East: Bama matchup should revive LSU and its fans

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Furman running back Hank McCloud (26) is stopped for no gain by LSU cornerback Jalen Mills (28) and LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow (18) on a third down, forcing a Furman punt. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Furman running back Hank McCloud (26) is stopped for no gain by LSU cornerback Jalen Mills (28) and LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow (18) on a third down, forcing a Furman punt.

There’s no question the LSU football team needs the open date it has this week.

The Tigers have played nine consecutive Saturdays, including a five-game Southeastern Conference gauntlet that ended when they beat nonconference foe Furman 48-16 on homecoming.

This team is tired, burned out and smarting from dropping out of national championship contention with two losses.

LSU needs to recharge before heading to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to play No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9.

As much as the No. 11 Tigers need this break, their fans need it, too.

The ceiling for this team’s accomplishments — and the fans’ enthusiasm — has been lowered, and we haven’t finished October. If you enjoy being haunted during this Halloween week, that season-altering 27-24 loss at Ole Miss two games ago fits the bill.

If the Tigers had won that game, the game against the Crimson Tide — the focal point of every LSU season nowadays — would mean so much more. Control of the Southeastern Conference West Division would be at stake, and a shot at the BCS title would still be realistic.

Though there is less for LSU to accomplish in Tuscaloosa, these next two weeks provide an opportunity to regain perspective, to recognize this is still a big deal — not the biggest, but big nonetheless.

First of all, this team is capable of beating the Crimson Tide. Sure, it will be a big underdog, and rightfully so. Sure, it can’t turn the ball over as much as it has the past two weeks and have a chance to win. It can’t have defensive breakdowns and miss tackles the way it has for much of the season.

It will undoubtedly take LSU’s best performance of the season to have a chance to beat Alabama, but that was going to be the case under pretty much any circumstances.

If Zach Mettenberger and the passing game perform as they did during the first six games; if Jeremy Hill and the running game complement it as they have for much of the season; if the defense can avoid major breakdowns as it has periodically; and if the special teams are solid as they have been for most of the season, the Tigers can hang with the Tide — as they did a year ago, before falling in the final minute.

But the point of the next two weeks isn’t so much trying to quantify just how realistic a victory in Tuscaloosa is. It’s more about recognizing just how far this season is from being over.

What happens in Alabama will greatly affect what happens the rest of the season and whether the Tigers can get into a BCS bowl.

Keep this in mind, too, as each of the seniors will and any underclassmen contemplating leaving for the NFL might: This is the last game they will play on an SEC opponent’s field.

It’s Alabama and Nick Saban, a chance to enhance the stretch run and throw a monkey wrench into Bama’s plan to win a third straight BCS title and fourth in five seasons. If that doesn’t recharge your batteries, nothing will.

Are the stakes lower for the Tigers in this game than they were in the past few games against the Tide? Sure.

Are they still high, though, high enough to revive this season?

As Les Miles would say, “You betcha.”