I was prepared at halftime last night to take some of the blame for what was looking like a grim outcome. Had the Tigers not been able to grab a couple of turnovers and drive for 8 wonderfully painful minutes for to clean Mr. Tebow's clock, I was convinced the ensuing defeat would have been at least partly my fault.
You see - I was stone sober. I know, I know....but it couldn't be helped. I attended an authentic German Oktoberfest on Friday night and proceeded to let my inner 21 year-old Tiger out of his cage a day early. Trouble is, at 21, I had not yet been introduced to beer with roughly the same alcohol content as wine. So Crunch of keggers past was in over his head. And Crunch the 41.5 year old geezer was blissfully absent. My wife tried a couple of times to perform an exorcism, but it was no use. Kegger Crunch was anchored and prodigiously pounding half-liters.
Luckily for me, the beer taps were turned off before I did permanent damage or said something really stupid to one of my bosses.
The point is: I was too hung over to drink. Besides, I'm a lite beer drinker. I'm used to 90 calories per 12 oz serving. I have no idea how many calories of beer I consumed on Friday night, but I know it was a number that probably started with a 2 and had at least 4 figures before the decimal. So, in addition to having zero motivation for a "hair of the dog" scenario, I had to exercise some waist-management. I can't run long enough to burn off two big nights of beer, not to mention whatever is within grazing range when I'm drinking. So, to support the Tigers against the Gators, I chugged about seventy-three diet cokes. And picked at a handful of my daughter's f@ck!ng Goldfish. Yum, yum.
Lucky for me, Les "I'm all in" Miles and the Tigers didn't need a buzzed Crunch to win. So, I feel like I dodged a bullet. I bet Coach Miles and the Tigers felt something similar.
As I pondered the game this morning, feeling oddly lucid and healthy, an obvious theme surfaced almost immediately. From start to finish, and even through today's review of the MSM stories and the quotes from players and coaches and the blogs, last night's extravaganza boils down to one overarching theme for me. Respect. Feel free to channel Aretha as you read on.
RESPECT FOR JACOB HESTER
Holy mother of grass-stained excellence, Batman. Jacob Hester sealed his spot in LSU's Hall of Fame last night if I could have anything to say about it. I've never seen a performance more impressive and more uplifting. Hester's numbers are ordinary if you didn't watch the game - 20 carries, 106 yards. For the starting tailback of the #1 team in the country, that stat is sort of ho-hum. But what lies beneath the stat is the way Hester got the yards: two hands on the ball, his body in a forward-leaning 45 degree angle, and his legs digging up Tiger Stadium's sick turf until each whistle. And when he wasn't carrying the ball, he was blocking - really well. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was Hester that threw the key block on the fake field goal that allowed Matt Flynn to get the first down.
Early in the season - really, for the first 3 games - I questioned why Miles was starting Hester at tailback. With Williams and Scott each showing moments of brilliance, I was craving the return of a Joseph Addai or a Dalton Hilliard. I just didn't understand yet. I understand now. Williams and Scott (and others) get their snaps and have proven very effective. But Hester is something different. He sees the hole better than any of the others. He hits the hole better. He protects the ball better. He's better between the tackles. He finishes the play better. He's just....better. And that's saying something because Williams and Scott are pretty impressive at times.
Some artist should capture "Jacob's Touchdown" against Florida in bronze, like a Remington. Hester, grass-stained and soaking wet from pure, glowing effort, stretching the ball over the goal line, completely horizontal, a Florida defender futilely yanking on his face mask. It's one of the finest moments in LSU football history, regardless of how this season ends. Someone should sculpt that moment quickly, lest we forget to pay RESPECT to Jacob Hester, Gator Killer.
