If you believe some of the sentiment found on blogs such as ‘And the Valley Shook’ as well as other Internet outlets, including the new Facebook feature allowing comments on LSU’s official website, LSU Sports, the Tigers’ most successful coach—by winning percentage anyway—could find his tenure defined by one single second on the clock.
Coach Les Miles has never won over all LSU fans—for some it’s that he’s not his predecessor (Nick Saban), while for others it’s that he never will be—despite having as much, if not more, success as Saban, or any coach in school history for that matter; comparatively.
Yet, his career at LSU might not be defined by how well he’s lived up to the expectations foisted upon him, but by one simple mistake made with one second left on the clock during the game against the Ole Miss Rebels (8-3; 4-3 SEC) on Saturday night.
With the game on the line and the Tigers down 25-23 to the Rebels with one second left on the clock—though a review of the replay clearly shows there should have been three seconds—Miles’ team looked confused and befuddled, and made one of the most bizarre mistakes in recent memory.
However, before that final second even ticked off the gameclock, the “Fire Les” crowd in Tiger Nation was already miles down the road on their journey to find a new coach.
Several fans have been calling for LSU to hire the recently fired Tommy Tubberville, the soon-to-be-fired Charlie Weis, or the “should-be-fired” analyst for ESPN, Lou Holtz.
All of this, again, because of one mistake with one second left on the clock.
The confusion came at the end of a drive that was the result of a perfectly-executed on-side kick recovered by Senior WR Brandon LaFell that was forwarded to the LSU 42-yard-line with 1:06 left in the game.
Facing a second-down after that on-side kick recovery, Sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson—who had been inconsistent at times, but finished with 250 yards on 19-of-37 passing with two touchdowns and one interception—connected with LaFell on a spectacular pass-and-catch, with Brandon dragging several defenders to the Ole’ Miss 32-yard-line for a 26-yard gain.
That’s when everything went South.
With the Tigers already within field-goal range for kicker Josh Jasper—who’d already kicked a 50-yarder in the game—the decision was made by Offensive-Coordinator Gary Crowton (whose play-calling has also come under heavy fire) to pass the ball rather than kick it right there.
With heavy pressure from the Rebels’ DE Kentrell Lockett, Jefferson threw an incomplete pass on first-down. On second-down, he dropped back into the pocket, and again under heavy pressure, was unable to avoid the rush and took his fourth sack of the night.
Now out of field-goal range and facing a third-and-long situation, the Tigers ran a bubble screen to fourth-string tailback Steven Ridley that resulted in another loss of seven yards. Ridley was the No. 1 option for the Tigers due to the season-ending injury to Senior RB Keiland Williams.
This is where things get really dicey.
In his post-game interview, coach Miles—who took full responsibility for the loss it must be added—stated the Tigers had verbally called timeout immediately following the third-down play, and felt the referees had acknowledged it.
Apparently they hadn’t, and subsequently allowed the clock to tick all the way from twenty-three seconds to just nine seconds before granting LSU their final timeout.
Now on Ole’ Miss’ 48-yard-line and facing fourth-and-26, the Tigers called the old “Hail Mary” play.
As the pass from Jefferson floated in the air it was clear Sophomore Terrance Tolliver—who had five receptions for 107 yards on the night—had a bead on it.
Leaping high he clearly went up nearly three feet higher than any defender on the field and came down with the ball securely cradled in his arms yards from the goal-line.
Tigers fans were elated for roughly one-half second before watching in sheer horror as the offense looked around trying to figure out what to do. The field-goal unit, meanwhile, was still on the sideline; apparently practicing holds for next week’s game.
Jefferson then lined up the offense and snapped the ball and attempted to spike it, depleting the last tick on the clock—and a lot of goodwill for the soon-to-be beleaguered coaching staff—right into the grass at Ole’ Miss’ six-yard-line.
As mentioned above, Miles took responsibility after the game for the clock mismanagement during the contest, and for the missed opportunity.
“I can only tell you that the management at the back end of the game was the issue…again, I take that to myself.” He said.
For the livid LSU fans, and apparently the ESPN personnel covering the game, the question wasn’t who was responsible, but how could the game have ended that badly.
Regardless, other questions have to be posed.
Is this proof Miles’ detractors have been right all along? Has LSU officially fallen into mediocrity?
Personally, I think not.
Yes, I’ve been very supportive of Coach Miles (here, here, and here), and I will continue to be. I agree with him that he’s primarily responsible for the fact LSU “did not finish first” in its second-consecutive “Magnolia Bowl.”
On the other hand, I likewise believe he’s primarily responsible for finishing first in fifty contests to this point—with two games yet to play this season—in his first five years at the helm; giving him the highest winning-percentage of any multi-year (more than two years) coach in school history.
In addition, I believe he’s primarily responsible for LSU finishing first—by a large margin—in 4-of-4 bowl games, including two BCS games and the 2007 National Championship.
Last year, when the Co-Defensive-Coordinator experiment, featuring Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory, failed to meet expectations Miles quietly worked with his assistants to secure them other employment, then went out and made a terrific hire in John “Chief” Chavis; who has returned the Tigers’ defense to the top of the conference.
So, while the last-second lapse in judgment is squarely on Miles’ shoulders, the preceding plays that led to the Hail Mary, and the ineptitude of the offense for most of the year, really isn’t.
True Sophomore Jordan Jefferson still hasn’t yet matured into the SEC-caliber quarterback he undoubtedly will some day. As much as it hurts to hear, Miles did the right thing in dismissing Ryan Perriloux; who would have been in his senior season this year. While Perriloux currently leads all of college football in passer rating, and it’s taken some time to reset LSU’s quarterback rotation, this move will have its upside.
Additionally, the offense seems to lack continuity, and is by many accounts over-complicated. Crowton, known as an offensive genius, has also been accused of employing a gumbo-style (a little bit of everything) offense that seems to be confusing his young signal-caller(s).
Clearly an offense ranked No. 100 or worse in the FBS is not acceptable for a program like LSU; particularly one with all these weapons.
I’m not calling for any coaching changes; per se. If Coach Miles feels a change is needed his track record (Bo Pelini and John Chavis) indicates he’ll make a good decision. He’s certainly earned the opportunity to make that call.
Yet, if the Tigers don’t turn it around in a big way next week in the annual “Battle of the Boot,” the calls for Miles to get the ‘boot’ might reach a fever pitch.
By Henry Ball (aka Southern Man and CFB Czar) Featured Columnist and Syndicated Writer