Les Miles is 3-3 against Nick Saban since the Megatron of a coach took the job at Alabama. His three wins are two more than any other coach has over Saban and his Crimson Tide squads. Given the amount of losing and 0-fer records against Nick Saban's team, the .500 mark ain't half bad for Ol' Leslie Edwin Miles.
So, what makes him so successful? How does Les Miles do it? What's his trick?
Ha, there isn't one.
Don't chalk this up to Miles being "The Mad Hatter" or his risky, gimmicky play as the reason behind his victories—that isn't it. There is no secret recipe to beating Alabama.
In fact, just last week we laid out a blueprint to beating the Tide. Les Miles, like the other coaches who got one over on Nick Saban, follows it to a tee.
LSU is one of the top four or five jobs on the college football landscape. The Tigers are in a unique position to recruit their own talent-rich state, but they also mine Mississippi and Texas (towards Houston) for the cream of the crop. That means LSU has a roster that's every bit as good as Alabama's.
In those three victories that Miles has over Saban, check out how many players end up in the NFL, often as high draft picks.
If you're wondering how he does it, start at the broad level by recognizing Miles has an elite football team. They may not always play like it (see Ole Miss, 2009) but the talent in Red Stick is enough to make most coaches across the nation drool.
To narrow that scope, let's get specific. The LSU team, led by Les Miles, is built in the same mold of Alabama. It's a tough football team that can stand in the ring and go 60 minutes with the Crimson Tide. The Tigers have defensive linemen for days in their front four. Elite bodies that can run, and because of the depth, they are able to rotate in fresh impact players at will.
The linebackers are workhorses—guys that show up and get the job done. The real stars that pair with the front four are the back-end guys. LSU's secondary affords it as much wiggle room as its depth up front. Talent at the safety and cornerback spot allows the LSU to play man coverage, dedicate an extra defender to stopping Alabama's rushing attack and dare the quarterback to throw.
It must be stated that in 2007, year one under Nick Saban, the Bayou Bengals were a flat-out better team, and Matt Flynn guided them to a close 41-34 victory. For real insight into the wins, look to 2010 and 2011. On offense, we know they've run the football well; the real kicker has been how they have forced Alabama's hand in terms of what coverages and looks the Crimson Tide played.
That's where Jordan Jefferson comes into play. He is the guy who put LSU, and Les Miles, over the hump. Yes, the same much-maligned and now in legal trouble quarterback that people still idiotically think cost LSU the title game is the reason they beat Alabama twice in two seasons.
Jefferson, as a run threat at quarterback, forced the Tide to play more Cover 2, eyes-front defense. Eleven sets of eyeballs watching to see if Jefferson broke contain. Eleven sets of eyeballs watching to see if Jefferson was going to run option, looking to see if he stepped through a gap in the middle to pick up some yards.
Jefferson also changed how the Tide played and practiced. They had to spend time working on option responsibilities, controlled rushes and corralling the quarterback, not barreling down on him like a bat out of hell to get a kill shot. In games, that translates to a more blockable pass rush and far fewer exotic pressures.
More vanilla defensive play makes things easier on the entire offense. Eyeballs following the possibility of a scrambling quarterback helps receivers find holes in zones. Hitting guys in the seams created by the defense is something Jefferson did just enough to walk out of Baton Rouge with a 2-2 record against the Crimson Tide.
Coaches, like quarterbacks, often receive too much of the blame when their team loses and too it of the credit when their team wins. Les Miles was not exactly playing the conductor of a beautiful football symphony; his team had the horses to get the job done.
Hats off to Miles for recruiting those guys, but hats off to them for taking the beating and coming out on top a couple times.
Speaking of beatings, let's look at this year. If Miles wants to be the coach that people believe he is, he better find an answer at the quarterback spot. Zach Mettenberger sitting back behind a far-from-stellar pass-blocking offensive line is not the answer. Not the answer for Miles, who will see that record against Saban dip below .500 for the first time since 2009.
Not the answer for LSU, a team trying to claw its way back into BCS Championship contention. And, certainly not the answer for Zach Mettenberger, a guy who shouldn't be left sitting in the pocket like a piñata for the Tide to beat on.
We'll see how much Les Miles has to do with LSU's success against Saban. If the Tigers pull this one out, the coaching staff will deserve plenty of credit, because nothing they've shown to this point in the season makes things look promising heading into Saturday.