(AP) – If anyone knows how quickly the landscape can change in a college football season, it is LSU coach Les Miles.
So the 11th-year Tigers coach is trying to impress upon his players quickly before Saturday night’s visit from Arkansas that there is life after losing to Alabama, as hard as it may be to stomach a fifth straight loss to the rival Crimson Tide.
”If you stay once-beaten, you just can never tell what will happen,” Miles asserted. ”This is a really good team with a lot to play for. Putting that (Alabama) game behind us is a necessity. This football team will put itself in a position to play another game of significance.”
In Miles’ third season as Tigers coach in 2007, his team lost in overtime to Arkansas on the final weekend of the regular season for its second defeat that year.
Yet nine days later, after an SEC title game victory over Tennessee, there was LSU being named one of the two teams playing for the BCS championship. One month later, the Tigers were national champions after defeating Ohio State.
That’s the reason Miles stressed Monday that this season is far from over for No. 9 LSU after losing 30-16 at Alabama last Saturday night. The defeat dropped the Tigers into a tie for the SEC West lead with the Crimson Tide, although third-ranked Alabama owns the tiebreaker.
However, if LSU (7-1, 4-1) wins its last three games – against Arkansas (5-4, 3-2), Ole Miss and Texas A&M – and if Alabama (8-1, 5-1) loses to No. 20 Mississippi State or Auburn, the Tigers would be the Western Division representative in the SEC title game and back in the College Football Playoff picture.
”We didn’t play our best against Alabama and the players and coaches know it,” Miles said. ”But, win or lose, there’s a 48-hour window. … Letting that game define us is something I am not going to let happen."
The Tigers have lost four straight regular-season games on the first Saturday in November to the Crimson Tide. In the previous three years, LSU has won six of its seven remaining regular-season games after losing to Alabama. The one defeat came a year ago against Arkansas.
Miles said he understands LSU fans’ frustration and disappointment after another loss to the Tide, but added, ”Nobody is more hurt than the guys who wear the purple and gold. The fans are not by themselves. The need to improve at every level is the task at hand. Our (locker) room understands that it’s all about the next week.”
Miles received some help in getting that message across to his team from senior defensive back Jalen Mills. In the locker room following the Alabama game, Mills made a passionate speech to his teammates.
”I was very emotional after the game and I am not really like that,” Mills said. ”I told the team that we had to keep fighting. We needed to show the world that this team has a lot of football left in it. We are not out of it. We just have to do our job this week against Arkansas and come out with a win.
" … We have to come together and stay as hungry as we were when we were 7-0. We are not out of the race. The focus is to win out. We want to win in a way that people realize that LSU still has a reason to keep playing.”
Mills and the defense will have their hands full this week against an Arkansas team that is rolling on offense.
The Razorbacks are second in the league behind Ole Miss with an average of 472.6 yards and are coming off a wild 53-52 win over the then-No. 19 Rebels last weekend.
Down by a touchdown in overtime, Bret Bielema huddled with Arkansas’ offensive players. The coach was already looking ahead of a potential tying score.
"When we score this touchdown, stay on the field because we’re going for two," Bielema said.
Sure enough, Brandon Allen threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Drew Morgan, and then ran it in for the two-point conversion, lifting the Razorbacks to their third straight victory.
Arkansas is gaining nearly 70 yards more per game compared to a year ago and averaging 34.8 points — up from 31.9 last season.
"Our whole thing has been, ‘Let’s become a very good passing team,’" first-year coordinator Dan Enos said. "Creating balance is good for our group and gives our guys confidence. … The better balance that you have, the better offense you are."
With former reserves like Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed combining for 16 catches for 222 yards and five touchdowns against Ole Miss, Allen has plenty of new options at his disposal.
The senior had six touchdown passes against the Rebels in the best performance of his career, one Arkansas’ breakout offense might not have put together were it not for its early struggles.
"Without a doubt, we learned that we could throw the ball," Bielema said.