-26 victory at Mississippi State. But now it looks like it can handle either situation.
“We can win all types of games,” Hill said.
Including those that used to be more commonplace.
“We’ve always been known for tough, physical football,” defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “We sent a message to the world that LSU hasn’t gone anywhere.”