Now that LSU coach Nick Saban can look back on his team's near-escape in a 22-21 overtime victory over Oregon State two weeks ago, he can see the possible long-term benefits of the game.
Saban spent the entire offseason preaching to his players about moving past last year's national championship game, but the message didn't seem to get through loud and clear until the Tigers came dangerously close to losing to an Oregon State team that missed three extra-point kicks.
"I was concerned about the competitive spirit of this team, and the best thing to happen to this team was for it to get a wakeup call," Saban said. "I think we made progress relative to that and I hope we can continue to do that.
"We still have a lot of young players playing, maybe not as confidently as we would like them to be. But hopefully the plays they made will help with that."
The No. 5 Tigers made some obvious progress last week with a 53-3 win over Arkansas State, but they still have a lot to prove as they head into Saturday's scheduled game at No. 14 Auburn. The game could still be postponed by the impending threat of Hurricane Ivan, a move that would likely benefit LSU more than Auburn because of LSU's uncertain quarterback situation.
Senior starter Marcus Randall and redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell both showed signs of progress against Arkansas State, but neither one seems ready to make LSU forget Matt Mauck, last year's steady, solid quarterback.
"My view of the quarterback situation now is that both quarterbacks can be weapons for our team," Saban said, "and I think the best advantage for our team is to use both quarterbacks in that regard, and that's really all I really have to say about that."
Well, that and his next immediate statement.
"Both guys have ability to do certain things," Saban said, "and we're going to try to plan it so both guys have an opportunity to do that."
The idea, clearly, is to turn a potential controversy into a situation where two quarterbacks can get the job done in different ways and create more problems for opponents.
"Both of our guys have abilities and can be weapons for our team," he said. "Rather than creating a controversy with them, I think we should use them both as such until one of them clearly starts to do extremely well, and we feel is ready to kind of be that guy on our team.
"I've talked to a lot of guys on the team about it. It doesn't seem to have a big effect on them which guy's playing quarterback. I think a lot of them respect Marcus, and I think a lot of them have a lot of deference toward JaMarcus' ability and how he may continue to develop."
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