Where does LSU go from here?
By all accounts, the sky is falling in Baton Rouge.
LSU has lost two straight games, and Les Miles has never dropped three in a row as coach of the Tigers. Plus, he reportedly will be coaching for his job over LSU’s last two regular-season contests.
Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy campaign is all but dashed. And according to some, it’s officially over.
But believe it or not, things could be worse. The Bayou Bengals still have a chance to salvage their season. With a victory over Ole Miss in Saturday’s Magnolia Bowl, LSU would eliminate the Rebels from the SEC West race, improve to 8-2 and keep alive its hopes for a 10-win season and a Sugar Bowl berth.
Achieving those things will obviously take a lot of work. But here’s what the Tigers need to do to — potentially — muzzle the Chicken Littles in the SEC and the rest of the college football world.
- Get Fournette back on track. This is obviously easier said than done when you consider that the super sophomore has totaled just 122 yards on 38 carries over his last two games. And it doesn’t help that Ole Miss is allowing opposing ball carriers to gain just 3.2 yards per attempt, which is tied with Florida for the 3rd-best rate in the SEC. But despite these numbers, LSU should stay the course, even if its offensive line is not 100%, and keep going to their workhorse back for more than a season-low 19 carries, a number Fournette has already reached three times this season. He doesn’t have to touch the ball as often as Derrick Henry did during his performance that saw him finish with 38 carries, 210 yards and 3 TDs in the 30-16 win over LSU on Nov. 7. But Fournette was the main reason why the Tigers got off to their 7-0 start, and he must be a major part of their offense once again.
- Attack Ole Miss’ passing defense. This is another approach that might be difficult with Brandon Harris continuing to take snaps, but the Rebels have struggled against the pass all season. Ole Miss has surrendered an SEC-high 20 touchdown passes this season, and it is next-to-last in passing yards allowed per game at 248.3. Thirteen of those 20 TD passes allowed have come in the Rebels’ three losses this year during which they have yielded a whopping 365.7 aerial yards per game. Harris has been shaky this season, especially against Bama, but he did throw a career-high 35 times for 271 yards in last week’s loss to Arkansas, and he still has a respectable touchdown-to-interception ratio (11-2), so it’s time to put his arm to work again. What do Miles and his team have to lose at this point? Maybe offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will surprise us all and find a way to throw the ball 40 times in a winning effort.
- Stay positive. Without question, the Tigers have been horrible over the last two weeks, but they still have some things to play for, starting with Miles’ job. It’s true that the Mad Hatter would be only 13-11 in his last 24 SEC matchups if the Tigers drop their final two regular-season tilts, but he still has won 73 percent of his games at LSU, a rate that a potential replacement might not be able to reach. In addition, depending on what Fournette does over these last three games — bowl matchup included — he could still end up being a Heisman finalist with an outside shot at winning it, especially if Alabama loses to Auburn/Florida while Henry struggles, and if Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State also falter. Plus, if LSU beats Ole Miss and then Texas A&M next week, it would finish 6-2 in the SEC, something it hasn’t done since 2012, when it finished 10-3 overall. LSU is definitely at a crossroads. The Tigers won’t win the SEC championship or a national title, but they still have a chance to save Miles, their season and themselves. Their rescue mission starts Saturday night in Oxford, where we will find out if they have reached the point of no return.