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LSU's key to title? Don't beat itself
BATON ROUGE, La.
Some wondered if the Tigers’ title chances would go up in smoke Saturday against No. 20 Auburn after three players, including star cornerback Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu” and starting tailback Spencer Ware, were suspended this week after testing positive for synthetic marijuana.
But with BCS No. 1 LSU’s 45-10 trouncing of overmatched Auburn before a crowd of 93,098 on Saturday, its doubters once again were silenced. The rout also reinforced what you already should have known about the Tigers.
They are the team to beat in college football this season, despite all of their off-the-field problems.
The only question now is: Can they avoid the one thing that can stop them?
I am not saying LSU wins at No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5 in a game already being billed as the de facto national championship game. But if the Tigers do lose, it will be because they made mistakes, not because the Crimson Tide is the better team.
LSU’s players know this. Just like they already know whom to blame if they are not raising the BCS championship trophy in New Orleans on Jan. 9.
“It’s going to be our own fault,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “It means we shot ourselves in the foot.”
LSU’s starters could have done that before Saturday’s game and Auburn still wouldn’t have won. The defending national champions are talented, but they are young and clearly rebuilding this season without former quarterback Cam Newton.
LSU’s blowout victory once again highlighted its stingy, physical defense, but it also demonstrated the Tigers' embarrassment of riches in depth.
Freshman tailback Kenny Hilliard rushed for a career-high 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He entered the game with only five career carries.
Starting in place of Mathieu and over also suspended cornerback Tharold Simon, senior Ron Brooks returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown nearly midway through the third quarter. It capped a 21-point explosion in 2:24 that pushed LSU’s lead to 42-3.
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And with redshirt sophomore defensive end Barkevious Mingo’s game-high two sacks Saturday, he is tied for the team lead with four.
LSU’s backups are so talented they probably could win a Big East championship on their own.
“It is a great piece of the team,” coach Les Miles said of his team’s depth.
But LSU’s suspensions this week are plenty of reason to wonder whether the Tigers can avoid beating themselves this season. After all, a lesson should have been learned when Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were suspended for the first four games for their roles in a bar fight the night the Tigers broke preseason camp in August.
“We have to police our room,” Brockers said. “If you’re doing stuff like what’s happened, it’s hurting our goal.”
After Saturday’s win, LSU sophomore safety Eric Reid told reporters the three suspended players will be back for Alabama. When Miles was asked if he will have the trio for that game, he said he probably knew the answer but didn’t want to talk about them.
Translation: Forget those idiots right now. Let’s talk about the guys not being stupid.
“This team really, in several times in this year, has really gone beyond distraction, beyond what could be perimeter noise to focus and play,” Miles said. “When this team does that, I’m thrilled.”
But with Miles’ team struggling with discipline, he probably wouldn’t be thrilled to know Brooks called the three suspended players at halftime. Using his cell phone, he only got ahold of Mathieu, whose demeanor he described as “hurt.”
“I see you, blood,” Brooks recalled Mathieu telling him. “Keep playing hard. Just cherish being out there because you never know. Something could happen. Go back out there and play every play like it’s your last.”
So far this season, LSU’s off-the-field issues haven’t caused problems on the field. On Saturday, the Tigers carried out exactly what was written in red marker on a whiteboard before the game:
When the final seconds of the last of those minutes ticked away Saturday, LSU’s student section chanted, “We want 'Bama!” But with both teams off next week, that game is still two weeks away.
That’s plenty of time for something else to happen off the field and for LSU to get caught up in the hype of the showdown.
“We don’t think that we’ve hung the moon in any way,” Miles said. “We’re in position to achieve.”
Miles, of course, is talking about winning a national championship. And if his team doesn’t achieve one this season, it’s because it got in its own way.
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