Are we there yet? LSU seeks to end losing streak vs. Bama
Things changed when No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 9, 2012.
The Tigers had beaten the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime in an epic regular-season game just two months earlier in Bryant-Denny Stadium as the signature victory in one of the most dominant regular seasons in college football history.
Then they played again.
Bama dominated, creating separation between the two SEC West rivals and LSU has been trying to catch up ever since.
That game in the Dome started an eight-game Bama winning streak.
Three times in that streak the Tide have shut out the Tigers. Throw in LSU’s last victory and the Tigers have failed to score a touchdown in four of the last nine meetings.
Bama has won an overtime game and scored a touchdown in the final minute to win another game. Five times it has won by at least two touchdowns.
Close or tight, Bama has been better. Eight times.
For the first four years of the streak, Les Miles was playing catch-up. For the last three Ed Orgeron has been playing catch-up.
Ever since that game in the Dome, LSU’s pursuit of Bama has been like a family driving on a long summer vacation, pursuing a distant destination that gradually seems farther away than the map suggested it was.
The Tigers have been like the parents, sitting in the front seat with a foot on the gas, constantly moving forward as best they could but not getting there nearly as fast as anyone in the car would like.
Followers of the team have been like the young, anxious children in the back seat, asking “Are we there yet?” more and more frequently as the destination seems frozen on a distant horizon.
Last year it seemed they might be close to arriving. LSU had played itself from a No. 25 preseason ranking to a No. 4 ranking going into the game against the No. 1 Tide. It was Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
It didn’t matter.
The Tide rolled to a 29-0 victory. Though it was technically still a two-score game when Bama went into halftime with a 16-0 lead, that early November game couldn’t have stretched until Thanksgiving and LSU would not have scored.
After the game, Orgeron moved up Tell the Truth Monday to Tell the Truth Late Saturday Night.
“We’ve got to recruit better on the offensive and defensive lines,” the coach said. “Same old thing. You’ve got to beat Alabama on the line of scrimmage and we didn’t.”
None of the offensive or defensive linemen expected to play Saturday have arrived since those words were spoken, so Orgeron’s plan to fix the problem through recruiting isn’t relevant to this game.
Nonetheless he’s optimistic, addressing on multiple occasions his post-game comments from last season on his most recent Tell the Truth Monday:
“You still have to win the line of scrimmage. Last year we didn’t win the line of scrimmage.” …
“I do believe we have made up the ground.” …
“We have gotten better on the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the football.” …
“I do believe we have better depth on the defensive line. I feel good about our interior.”
The Tigers will be playing their first game since linebacker Michael Divinity Jr., their leader in sacks the last two seasons, left the team for “personal reasons.”
But they have a variety of viable ways to fill the void – giving Ray Thornton and Andre Anthony more snaps on the outside on first and second down, giving Damone Clark more snaps on the inside, turning loose Marcel Brooks even more in likely passing situations, as well as playing more nickel.
If the losing streak reaches nine it won’t be because of Divinity’s absence.
As for Bama, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is less than three weeks removed from ankle surgery and his absence certainly would impact this game more than Divinity’s, but there’s not a person in America who thinks he won’t play Saturday.
It’s LSU’s quarterback and its passing game, though, that represent the biggest difference over the last eight meetings, that suggest the Tigers might be there – finally.
Joe Burrow has led the second-most productive passing game in America and he and the Tigers are fourth in the country in scoring, less than two points per game behind No. 2 Bama.
“I think that our guys are equipped and this is the best football team we have had going into this game,” Orgeron said.
Symbolically, LSU already has caught Bama – in the AP poll, leap-frogging the Tide a little more than a week ago to become No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time since their last reign ended and the losing streak began simultaneously.
The first CFP rankings came out Tuesday night and the Tigers were again ahead of Bama. Ohio State was No. 1, LSU was No. 2 and Bama was No. 3.
“You can tell by the rankings it looks like we made up some ground,” Orgeron said. “But we’ve still got to beat them.”
Are we there yet?
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…