Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS ― For all the failures LSU has had off the field during the 2011 season, the biggest one – the most unfortunate one – came from the sideline Monday night.
It cost the Tigers dearly.
LSU coach Les Miles chose to stick with loyalty, to leave Jordan Jefferson in the BCS championship game at quarterback when something else needed to be done.
And because Miles was unprepared to make a change, he left the team unprepared for Alabama.
LSU lost 21-0 to the Crimson Tide, but it lost even more than that to its legion of followers.
The fan-base, in one fell swoop, might have lost faith in Miles for not at least trying Jarrett Lee for a series or two.
Certainly the way LSU played on offense can’t be pinned on just one player. Jefferson didn’t lose the game alone.
The offensive line failed to block enough for the run game to develop and it failed to block enough for Jefferson to get comfortable.
That, partly, is why Miles stuck with Jefferson, considered a more mobile quarterback than Lee.
“We felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move the seat and not sustain that pass rush,” Miles said, tagging Jefferson as that guy.
The players, to a T, didn’t blame the game plan.
Deep shots down the field were called, just not executed.
Inside runs were called, just not executed.
Outside runs were called and, yes, just not executed.
The end result was 92 total yards of offense, 2-for-12 on third down and only five first downs.
Slidell native and LSU offensive lineman Chris Faulk might have summed it up best after the game.
“It’s highly embarrassing,” he said. “I don’t even really want to go outside because I feel like we should have won this game.”
One question later, he added, “We looked liked a high school team that just wasn’t ready. Like I said, it’s embarrassing.”
Lee might not have changed the game. But by putting him in, you leave no doubt that you tried everything.
Lee was 8-0 as a starter, leading LSU to wins over then-No. 3 Oregon (40-27), at then-No. 25 Mississippi State (19-6), at then-No. 16 West Virginia (47-21), against then-No. 17 Florida (41-11) and against then-No. 19 Auburn (45-10).
He had one poor half against Alabama on Nov. 5, going 3 of 7 for 24 yards and two interceptions, and was punished dearly for it.
The quarterback who stuck with LSU even when it didn’t stick with him after his early career troubles threw only five more passes the rest of the season.
But Miles didn’t give Lee another chance and, in so doing, didn’t give LSU another chance.
A tad more than two months later, Jefferson went 11 of 17 for 53 yards and an interception against Alabama, including 6 of 7 for 26 yards in the first half.
Yet he wasn’t pulled.
The Tigers battled through the preseason bar fight and persevered.
They fought through the midseason suspension of their top players and carried on.
Monday, against Alabama, they finally faltered, no responding to the bell, one they didn’t know was about to ring at them.
“I told my team I did not see it coming,” Miles said afterward. “And that's my fault. I wish I could have done something to help them.”
Except that he could have.
He just chose not to.