BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Everything was perfect, except for the game.
The city of Green Bay and legendary Lambeau Field lived up to their billing in every imaginable way. The locals were tremendously friendly and hospitable, the Packers organization was impressive top to bottom and the weather in early September was nothing short of invigorating and spectacular.
Brandon Harris' last pass of the day, however, during No. 5 LSU's gut wrenching 16-14 loss to unranked Wisconsin, wasn't so good. And again, neither was the Tigers' offense as a whole. Hardly.
Instead of senior kicker Colby Delahoussaye drilling the game-winning field goal at the gun and delivering the ultimate feel good finish and LSU win, Harris' throw sailed straight to the Badgers' D'Cota Dixon, who made the interception with less than a minute to play to seal the big upset. Delahoussaye, who survived a horrific car crash in southern Wisconsin in late July that claimed the lives of two college punters, never got the chance to give us goose bumps.
We don't want to pile on Harris too much here, certainly, because plenty others have. But as a quarterback in his third year with the LSU program and second as the full-time starter, avoiding a turnover in that critical situation has to be of the utmost importance. Harris' interception occurred on a first and 15 at the Wisconsin 35-yard line. While he did an admirable job of avoiding the rush, Harris should've chunked the ball into the stands before rushing a risky throw. At worst, gain 10 yards on the next two plays and kick the 42-yarder. Whether that wasn't communicated well enough by head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron or if Harris was simply careless and lost his bearings, the ultimate result was disastrous for the Tigers.
A field goal WINS the game. DON'T turn the ball over.
The offensive problems started immediately with a pair of three-and-outs in the first quarter, leading to a grand total of 64 yards of total offense in the first half. Harris often threw too high for receivers and passes that hit veteran receiver Malachi Dupre's hands, high or not, were not caught. The new offensive line certainly suffered from protection issues and as we've seen countless times, the Tigers burned valuable timeouts far too early and were longing for them badly later at critical junctures.
Leonard Fournette certainly got going in the second half and finished with 138 yards rushing and even caught a gorgeous 31-yard pass down the sideline. But as usual, Miles and Cameron did very little to create anything else productive around their superstar running back. And LSU paid for it again.
So nothing really has changed since last November.
I sat in that bizarre press conference last season following LSU's 19-7 victory over Texas A&M, as athletic director Joe Alleva broke his long public silence and loudly proclaimed Miles would return as the Tigers' head coach. Within minutes, Miles stood at the very same podium and basically said nothing would change when it came to his offensive approach.
At that point, it was clear Miles was a man not changed by a near death experience when it came to his job, even while learning he was keeping it just moments earlier. There was no epiphany, just more thoughts of I-formation sets and one receiver options.
This very highly paid coaching staff has had plenty of time and warning to formulate something new, besides Leonard left, Leonard right and throw deep. It has talented players who can do things with the ball in their hands. Putting Fournette and Derrius Guice in the same backfield, throwing to tight end Desean Smith before it's too late or mixing in a screen pass here and there are things that simply don't make the final offensive menu.
For the first time in his 12 years at LSU, Les Miles has started a season 0-1. He's gone from being the head coach of a national championship contender to a man many people are saying won't make it through the season. How these 18 to 22-year-old young men react to this devastating loss and perform for their once again embattled leader will be fascinating to watch. Can the Tigers rally together as a team or will they simply implode?
At the same time, would any of us really be shocked if LSU went on some crazy seven-game winning streak and were sitting at 7-1 when No. 1 Alabama came to town November 5? This is Les Miles we're talking about here. The second you say the man is a goner is the exact moment he wrestles out of the handcuffs, breaks free from the metal box and swims to the surface unharmed.
Don't speak in absolutes with this guy. Not yet, anyway.
But without question Miles' support seems to be at an all-time low. It certainly was on my plane ride back from Green Bay. Those people weren't very happy. The atmosphere in Tiger Stadium this Saturday for lightly-regarded Jacksonville State could be as lukewarm as you'll ever see for a home opener.
Still, LSU hasn't even played an SEC game yet and many of the team's huge goals are still on the table. Miles must convince the young men inside that building off Skip Bertman Drive it CAN be done and give them better tools to accomplish the task, in particular, offensively. Maybe that means playing another quarterback some. Make THEM believe it's possible.
Because not many others do at this point.