For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the LSU Tigers. Sure, the Saints are great, but during football season in our house, Saturday was the day you’d find us in front of the TV. Living in Baton Rouge, that’s what you do. The University is one of the largest employers in the city and we are a college town, with 20 percent of our population comprised of students from LSU and surrounding colleges. Through good seasons and bad, we always, “Fight for LSU.”
For me, my indoctrination to LSU football didn’t get off to a great start. Except for a brief uptick in the middle years, the 90s weren’t that great, but then Nick Saban got here and we won a National Championship in 2004. Then Les Miles came along and brought another Championship in 2007. Yes, the 2011 loss to Alabama was painful, I mean, it’s bad enough to lose to your arch rival period, but to do it in a championship game and to get shut out in the process, that one still stings. In fact, the program kind of fell off a bit after that as we finished fourth, fifth, sixth and third in the SEC the last few years. While we were still going to bowl games, they weren’t ones worth noting and we were only 2-2 in them anyway.
But you know what, it didn’t matter. We still bled purple and gold and the players who were here still wanted to be and those who were in high school still dreamed of playing for LSU. Just look at linebacker Duke Riley. He grew up not too far away in New Orleans. He always wanted to play at LSU and be great at football. He grew up idolizing the late Joe McKnight (who was a local guy even though he played college ball at USC) and he wanted to star for the Tigers the way McKnight did for the Trojans.
Pretty much, if you are a hometown guy, LSU is where you want to play ball. Just look at wide receiver Brandon Martin. The four-star JUCO receiver was pretty much courted by half the SEC, but not LSU. Then, late in the process, his hometown team called and now they are strong contenders for a guy who isn’t concerned about when they called, he’s just glad they did and says the call from the Tigers is a blessing, regardless of when it came.
This passion and commitment is who we are because LSU is who Baton Rouge is. It’s why this season, that saw us start 2-2, fire the aforementioned Miles and fail to beat a ranked team was so difficult. After last year’s 9-3 finish, this was supposed to be our year. We had 16 returning starters, we had the beef up front to finally shut down the Crimson Tide. Everywhere you looked, people said it was our year. We were going to win the SEC and contend for a championship, or at least get back to the double-digit wins we are used to around here.
Even with the disappointment of our 7-4 finish, there is still a chance to make this season a success. Facing Louisville in the Citrus Bowl might not be for a National Championship, but it will give our defense a chance to do something that nobody else has done, shut down Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson. This is a guy who threw for almost 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns, while rushing for another 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. But our defense (ranked seventh in scoring, allowing just 16 points per game, and 12th overall, allowing 323 yards per game) is up to the challenge.
If we can contain Jackson and win this game, this will help Head Coach Ed Orgeron put the fun back in the program and re-introduce LSU to the national scene. It will also remind fans why hometown players want to come here and succeed here. Yes, in Baton Rouge we stick together and we, “Fight For LSU.” As the Cardinals are going to find out, that makes the Tigers a powerful force.
Ryan Nelson is originally from New Orleans and currently residing in New York City. He is an LSU fanatic and and loves to blog about all things Tigers when he isn’t glued to a game.