BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Hope was lost as the final seconds of LSU's dreary and listless 31-14 loss to Arkansas ticked off the clock Saturday night.
A group of Tiger fans, along with a few members of the media, jammed themselves into an elevator that descended from the press box to the ground floor of Tiger Stadium. An unpleasant drive home, albeit void of the typical Nicholson Drive gridlock because many people had bailed long ago, was now waiting following the Tigers' second straight defeat after a sparkling 7-0 start.
One man in particular was quite displeased and vocal with what he had just witnessed, aiming most of his frustration at the game plan and perceived stubbornness of LSU head coach Les Miles. As the doors to the elevator closed and we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, packed inside its walls like sardines, he made one final humorous observation.
"If Coach Miles were here, he would line up and try to run the football straight through all of us," he said.
Laughter then ensued at the I-formation and archaic offense jab, although most of the folks listening were certainly crying on the inside.
The reality is an LSU season beaming with national championship hope and a No. 2 spot in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings less than two weeks ago has now taken a wicked turn for Miles and his reeling squad. It also means the Tigers' 2011 SEC Championship is the only conference title they've won in the last eight seasons. LSU will likewise need an extremely strong turnaround to secure a top 10 national finish, something the team has only accomplished once since Miles's 2007 Tigers captured the BCS National Championship.
EVERYONE involved with LSU football seems frustrated at this point - Miles, the players and certainly a fan base that feels it isn't getting a satisfying return on its season ticket and TAF investments. Miles, to his credit, took full blame after Saturday night's debacle. In doing so, however, he basically admitted he didn't have LSU ready to play two weeks in a row, an admission that goes down like razor blades for Tiger fans.
Sophomore running back Leonard Fournette called the defeat to the Razorbacks the worst in his collegiate career and was certainly visibly upset during post-game interviews. Like Saints and NFL superstar Drew Brees, Fournette is usually bursting with positivity and thrives on being upbeat, no matter the situation. But not on this day. Fournette's answers were short, with his eyes fixated towards the floor or back wall during most of his time with the media. Impolite wouldn't be a fair or accurate description, but there was definitely a terseness we haven't experienced with the ultra-talented and typically smiling Fournette.
Despite gaining 91 yards rushing and a touchdown against Arkansas, Fournette's Heisman Trophy chances took another big hit. If LSU losing to hated Alabama 30-16 two Saturdays ago wasn't nauseating enough, the Tide's star running back Derrick Henry perhaps widened his lead over Fournette for the award, piling up 204 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in No. 2 Bama's 31-6 shellacking of No. 17 Mississippi State in Starkville.
Considering the circumstances, we'd all probably be a bit terse, too.
In viewing the current state of LSU football, there seems to be two camps - "Be grateful for what we have" and "We should be accomplishing so much more." The Tennessee Volunteers program is just starting to regain its footing after running off head coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008. And wasn't Gus Malzahn supposed to be some epic genius of college football, an amazing wizard of the game? True, Auburn's head coach led the Tigers into the 2013 BCS National Championship game, but he's just 13-10 overall since and under .500 in the SEC with a 6-9 mark.
So yes, things could be much worse. LSU currently sits at 7-2 overall and is still 4-2 in conference play. And although we'll never truly know (but yeah, we pretty much do) the Tigers would likely be 8-2 overall had the McNeese State game been played. The Cowboys are an incredible FCS team and are still undefeated at 9-0, but their odds of beating FBS LSU were obviously pretty slim. An 8-2 LSU mark through 10 games - wouldn't most Tiger fans take that before the year, considering the preseason projections? At the very least, no one would've been shocked.
However, the more demanding supporters of LSU athletics say there lies the problem - there's no reason to be chalking up two losses before the season begins. They say not at a place like LSU, which now has amazing facilities, a steady pipeline of tremendous high school talent and arguably the greatest venue to witness a game in Death Valley. And even the more rational, measured and reserved Tiger fans seem to be reaching a point of angst, fatigue and frustration over the lack of progress under the current regime.
If anything, things seem to have hit a plateau.
In recent years, LSU has put itself in position to have huge campaigns, rising to these high marks in the national rankings - No. 3 in 2008, No. 4 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, No. 2 in 2012, No. 6 in 2013, No. 8 in 2014 and No. 2 this season. And as we detailed above, each of those years ended without an SEC or national championship. Better yet, the Tigers failed to even appear in the conference championship game.
You could argue LSU's biggest problem in those disappointing finishes boils down to two words - Nick Saban. But that's a whole different column.
The current LSU staff is feeling the heat. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, to this point, has certainly been a ho-hum replacement for the departed John Chavis. The Tigers have allowed (although poor special teams coached by Bradley-Dale Peveto have certainly contributed to this) 19 points or more in every game they've played this year. Players are constantly out of position and allowed touchdowns of 52, 80 and 69 yards Saturday to Arkansas.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is being paid $1.5 million this season and although Brandon Harris has been an upgrade at quarterback over Anthony Jennings, the results on this side of the ball have been truly underwhelming in recent weeks. Harris was sacked five times against the Razorbacks, one leading to a fumble and point-blank touchdown that gave Arkansas a 21-0 lead in the first half.
People still argue about who's calling the plays or influencing the LSU offense the most - Cameron or Miles. Whatever the case, the offensive line suddenly looks exhausted and ingenuity has never been a strong suit in this marriage.
And in LSU's last two games, the second the Tigers rally out of an early hole and grab momentum in the game, special teams promptly make a brutal mistake and throw it all out the window. The kickoff problems are perplexing and maddening. And they happen every week.
LSU has two regular season games left and if the Tigers are fortunate, a quality bowl game. If the Tigers somehow revive themselves and run the table, a 10-2 record would be a great bounce back season from last year's 8-5 mark and less-than-prestigious Music City Bowl appearance.
Regardless, the Tigers' ultimate goals have now been eliminated in mid-November. And many frustrated fans and people that truly love the Tigers are wondering if LSU will win a championship again anytime soon or if the program is simply comfortable and content with eight to 10 victories a year.