November 7, 2007

LSU's mistakes will catch up with them

He walked in with a game ball in his hands and huge win in his pocket. And then, with one deep breath, explained the fortunes of the nation's most talented -- and at this point, puzzling -- team after yet another all-too-close victory.

"We haven't distanced ourselves," LSU coach Miles said, "because of the mistakes."

Let me further explain: Smart teams beat stupid teams. There is no nice way to say it.

LSU is not a smart team.

So no matter how good it looks after last week's thrilling win over Alabama, no matter how close the BCS national title game is for the suddenly back-on-track Tigers, trouble is looming. We're more than two months into the season, and we still have no idea which LSU team will show up each week.

The team that destroyed Virginia Tech or the team that threw away the Kentucky game? The team that orchestrated come-from-behind wins over Florida and Auburn or the team that did everything it could to give Alabama a game it had no business being in?

"There are times," Miles said, "when we can't get out of our own way."

Three times against the Tide, LSU mistakes were followed immediately by big-play Alabama touchdowns :

• A roughing the quarterback call on end Tyson Jackson extended a Tide drive and led to -- on the next play -- a 67-yard touchdown pass.

• An interception of quarterback Matt Flynn -- he threw wildly off his back foot while rolling out -- was returned 51 yards. An additional 15 yards were tacked on for a personal foul at the end of the return. Two plays later, Alabama scored on a 29-yard pass.

• A botched trick shift on fourth-and-inches led to a 5-yard procedure penalty. Tackle Carnell Stewart argued the call and got another 15 yards added on for a personal foul. Instead of punting from their 36, the Tigers punted from the 16, and the short punt allowed a quick return for a 61-yard touchdown.

"Sometimes you see that stuff and you wonder how it happens," says LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. "We're smarter than that."

Numbers tell a different story. In LSU's only loss this season, at Kentucky, the Tigers had 12 penalties for 103 yards and a dropped touchdown pass that would've put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Against Alabama, they committed 14 penalties for 130 yards and Flynn threw three ugly interceptions that Alabama converted into 10 points.

Elite teams -- championship teams -- don't make those mistakes. And they certainly don't make them over and over this late in the season. Miles says things will be corrected, but by this point, teams have developed personalities, and there's no simple way to bring about behavior change.

Basically, you are what you are.

"The deeper they go into the season," says one SEC coach, "the harder it is to change or correct."

Translation: Rivalry games at Mississippi and against Arkansas won't be so easy, especially with the BCS beauty pageant weighing heavily on the Tigers each week. Then there's the SEC Championship game -- on a neutral field, without the comforting backdrop of Tiger Stadium -- against a team LSU hasn't faced (Georgia or Tennessee) or a team it should have lost to (Florida).

The heavy lifting has just begun for LSU. Better teams have crumbled under the enormity of it all. Worse teams have won championships.

Miles hugged that ball all the way through the postgame celebration. The team presented him the game ball because of the win against LSU's former coach, Nick Saban and because of the way it played out.

"I told them that's the last gift they will give this season," Miles says.

Smart teams beat stupid teams.

There is no nice way to say it.

Matt Hayes is a staff writer for Sporting News. You can e-mail him at

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