Devils made 'em do it
By William Kalec
TEMPE, ARIZ. - Out here, in the land of grassless lawns and scalding steering wheels, mirages can easily deceive a visitorís perception of reality.
Check out the Internet message boards following LSU's 35-31 come-from-behind victory against Arizona State on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Notice the progression.
Shortly after Sam Kellerís failed fourth-down pass to Terry Richardson with just over a minute remaining deep in LSU territory, Web-lurkers let out a collective cyber sigh of relief. Then, when pulses resumed pumping at a normal rate, the digital venting ensued.
The mirage theyíve concocted throughout all the preseason fluff hardly resembled the view inside Sun Devil Stadium or living rooms back in Louisiana.
Bo Peliniís defense was exposed! Too many stupid mistakes! Whatís the deal with Les Milesí Britney Spearsí headset?
Letís break this down rant by rant.
OK, so Peliniís debut as the Tigers' defensive coordinator wasnít exactly dazzling - though it wasnít a total dud like his Oklahoma finale in last seasonís FedEx Orange Bowl when Southern Californiaís Matt Leinart and Co. put 55 on the Soonersí defense.
Yes, Keller completed 35 of 56 passes for 461 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. And yes, All-American wide receiver Derek Hagen couldnít be covered. And yes, for as much as LSU fans rave about their speed at linebacker, Sun Devils tight ends Jamaal Lewis and Zach Miller were able to get vertical more than once.
Oh, and despite the Sun Devilsí aerial ways, they still were able to average four yards per carry -- hardly one-dimensional.
Now, here is the good news.
Scan the remainder of LSUís schedule and try to find an opponent with a more prolific offense than Arizona State. Tennessee? Um, Rick Clausen could be the Volsí starting quarterback or it could be sophomore Erik Ainge. Auburn? Not unless Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown and ďCadillacĒ Williams have some hidden eligibility left. Florida? Maybe, but letís see what Urban Meyerís system does beyond recent displays against non-conference fillers.
Also, keep in mind that these players are learning a new system from the pin-your-ears-back demeanor under former coach Nick Sabanís reign and that when needed, they were able to come up with a big turnover (see Ali Highsmithís third-quarter forced fumble inside LSUís 10-yard line with Arizona State set to take a 24-7 lead). Thereís no reason not to think this unit should improve.
Next, the mistakes.
LSU would have benefited tremendously if it had been able to host New Orleans Bowl staple North Texas last week. There were a bundle of dropped passes, a nice set of them compiled by scapegoat-turned-savior Early Doucet. Xavier Carter dropped a sure touchdown pass - probably the best ball JaMarcus Russell threw all night - in the second quarter. LSU was without Dwayne Bowe, not to mention Craig Davis was injured early on, but thatís no excuse for the contagious slippery fingers.
LSU also racked up 100 yards in penalties.
Hey, it was the Tigersí first game. Get worried if these same problems linger into October and November. Until then, itís a tad quick to electronically denounce this teamís focus and discipline.
Next, of course, Milesí futuristic head set.
Talk about nitpicking. Give the guy a break. Sure, it looked a little goofy, especially when he cupped his hand around the microphone. But in the grand scheme of things, who really cares?
Look, Miles is not Saban. Itís just not him. Thatís not to say one approach is wrong and the other is correct. They are just different.
Considering everything placed on Milesí shoulders this past offseason, itís amazing the guy has maintained his posture. Fans dumped national-championship expectations on him as he was consistently reminded of Sabanís greatness, and then was given the daunting burden to win his home opener on the road against a ranked foe so that a hurricane-ravaged region could enjoy a temporary diversion. So far, the new guy has done everything asked.
No it wasnít a perfect, dominating performance, but it did keep the distant vision of competing for that crystal football within sight.