LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger made a solemn promise just as 2012 was giving way to 2013 early Tuesday morning.
He was trying to explain the inexplicable -- how the Tigers could be so dysfunctional offensively in a 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson that included a lot of the same warts that have popped up in LSU’s other losses over the last couple of years.
“Trust me when I say this is going to eat at everybody on this offense all year and all offseason,” Mettenberger said. “You’re going to see a totally different animal next year.
“We’re going to get this right for next year.”
They better, particularly if they plan on keeping pace with Alabama in the Western Division and remaining a fixture in the national championship equation.
Nobody’s saying that LSU’s defense has been perfect over the past two seasons, but the Tigers have been good enough and talented enough on that side of the ball to win a national title.
On offense … it’s been a complete crap shoot. Some good and some really, really bad.
The frustrating thing for those on the Bayou is that LSU closed the regular season this year with a flurry on offense. Mettenberger got better. So did his receivers, and the combination of the young talent in the offensive line along with freshman running back Jeremy Hill made for a promising future.
But then comes the New Year’s Eve dud in Atlanta that evoked memories of last season’s epic meltdown offensively against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
It’s everything, too.
It’s not just the play-calling, although the decision to throw the ball on second and third down when LSU needed just 2 yards to pick up a clinching first down played right into Clemson’s hands.
You have to force Clemson to use its timeouts right there, and pounding the ball in that situation has been a hallmark of Les Miles’ program at LSU.
Moreover, where was Hill in the fourth quarter? He rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, and didn’t get a single carry in the fourth quarter.
And eight three-and-outs on offense, not to mention 219 total yards, against a Clemson defense ranked 74th nationally in total defense?
Again, it was everything -- questionable play-calling, poor execution, not manning up in the offensive line and not delivering in key situations.
LSU probably could have finished Clemson late in the third quarter after a Clemson fumble gave LSU possession at the Clemson 29-yard line, but LSU had to settle for a Drew Alleman 20-yard field goal.
Go back to the 21-17 loss to Alabama this season. LSU came alive offensively in that game and surged ahead 17-14 in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers were on the brink of finishing Alabama after driving to the Crimson Tide 32. But they opted for three straight running plays in that situation and came up empty when Alleman missed a 45-yard field goal, opening the door for Alabama’s game-winning drive.
In the 14-6 loss to Florida this season, LSU was held to a season-low 200 yards and didn’t score a touchdown, along with turning the ball over three times.
Of course, nothing compares to last season’s 21-0 stinker against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. LSU mustered just 92 total yards and didn’t cross midfield until its second possession of the fourth quarter. The worst part was that the Tigers never made any adjustments.
Every loss stings the most in the immediate aftermath. And let’s be real here. There are a ton of programs out there who would love to trade places with LSU. This has been one of the best runs in the history of the school.
But as impressive as this run has been -- and the Tigers have established themselves as a top 10 program nationally -- they’re going to hit a ceiling unless they can get it fixed on offense.
Miles hinted that some changes could be coming with his “adjustment has to be made” declaration following the loss to Clemson, which was LSU’s third postseason setback in the past four years.
With as many as six underclassmen on defense considering a jump to the NFL, the Tigers might face a bit of a rebuilding project on that side of the ball next season.
So more than ever, they need to find some consistency on offense, and probably more importantly, find a way to deliver on offense when it counts.
Otherwise, the Tigers’ best football under Miles might be behind them.