RESPECT FOR CRAIG STELTZ
In a game where the Florida offensive line played three very good quarters against the nation's best defensive front, Craig Steltz stepped up big time and, along with Curtis Taylor, led the Tigers in tackling. Steltz had 16 (13 unassisted) and Taylor had 8 (5 unassisted). Steltz is an animal - and a leader. I have no idea if it was his fault that Tebow was able to connect on that 40 yard (ish) TD with noone around the Florida receiver. Obviously, there was a HUGE miscommunication somewhere. However, if it was his fault, he's got so much positive Tiger karma built up that the error doesn't make a dent.
RESPECT FOR MATT FLYNN
Unflappable. He started poorly, then threw an interception on a poor pass, then had numerous nice passes dropped, and went into the locker room at halftime trailing by ten. But Flynn never seems to get down, doesn't give up. He gets better. He was better in the second half than the first half. He was better in the fourth quarter than in the third. And he showed the poise and character of leadership that explains why there really is no hint of a quarterback controversy at LSU. Perrilloux is learning to lead a team from a guy who appears to be a natural leader. I hope Ryan is paying attention, because skill and talent alone won't accomplish next year what Flynn is accomplishing this season.
RESPECT FOR THE OFFENSIVE LINE
The Tigers put 247 yards rushing on one of the best rushing defenses in the country going into the game. And Flynn was sacked exactly nonce - zippo - nada.
I'm still p!ssed about the damn penalties. But the big uglies made up for it by sustaining clock-munching drives that helped nail the lid on Tebow and the Gators' coffin. 5 for 5 on offensive 4th down conversions. Wow.
RESPECT FOR LES MILES
I have to admit that I cringe when Les speaks in public. At times, he manages to stay calm and put a few words together that don't come across either rehearsed or, well, unrehearsed...More often than not, he sounds too much like an offensive line coach and not enough like the executive of the multi-million dollar enterprise that is Tiger football. That said, RESPECT to Coach Les Miles!
I'm not sure, even after 24 hours have passed, how I feel about all those 4th down gambles. But I know I respect the hell out of a coach who has so much confidence in his coaches and his team that he's willing to forego the (almost) automatic tie in order to burn the clock down and go for the win.
Coach Miles showed a level of poise and vision under pressure that should gain him respect across the country. Of course, those kinds of gambles are instantly labeled stupid and reckless when they don't work. But, in this case, they DID work. Have to respect that.
RESPECT FOR LSU
LSU stands alone - in every sense of the word - at the top of college football. No other team is playing as well on both sides of the ball. No other team has defeated a Virginia Tech, a South Carolina, and a Florida to remain undefeated. The Tigers have been slowly winning over many of the pundits since the Virginia Tech game, but last night sealed the deal. With USC crapping in their pants against Stanford, and last weekend's "Saturday of Pain" for, what, HALF of the Top 15, LSU - for now - stands alone and undisputed. It is a moment to savor and a position to fear. And respect.
RESPECT FOR FLORIDA
Florida has a great team. Tebow is the real deal. I'd choose almost any other team in the nation to play before I'd volunteer to play the Gators again, even at night in Tiger Stadium. With a team abnormally sparse with senior leadership, Florida will be scary good next year. Let's hurry up and give Tebow a Heismann so he can take his goofy ass to Sunday football and leave us all alone.
FINALLY, RESPECT FOR TIGER STADIUM ON SATURDAY NIGHT
The roar that echoed through the stadium when the USC loss was announced sounded unbelievable over the radio broadcast. I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to have experienced it in person. I think the country will get an earfull about the spectacle that is LSU football in Tiger Stadium this year - and with that earfull will come grudging respect for the most awesome place to play football in the nation.
Not everything went well last night. The coaches and players will have a lot to talk about and keep them grounded over the next week. Kentucky is no Florida. But Kentucky is Kentucky. They were embarrassed this week and, like Florida, they'll be pissed and eager to knock off the #1 team in the nation on their home turf. Here's hoping all the insistent talk about taking the season one game at a time is more than just words. The Tigers control their destiny now.
More later in the week on Kentucky.