With Arkansas looming, can LSU recover from its Alabama hangover?
LSU quaterback Danny Etling was asked Monday about whether he was nervous going up against Alabama’s fast, big, physical defense.
“No,” he said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Later, defensive end Lewis Neal was asked if he was held on Jalen Hurts’ touchdown run.
“I don’t make excuses,” he responded, adding, “I have to make a play.”
At times, listening to the Monday media scrum, one would have thought it was the postgame interviews from Saturday’s 10-0 loss to the Crimson Tide, not the Monday leading up to the Arkansas game.
A 6-3 Arkansas team. That just beat Florida at home. And has a two-game winning streak against LSU.
Just a little matter to get to once we all sufficiently break down how and why LSU has lost six straight to Alabama, right?
With everybody around LSU seemingly still focused on the Alabama postmortem, how can the Tigers get focused on a trip to Fayetteville?
“You just have to make sure you stay with your schedule and stay with your routine,” Etling said. “You have to make sure nothing changes just because you lost.”
That hasn’t been an easy task for the Tigers, who have not played well against the Razorbacks since the Arkansas game was moved from the season finale to the week after the Alabama game two years ago in a scheduling shift by the SEC to create more regionally relevant LSU-Texas A&M and Arknasas-Missouri matchups as rivalry finales.
In two games against Arkansas since that time, the Tigers have lost by a combined 48-14 score. That would imply far superior Razorbacks teams, but in reality, those Arkansas teams were a combined 15-11 and 7-9 in SEC games while LSU was 17-8 and 9-7.
By any measure, LSU was the better team in every way, except when they met on the field.
It’s a scheduling change that surely wasn’t LSU’s ideal choice. From 2007-2011, LSU followed the Alabama game with its late-season, non-conference game against teams like Troy and UL-Monroe. In 2013, the Tigers managed to have byes both before and after the Alabama game, allowing the Tigers to get built up, then come down from the big game before playing Texas A&M.
Then, the Arkansas game was moved to the week after Bama, and the Tigers have yet to show up for the Hogs.
It hasn’t helped that those Alabama games, all losses, have been deflating. In 2014, it was a 20-13 overtime loss at home. Last year, it was a 30-16 loss at Tuscaloosa that knocked the Tigers out of the unbeaten ranks. This year, it eliminated LSU’s chances at an SEC West title.
So on Monday, when the questions weren’t about Alabama, they were about how the Tigers will try to refocus after Alabama.
“When we started this thing in our new season, we promised each other we’re going to take it one game at a time,” interim head coach Ed Orgeron said. “I think it’s a mindset … we’ve done well. Look, we beat some teams very handily. We made offensive records, and we had to go back the next day and say, ‘Listen, we got to forget about it, move forward, just the same approach.’
“It will be the same approach this week, and I think the guys will handle it well.”
The Alabama hangover is one of many intangibles working against LSU this week.
There’s the “boot” factor.
As in the “Golden Boot,” the rivalry trophy which seems to mean something to Arkansas fans and players but doesn’t seem to register at all to LSU.
Orgeron admitted as much on Monday.
When a questioner suggested Arkansas might care about the rivalry and its trophy more than LSU, Orgeron responded, “I think you’re right on that. I think that — like I said, this — look, I have in-laws in Arkansas. I know what it means to them. This is a — I coached at Arkansas. I know that — and I coached at other schools in the SEC, and it just seemed like every time somebody plays LSU, it’s their game of the year, and I get that. That’s why you come here.
“And although it would be nice to bring the boot home, you know, I don’t think that will be our single most motivation this week.”
Then, there is the factor that LSU hasn’t played particularly well on the road this year, coming into the Arkansas game 0-2 away from home. Granted those losses were at tough places as the Tigers lost to No. 7 Wisconsin in what was basically a road game in Green Bay and at No. 8 Auburn. And the combined score was 34-27 in the two games.
Still, Orgeron said there is one thing he’d like to see different in the Tigers’ road approach.
“Yeah, a win,” he quipped.
But that does bring up a point. Those two games away from home this year and the two losses to Arkansas in the last two years shared one thing in common: They were all under former head coach Les Miles.
It’s part of the reason why when Orgeron got the job, he asked his players to make the one-game-at-a-time promise. Orgeron felt the Tigers had put too much emphasis on the Alabama game in the past.
And maybe the road Tigers will take to Orgeron’s away-from-home process as well as they have the week-to-week process in their previous home games.
But on Monday, it looked very much like Arkansas was a confident team coming off a resounding win over Florida, ready to make another statement at home against a team it would love to beat.
As for LSU?
The Tigers spent Monday being asked what happened last week and if they will be motivated going forward.
We await the answer to that second question on Saturday.