After the end of the Mike Archer era in the late '80s and the Curley Hallman tenure in the early '90s, LSU would taste only mild success when Gerry DiNardo came to town. While DiNardo found offensive weapons like Kevin Faulk, Rondell Mealey, and others, the real success started when defensive coordinator Carl Reese found his rhythm.
When Reese left for the Longhorns, it was the beginning of the end for DiNardo. The offense was very good, but the defense was atrocious.
It wasn't until Nick Saban got here in 2000 that the Tigers brought defense back to the forefront. Saban's teams were known for their aggressive, smothering D.
When Les Miles was hired—and by extension defensive coordinator Bo Pelini—the quest was to keep the defense solid. Bo had a rocky start with his defense in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but eventually had the better part of two very solid years with the defense.
It became unraveled a bit after the South Carolina game in '07, but the offense played well enough to bail the defense out. What started as a leak at the end of '07 became a burst dam last year as co-coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto ran the defense into the ground.
On the surface, critics of the Tigers last year pointed to shoddy quarterback play, and that was definitely a factor. But the real problem was the defense.
Miles, who is relatively loyal to his coaches, fired the two-headed monstrosity after just one season. That should tell you something.
During the offseason, the general consensus was that Miles made a great hire in former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis. The move was well received, and the attitude of the fans in the offseason was that "LSU Defense" would be back.
But after last week's shaky start, the thirst for competent defense has some fans caressing the panic button. This panic isn't totally unfounded to those who lived through Lou Tepper at the end of DiNardo's tenure and the last year-and-a-half between Pelini and Mallory-Peveto.
People in Baton Rouge want Les Miles to succeed, but he won't without Tiger defense. If nothing changes, Miles will be allowed one more (meaning this season) lackluster season before the fans will put him on the proverbial hot seat in 2010.
I'm of the opinion that the Tigers are poised for great things in 2010 and '11, but if last week was an indicator, I could be proven horribly wrong.
Miles gets a do-over for 2008, but he stands at a crossroads right now. For this will be the season when we look back where things started to turn right again or where things started to go south for Les.
And it can all be attributed to his defensive coordinator. Just like DiNardo.
I am in no way pushing the panic button; that's not what this piece is about. It's about recognizing what a pivotal point we are encountering at the present time.
The Vanderbilt Commodores (this week's opponent) have installed a spread offense that scored 45 last week (albeit against Western Carolina).
The spread offense is the present and future of college football. If Chavis doesn't figure out the spread quickly (especially teams that run it with great athletes), then Miles will eventually find himself as a rich man's version of Gerry DiNardo.
We have patience for struggling offenses here in Louisiana, really we do. But nothing enrages us more than an ineffective defense. Miles has his wagon tied to Chavis now, and how the two write their names in LSU history will largely be determined by how this season goes.
LSU doesn't need an SEC championship or even a division title this year, but it needs to improve on defense if those conference goals are to be in reach for 2010 and '11. If not, Miles could lose the fans this year, just two years removed from hoisting the crystal ball.
I've seen the rumblings after one week. Imagine what 14 more weeks could do.
LSU has what relatively amounts to some preseason games before they get to the meat of their schedule on Oct. 3 in Athens. LSU has Vandy this week, then ULL, and then Mississippi State before facing UGA.
It's within these weeks that the Tigers can iron out the wrinkles and get where they need to be.
However, the toughest of all of them (the early weeks) is this weekend in Baton Rouge. Vanderbilt is dangerous, especially early in the season.
My guess is that LSU took Washington too lightly. If they do the same against Vanderbilt, a win may not be the result as it was in Seattle. If that were to happen, I'd stay off the Internet and radio for a week or two in order to not drown in a sea of negativity.
But Miles and Chavis can squash that talk this week with a decisive win against the 'Dores. While they are still Vanderbilt (sorry Vandy, I actually like you guys), they did beat Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Auburn last year.
They've beaten UGA in recent years. In their history, the Commodores had a reputation of putting up a good fight and then losing. Now they have a reputation of a "trap game" team—a team that can actually get the W on you.
Losing to Vandy is like dying young. No doubt you know someone that it's happened to, but you never think it'll happen to you.
It's my hope that the coaches were none too impressed or happy with the team's performance last week. It's also my hope that they impressed their feelings on the team this week in practice.
It is Miles who may be a victim of his three 10-plus-win seasons in a row. The bar is high—very high—and in order to reach it, Miles will have to get on Chavis' shoulders.
This week, we can start to find out if Chavis is tall enough or if he and Les come up short.