Last night, the football-watching world was treated to a painful exhibition of one team's absolutely terrifying delivery of defensive power. It was also forced to watch LSU's floundering offense drown in a pool of 260-pound linebackers and an adherence to a gameplan that stopped working before the game started.
Spencer Hall wrapped up the season perfectly using a metaphor of last night as the funeral that allowed us to put the 2011 college football to rest. There is an aspect of that metaphor he doesn't touch on, however -- the process of betterment after the funeral.
Sure, he suggests we not "mourn" the passing of the season, of the game, or of the scandals that left a greater impact than the final scores. In that sense, he is asking we not feel grief or sorrow for losing all of that. But there is also a sense of mourning that incorporates a process of moving on, of growth and developing a greater understanding of one's own existence.
In medieval England, that process culminated in the Month's Mind, a capstone for a month of drinking and crying and all the kinds of stuff LSU fans were getting out of their system in the midst of some Bourbon Street-inspired debauchery. In Ethiopia, women set up an edir, a neighborhood mourning society that strengthens the community financially, socially, culturally and spiritually.
So what the hell does that have to do with the Rams?
Five lessons from the funeral after the jump.
1.) If it's not broken, don't fix it. If it is broken, do something else.
This will be one of the tenets of Steve Spagnuolo's tenure as the head coach of the Rams that people will remember him for most, largely with a sense of frustration.
One of his' now-infamous four pillars was faith -- a willingness to catapult oneself into the fight with a full belief in his team. His coaches. His fans. Himself. On its face, it's a noble sentiment. But as plans go awry and a football team begins losing games (in the case of the Rams) or finds itself unable to get beyond the midfield line (in the case of LSU), that faith becomes a stubborn attachment to a sinking ship.
It becomes a team that punts the ball with a few minutes left in the game on 4th and 1, never being able to get the ball back in its quarterback's hands as time runs out. It becomes, uh, this:
LSU ran the option 7 times for 2 yards, including twice in the 4th quarter. Jordan Jefferson finished with 15 yards on the ground, 53 in the air and two turnovers. And he played...the entire...game. Despite a repeated inability to form any semblance of offensive capability, head coach Les Miles never went to his backup, senior QB Jarrett Lee.
It was ironic given that in the first LSU-Bama game this season, Lee played horribly and was replaced by Jefferson. Which brings up the next point...
2.) Pick a system and get your guy to run it
Is LSU set up to run the option personnel-wise? In recent years, they've brought in three vaunted mobile QBs from the high school ranks - Ryan Perrilloux (kicked off the team for being lazy and smoking weed), Jordan Jefferson and Russell Sheppard (converted to WR). They've definitely invested recruiting capital in that style of a player.
On the other hand, Les Miles took the team over with Jamarcus Russell starting ahead of Matt Flynn (the flavor of the offseason for QB FAs...). Following the Flynn-led 2007 national champions, Jarrett Lee took the reins at QB. before taking a backseat to Jordan Jefferson. Moving forward, the Tigers will have a QB competition between Zach Mettenberger and Gunner Kiel, two of the most sought after pocket QBs in recent years.
The lack of commitment has hampered the Tigers' offensive development, especially considering how much better it's been with pocket passers who can deliver the ball to the incredible crop of WRs LSU has produced in the last decade.
The Rams' offense fell off a cliff this season, largely because Sam Bradford was unable to improve on his impressive rookie season. In a couple of months, he'll have worked with four offensive coordinators in four years. Regardless of your personal feelings about who that fourth OC is, it's never a good thing to impress that much volatility into a young NFL QB's learning curve. The Rams' next HC needs to figure out the offense's mentality and character moving forward and stick with it for at least two full seasons without any major tweaks.
3.) Don't be afraid to work outside your comfort zone
Maybe the strangest thing about the game? The Alabama 1st half gameplan. Upending what was expected to be a brutal ground battle between the two teams, the Crimson Tide let AJ McCarron air it out. In the first half, he passed 25 times (completing 18 of them) while everybodysfavoriterunningback Trent Richardson ran the ball just 11 times. And a meat truck stuffed in a jersey with the name Lacy on the back rushed just four times in the half.
Don't think that's weird? They were doing it against perhaps the most aggressive, most athletic secondary in college football...with their leading receiver out of the game. That's not weird; that's Heath Ledger Joker insane. Which leads us to number four.
4.) Get people in the pipeline to back up your starters
Easier said than done? Of course. But you can't ever, ever, ever undervalue the need to have serviceable players behind your starters. Unless you're the Colts, because Peyton will never, ever miss a single ga....oh.
Back to Maze. He goes down, and everyone's thinking Trent Richardson is going to have to run the ball 40 times for Bama to get any kind of offense going. What happened instead? Bama went to WR Kevin Norwood, a sophomore with just 7 catches all year...who was being guarded by a badger, honey-type (no need to repeat that, Brent Musberger). And so it was that the forgotten sophomore who went into the national championship with 7 catches for 112 yards finished the night with four catches for 74 yards and a honey badger scalp.
In the NFL (and holy butternuts should the Rams know this by now), your starters aren't going to get through 16 games healthy. A couple of them will. Most of them won't. So buy a second basket and put some eggs in it. Please.
5.) It's only a hometown advantage if you use it
The Rams were embarrassed at the end of the 2010 season in a week 17 flop in Seattle; the victory not only propelled the Seahawks into the playoffs, but added extra motivation to a fan base is capable of turning its home field into a de facto earthquake generator.
LSU was on the path to a national championship after winning in Tuscaloosa on November 5th, a game in which they took out the crowd systematically (some missed field goals helped). And while the game was played less than an hour and a half from LSU's home field, the crowd was relatively even. The game was not.
Oftentimes, people tend to make too much of the home field factor. Still, there are those times when it is absolutely inescapable. Ironically, it may have been in Bama's favor to get on a neutral field, to keep emotion (or, in the case of Bama kicker Jeremy Shelley, nerves) in check.
With the Rams playing in front of, let's be honest, less than desirable support from the home crowd these days, the Rams' next head coach to prepare his team mentally for road tests. If you're not going to have a home field advantage, you can't afford to give one to your opponents.
This is hardly a blueprint for success. It's not a comprehensive field manual of "How to Be A Successful NFL Head Coach." It is, however, a reminder of a couple things that you can't abide by, situations you can't fail in if you want to win. And in a championship, you often see vulnerabilities exposed.
The sad thing is that the Rams, compared to the Alabama and LSU programs, are without a clear way forward. The Tide are national champions. LSU has some obvious issues to address ASAP, and last night told them what they were. The Rams, sadly, have much more on their plate. The way forward isn't as clear, and it's going to take a whole lot more than a college game to help them figure it out.