Just when you thought it was safe to watch LSU drop a game that it was outgunned in, Les Miles finds a way to win, again, and the Tigers remain a part of the BCS conversation.
Yes, who needs an offense to win a game when your defense can bend like a sword made out of aluminum foil but transform into solid steel just long enough to win the game?
The Aggies looked unstoppable and unbeatable until the last two minutes of the of first half, when LSU’s offense went on a unfathomable 24-unanswered-point run that ultimately sealed the deal on the Tigers’ 24-19 nip-and-tuck victory.
Overall, LSU was outgunned by the Aggies to the tune of only 18 first downs versus A&M’s 26, and 316 yards of total offense versus TAMU’s 410. Even more distance is illustrated via the Tigers’ dismal 97 yards of passing versus the Aggies’ 276.
Of course it didn’t hurt LSU that Texas A&M coughed up two fumbles and threw three picks, but the truth is it’s never enough to drop the ball or throw a wild pass. Somebody has to be there to pick up or catch the ball defensively or there is no turnover.
LSU has won its last two games, both over ranked SEC opponents, by a total margin of seven points.
And this type of narrow victory in a huge, meaningful game seems to be part of Les Miles' M.O. during his career as the Tigers’ sideline leader.
Though LSU beat Alabama by a paper thin 9-6 margin in last year’s regular season "game of the century" affair, really the 2011 season almost made you forget that Les Miles’ was the "magic man."
But, when you look back at 2010 and wins like the 30-24 decision versus North Carolina, the 20-14 win over West Virginia, the 16-14 victory against Tennessee, the paper-thin 33-29 win over the Gators in Gainesville, the 24-21 win over the Tide and the unforgettable 43-36 victory over Ole Miss, you begin to recall what this guy is all about.
Yes, here’s a team that went 11-2 in 2010 and came very near losing six of the games they counted as victories.
So, how does Miles do it?
Is it the grass eating, the often dramatic press conferences, the thespian-like pauses and reactions or the unbridled enthusiasm he exudes on the sidelines?
Though all of these attributes make the Les Miles show an entertaining production, there are some common statistical threads in his body of work that make the narrow, almost "magic-like" wins understandable.
First, this is a guy who may not always show up with a blazing offense, but he’ll rarely hit the field without a stifling defense.
Since 2009, no Tigers defense has finished the season ranked below No. 11 in scoring, a number that includes a No. 2 ranking last season and a No. 8 mark coming into Week 8 of the 2012 season.
Secondly, LSU has forced turnovers during Miles’ tenure in Baton Rouge—an aggressive, opportunistic habit that has continued to make the difference in narrow games like the Week 8 win at Texas A&M.
To illustrate, LSU ranked No. 8 nationally in takeaways in 2010 (with 32 total), No. 16 in 2011 (with 30) and came into Saturday’s game versus the Aggies ranked No. 13 (with 16).
The game versus A&M earned the Tigers five more forced turnovers, taking the grand total for 2012 to 21, which should put them in the top five in the specific statistical category coming into Week 9.
So, while it may be amusing to watch Miles’ antics and then compelling to try to figure out how he’s been able to capture so many slim victories, it’s important to remember that magic is usually just an illusion created by a master conjurer.
Indeed, Miles may seem like a magic man who can pull wild, wacky wins out of his white ball cap, but in reality all the enchantment might come down to the continuous presence of a stifling defense that forces turnovers.
It’s a combination that is so potent that it almost seems like fantasy, until you lose to LSU by three points after doing everything but beating them on the scoreboard.