RABALAIS: Adversity might give Tigers edge

There isn’t any way to spin a convincing argument that the Aug. 19 barfight that dug a deep and painful scar into the LSU football program has been anything good for the Tigers.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve moved on,” senior offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “Them (Jordan Jefferson and Josh Johns) not playing hurts. They’re our brothers.”

Like the tight-knit group they apparently are, the Tigers have closed ranks without Jefferson, Johns, Russell Shepard (who returns next week to play West Virginia) and senior offensive guard Josh Dwoarczyk, who will likely miss the entire season with a knee injury. Coach Les Miles said Monday he’s optimistic LSU can successfully petition the NCAA for a sixth year for Dworaczyk in 2012.

That would be a boon to a future LSU team that again looks like it will be a prime national contender. But in a 40-27 victory over then No. 3-ranked Oregon, LSU could hardly have won more impressively had Jefferson, Shepard and Dworaczyk - three certain starters - been available. Saturday in a 49-3 romp over Northwestern State, the Tigers got the necessary demolition work out of the way early against an overmatched foe and bought some valuable rest for most of starters as they go into Thursday’s game at No. 25 Mississippi State.

It seems, in one respect, the Tigers have gained by subtraction. The departure of offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to Maryland in what can charitably be described as a mutual parting with Miles and even Jefferson’s post-arrest suspension have seemed to hone the edge of this LSU offense.

Last season, the Tigers offense was a split personality basket case. LSU’s offense was dulled by a personality that veered from power running to option to spread and back again.

This season the style - to use a pet Milesism - is much more straightforward, unvarnished, and devoid of pretense and pretty-looking but often inefficient tactics. As Exhibit A, we present LSU changing personnel groupings on the goal line against Tennessee with the clock melting down. That, it seems obvious now, was Crowton. The antidote, in the form of a power toss to power back Stevan Ridley for the touchdown, was Miles.

Are Miles’ hands all over this LSU offensive game plan now that Steve Kragthorpe has been relegated to the role of consultant by Parkinson’s disease? You bet. It’s imbedded in Miles’ Midwestern upbringing.

Crowton’s influence was cruise control and power bucket seats. Miles’ influence is the block of metal that forms the foundation of LSU’s offensive power plant.

If and when Jefferson comes back, could it upset LSU’s more grounded offensive chemistry? It’s a question that invites equally compelling arguments. His running/passing skills are an element that would help the Tigers. Just like Shepard’s two-dimensional talents.

But they shouldn’t be incorporated back into the offense at the expense of perhaps its most important asset: it’s hard-won identity.