By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
With two Southeastern Conference losses under their belt already, the Tigers’ mantra as the season hits its stretch run is simple: Anything can happen.
If anything, LSU’s last national championship proved that to be true, or at least that’s what the Tigers are telling themselves.
LSU insists it still has something to play for, even if everybody on the outside says its national title hopes went up in smoke after Ole Miss kicker Andrew Ritter was true on a 41-yard game-winner last Saturday.
"I think our guys are … ambitious,” said LSU coach Les Miles. "This football team has the ability to win and play against any team remaining on our schedule, and we need to recognize that. We need to play like that, and frankly, that’s what gets me up and sends me to the building every day.”
Winning out will be a tough task. LSU is expected to roll this week’s homecoming opponent, Furman, before using its first bye week of the season to mentally and physical recuperate leading into its perennial circled-on-the-calendar contest against Alabama.
After another bye following its date in Tuscaloosa, LSU will close out the regular season with home games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. According to players, those games offer all the motivation the team needs.
"We still want to beat the teams that are left on our schedule,” said junior wide receiver Jarvis Landry. "We still want to play those guys, we are excited to play those guys.
"It may not be a hyped rivalry anymore (because of) the rankings, but for us it still is.”
Not all is lost, however. LSU’s title hopes may be dashed, but the possibility of playing in the SEC title game is still there. In order for that to happen, the Tigers would have to win out and get a little help from teams on Auburn’s and Alabama’s schedules.
If that unlikely scenario comes to fruition, LSU could still be looking at an attractive BCS bowl.
"I look at things like this and say there’s a great opportunity to still play in a BCS Bowl, if not the national championhship,” said junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson. "Anything can happen. It’s not too late, anything can happen. We’ve got to go out and focus on our opponents and win out from here.”
Players and coaches are saying all the right things, but the question about what this team’s effort level will look like after its second loss is valid. LSU didn’t play with the same fire after its last-minute loss to Alabama effectively eliminated it from title consideration last season.
Not everybody is giving up on the dream of playing for a title just yet, however.
"The season’s not over,” said LSU running back Jeremy Hill. "Last time this team won a national championship it had two losses. It’s a long season, there are a lot of upsets. We were one of them. So we’ve got to keep playing.”
Miles jumped on the sword for his team after the Ole Miss loss, taking full responsibility for not getting his team prepared. His players appreciated that, but didn’t necessarily back up the coach’s sentiment.
"Coach Miles, being the great coach and person that he is, he likes to take those losses upon himself,” Landry said. "But it’s not solely on his shoulders or the coaching staff’s shoulders. It’s about us being able to execute and making plays.”
Said junior defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, "I feel like any head coach would say that, but at the end of the day it’s on us.”
MISCOMMUNICATING … STILL
One of the recurring themes for a defense that’s been stuck in neutral all season is that there has been rampant miscommunication, leading to embarrassing breakdowns.
After getting a chance to look at the film from the Ole Miss loss, it is again a scapegoat for the LSU defenders.
"Looking at the film, I felt like we did ok,” said sophomore linebacker Kwon Alexander. "Sometimes people weren’t in the right spots, but that could be all the players. A lot of people made mistakes in that game – that’s a part of the game.”
But it’s been a part of the game often for LSU this season. A part it hasn’t been able to shake no matter how hard it works on it in practice. Perhaps part of it is the focus that Miles said his team did not have against Ole Miss.
"It was just a couple missed assignments,” Johnson said. "
"Yeah, you can see Tennessee beat Georgia, right? And you saw A&M go down. Yeah, that’s all well and good. It doesn’t happen to LSU. That’s the problem. It doesn’t happen to us.” – Miles, on upsets around the SEC.
"Win out.” – Ferguson’s brief response when asked what the team’s goals were moving forward.
"We can’t overlook this team. Last year, Towson came in here and gave us a great game.” -- Hill on Furman.