Rabalais: These Tigers exactly who we thought they were

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles watches his team during a 16-7 win over Florida on Oct. 12 in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers are third in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, trailing Alabama and Auburn.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles watches his team during a 16-7 win over Florida on Oct. 12 in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers are third in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, trailing Alabama and Auburn.

They are who we thought they were.

Seven years on, Dennis Green’s meltdown after his Arizona Cardinals blew a 20-point second half lead to the Chicago Bears still deserves its place in the Postgame Rant Hall of Fame (Les Miles’ “Hammer and Nail” performance after this year’s LSU-Florida game is on the nomination ballot this year — just so you know).

Green’s diatribe retains its greatness in large part because it’s still so fresh. It can be trotted out to describe any number of teams every year.

This year’s LSU Tigers are one of those teams.

Before the season, I looked at the Tigers and saw an offense that would be improved and a defense that would have its struggles. I wrote about LSU thusly:

“The Tigers start and end the season at (AT&T) Stadium with a 9-3 record. Losses at Georgia, Ole Miss and Bama are frustrating, but a clean home slate with wins over Florida and (Texas) A&M is satisfying enough for Tigers fans going into an intriguing Cotton Bowl with Oklahoma.”

I also wrote LSU could go 8-4 if it loses at Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama and loses a slugfest with Texas A&M.

It’s no fun to be a prophet of relative doom during football season in these parts, let me tell you.

But you can judge only by the evidence. Despite averaging just 20.5 points per game the past two weeks, the Tigers are still on pace to set school records for points per game (39.2) and yards per game (456.0) if they can live up to their current averages.

But the season will go down as average if the Tigers can’t find a way to upset Alabama and beat Texas A&M. That means finding enough defense.

If the regular season ended today, LSU would have allowed the most points (22.6) per game since 2008 (24.2) and the most yards per game (370.9) since 2001 (396.0). Hard to believe LSU won a Southeastern Conference championship allowing nearly 400 yards per game, but it did.

It’s just as hard to believe LSU isn’t giving up 400 yards per game this season after being soaked for 525 yards in Saturday’s 27-24 loss at Ole Miss.

That Ole Miss game looked all along in the preseason like a dangerous date for LSU. In the days leading up to the game, the Rebels looked like a layup win for the Tigers considering all their injuries after three straight losses.

Unfortunately for LSU, the Tigers apparently thought the same thing. The result is LSU’s BCS title hopes are virtually dead, and its hopes of reaching the SEC Championship Game are going to require an improbable, though not implausible, amount of help.

It’s rare that you can draw such definitive conclusions about a team going into the final four games, but it’s what you can say about this LSU team going into this final four.

LSU will beat Furman, which, unlike a couple of the Appalachian State teams LSU beat a few years back, is scuffling along with a 3-4 record. The Tigers will beat Arkansas, which has completely imploded the past two weeks, getting outscored 104-7 by South Carolina and Alabama.

(By the way, Tiger fans, if you want frustration, think on what it’s like to be an Arkansas fan. Their team came to Tiger Stadium ranked No. 3 in the country two years ago and played in the Sugar Bowl.)

That means LSU is a lock to get to eight wins. Of course, eight wins doesn’t buy you the good will and fan support it used to. Anyone remember how great they thought Bill Arnsparger was for winning eight games his first season at LSU in 1984?

Now, 10 wins is the standard. I figured if LSU could go 10-2, it would probably be with losses at Georgia and Alabama.

A 10-2 record is still a possibility. As predicted, the offense is improved, even if it’s gone a bit off the rails the past two games against Florida and Ole Miss, losing its pedal-to-the-floor identity. And we would be remiss not to mention what a rock redshirt freshman kicker Colby Delahoussaye has been. Pity LSU didn’t save enough seconds Saturday to get him into position to have a chance to put a foot into a kick that could have forced overtime.

But the defense has to come through for LSU to do better than 8-4. If not, it’s hard to figure the Tigers won’t drop those two pivotal games, games in which two wins could still land LSU in a BCS bowl.

At this point, though, its hard to imagine LSU being in good shape against Bama or A&M if either of those teams gets the ball in the closing minutes. In four straight LSU losses — Alabama and Clemson last season, Georgia and Ole Miss this year — the Tigers have given up the last-minute score when leading or tied each time.

I’d like to think for LSU’s sake the defense could truly find itself, its swagger, its hard-hitting style of yore.

But at this point, the Tigers are who we thought they were.