BATON ROUGE, La. | Coming off a 30-point loss to fifth-ranked Florida, defending national champion LSU has plummeted from No. 4 to No. 13 in the poll — and the Tigers' 4-0 start looks a lot less impressive.
Not one of LSU's victories this season have come over a team currently ranked in the Top 25.
It begs the question: has LSU been exposed?
"You've got to look at it like this," defensive tackle Marlon Favorite began. "We're the defending national champions, so every team that plays us, whether they're in the Top 25, Top 10 or whether they're not ranked at all, they're going to come play us with their best game."
Several LSU players said this week they thought Florida played about as well as it could in a 51-21 victory in Gainesville last Saturday. The Tigers also gave themselves poor marks for execution.
"There were mistakes," quarterback Andrew Hatch said. "There's definitely things we can improve on and avoid, but you've got to give credit to (Florida). They played really well."
More tough Southeastern Conference opponents loom in the next month, starting this Saturday when LSU plays at South Carolina (5-2, 2-2 SEC), then at home against No. 10 Georgia (5-1, 2-1) the following weekend and at home against No. 2 Alabama (6-0, 3-0) on Nov. 8.
Win those games, and LSU can be more confident that its loss at Florida was little more than an isolated lousy day.
The Tigers looked a step behind on defense, allowing Tim Tebow to throw for 210 yards and two TDs while giving up a whopping 265 yards rushing. On offense, the Tigers' running game sputtered unlike it has in a long time.
Charles Scott gained only 35 yards after averaging well over 100 in the first four games. LSU had only 80 yards rushing as a team.
With Hatch returning from a concussion, the Tigers returned to their two quarterback system. But freshman Jarrett Lee seemed uneasy after promising performances in the previous two games and threw two interceptions. Hatch had some success running the option and scored a touchdown, but by the time LSU began moving the ball on the ground, they were too far behind to climb back into the game.
Still, head coach Les Miles exuded confidence this week that his team would respond constructively rather than getting demoralized or fractured.
"Our team understands the big picture," Miles said. "They have been around here long enough to know that not one game does a season make, but I think there is a sense of urgency with preparing this week and winning this week. That's what I want. That's the focus I want."
Hatch said LSU's unity council, comprised of leaders from the Tigers' various position groups, met to discuss the loss and how best to respond.
"Obviously you want to win every game ... but maybe a loss can be positive if a team gets together and gets more focused and just wants it that much more," Hatch said. "That's part of football. You can't let it set you back. You can only let a loss motivate you. I think that's how we've done it. We've talked. A lot of different guys on the team have been stepping up and really voicing how we need to come together and refocus and have that much better of a week in practice."
LSU hasn't had a loss as lopsided as last weekend's in a while — six seasons, in fact. Miles wasn't even the coach back then. The Tigers' only two losses last season came in overtime.
Favorite said the thumping LSU took in Florida upset some players, but he expected that initial anger to be channeled in a positive way.
"Playing at LSU, I've noticed in the past four years, it's a tradition of winning, and a tradition of, if we lose, you've got to come out and fight harder and play our best the next week," Favorite said. "So that's the approach we're taking here."