Examining the theories surrounding LSU's collapse
Fans and haters alike have many theories on the sudden collapse of LSU, but not all of the theories hold weight.
Theory No. 1: The Tigers packed it in after the 30-16 loss to Alabama.
In 2014, LSU lost a heartbreaker to the Tide in overtime. The following week, still reeling from the disappointment of the 20-13 loss, the Tigers were stunned by Arkansas in a 17-0 beating.
The upset in Tuscaloosa in Week 10 undoubtedly felt like déjà vu. This hangover could have had a particularly strong effect on the Tigers because of its familiarity. But if you ask LSU head coach Les Miles, he would vehemently disagree.
“Anyone who would think this is a hangover from the Alabama game, that is absolutely untrue,” Miles said.
Verdict: Somewhat true — The shocking loss to the Razorbacks was likely a mixture of LSU’s loss hangover and Arkansas’ win high. The first upset undoubtedly had a psychological effect on the Tigers that they just couldn’t overcome in time to play their best against the Hogs.
Theory No. 2: The LSU offensive line is imploding.
When your own coach tells the world you’re not doing well, you know it’s bad.
"I hope not. I have not seen O-lines that were as good as this one go into slumps. Certainly, this has been a flat spot," Miles said.
— Glenn Guilbeau (@LSUBeatTweet) November 16, 2015
The offensive line has been collapsing in on itself in the last few games, allowing sacks, pressure and tackles for loss. In summary, the line is getting pushed around.
“As an O-line, we’ve got to get better as a group,” said LSU C Ethan Pocic.
Tigers RB Leonard Fournette has been held to painfully low numbers in the past two games, and that can be blamed directly on the failings of this offensive line.
Verdict: True — Arkansas had eight sacks on the season coming into the LSU matchup. Then the SEC’s worst pass rush defense sacked Harris five times.
And in Tuscaloosa, Fournette was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on 13 of 19 carries.
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Good news for the Tigers: this is a young offensive line with a lot of talent. If the coaches can keep these guys healthy and continue to develop them, they have a chance to improve immensely.
Theory No. 3: Tigers QB Brandon Harris can’t carry the team.
Harris has had an abysmal season, and there’s just no other way to put it. LSU has the worst passing offense in the league, and is only ranked ahead of 13 other teams in the entire FBS.
We keep hearing how talented Harris is, and how good of a quarterback he can be, but if those statements are true, he is not living up to his potential.
"There were times when he was brilliant," Miles said of QB Brandon Harris. But could play better. Was 14 of 16 at one point.
— Glenn Guilbeau (@LSUBeatTweet) November 16, 2015
Miles on Harris: "He started the game not crisp, and I think that affected the offense. There were times when he was on the money." #LSU
— Marcus Rodrigue (@RodrigueAdv) November 15, 2015
Verdict: True — He may have talent, but he doesn’t know how to apply it, and it looks like that’s coming back to bite the Tigers now. On the season, Harris is 101 of 181 on the season, giving him a completion rate of 56 percent. He’s fared even worse in the last two games, completing only 27 of 54 pass attempts and throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Theory No. 4: The LSU run defense has slipped.
In a conference where rushing is usually the offense of choice, a team’s run defense is crucial. Alabama ran all over LSU with 250 yards, and Arkansas collected a whopping 299 yards on the ground.
Verdict: Somewhat true — The Tigers have the No. 27 rushing defense in the defense, which isn’t so bad. But they are behind Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Missouri, which puts them in the middle of the SEC pack. If you want to win your schedule, you have to be better than the teams you play.
Also, a lot of the yards the LSU rushing defense gives up are on big plays, so containing rushers is where the real problem lies.
Theory No. 5: LSU RB Leonard Fournette is overrated.
A few weeks ago, Fournette was running away with the Heisman. Then he played Alabama and Arkansas, the No. 2 and No. 20 rushing defenses in the nation.
The man who averaged 25 carries for 193 yards in the first seven games was held to 38 carries for 122 in the last two games.
His Heisman stock plummeted, and he suddenly looked like any other second-string running back. It appeared his performances in the first seven weeks were lucky flukes.
Verdict: False — LSU has the No. 10 rushing offense, and Fournette is the heart of that offense. Even after a canceled game in Week 1, and terrible performances in Week 10 and Week 11, he is still the leading rusher in the FBS with 214 carries for 1,474 yards.
Theory No. 6: Head coach Les Miles is running the Tigers into the ground.
Miles can’t create a balanced offense for this Tigers team. He is stubbornly stuck in the past. He wants the LSU football from the days of old with dual-threat quarterbacks and explosive running back tandems.
Instead, he has a sometimes dual-competent quarterback and one explosive running back whose number everyone has because the rest of the Tigers offense is lacking.
It’s the responsibility of the coaching staff to develop the passing game AND the running game. It’s their responsibility to recruit all the needed players, and not just one. Fournette is great, but he can’t carry the team by himself.
Verdict: Somewhat true — His unpredictability has become predictable, and it turns out, he is stuck in his ways. Miles needs to set his ego aside and come up with a consistent game plan for his coaching staff.
Theory No. 7: The Tigers’ error-prone nature is catching up to them.
LSU has shot itself in the paw (forgive me) when it comes to lack-of-discipline penalties.
The Tigers racked up seven penalties for 48 yards against Alabama and another seven penalties for 46 yards against Arkansas. One of these penalties was a facemask that sent a possible scoring drive down the drain.
The Bayou Bengals are also struggling with consistency on special teams coverage, too. They allowed Alabama to return punts and kickoffs for a total of 78 yards, and they allowed Arkansas to return punts and kickoff for a total of 93 yards.
Verdict: False — Penalties are always bad, but they haven’t played a huge role in LSU’s recent performance. It has just 51 penalties for 443 yards. There are 106 FBS teams that are doing worse.
Now the Tigers are ranked No. 89 in the country for kickoff return defense and last in punt return defense, allowing a total of 1105 yards and two touchdowns. But this isn’t exactly a collapse; it’s pretty much where LSU has been all season.
Can LSU recover?
Take heart LSU fans, the Tigers still have a shot at a successful season. The likelihood of them making it to the College Football Playoff or even to the SEC Championship game is slim, but it doesn’t mean all is lost.
If the Tigers give up and let the rest of the season crumble, they will lose recruits and respect. But if they win out, they can salvage the season and prove a point in a New Years Six bowl.
LSU still has to face Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the regular season, and wins won’t be easy. Miles knows this, and he knows that improvements must be made.
“To me, offensively, we have to have a better plan,” Miles said.
The Tigers have to make the necessary to changes before they face the Rebels, and only then can they move forward to a full recovery.