Tiger Tangents: Les Miles' Tragedy of Errors and What Really Happened
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LSU's 25-23 loss to Ole Miss at Oxford has set the LSU fanbase ablaze. The focus of their fire is their head coach Les Miles. So much has been said in two days after the game. I'll try to go into as much detail as I can.
This was not a coaching masterpiece by old Les. He's seen better days. That's an understatement of gross proportions.
Here are some key points and my opinions.
Les calls a surprise onside kick after a score in the first half. It fails.
But it fails by inches. I was actually okay with the call. You can tell it was a play that had been practiced over and over. The kicker put a smidge too much on the pop-up that Patrick Peterson was in position to catch, but the ball came down out of bounds. There wasn't a Rebel player within 10 yards.
The two-point conversion
When LSU came within two points in the waning moments, Gary Crowton called a fade route to lanky WR Terrance Tolliver. It didn't work, but an Ole Miss penalty put the ball at the one-and-a-half-yard line.
While I'm very aware LSU is down to its fourth string running back this season in Stevan Ridley, the dude can get a yard and a half. At the very least you maybe go with a rollout play. They tried the fade again; it failed again.
The onside kick
Brandon LaFell dropped five passes that day, but his biggest catch was the grounder that found his hands that gave LSU a chance to win down by two.
After that, Crowton finally realized that a slip screen might work against the blitz. LaFell took the ball to just outside the 30-yard line, and the fun and second-guessing began.
On a play where Crowton sent everyone deep, a blitzing Rebel team caused QB Jordan Jefferson to hurry a throw away for an incomplete pass.
This was explained by Miles as a quick hitter pass play. Ole Miss defended it well to where no one was open. LT Ciron Black forced his man high, but Jefferson, instead of stepping into the pocket, drifted right and into the path of the rusher for the sack.
Never, and I repeat never, take a sack here. Jefferson had shown some great effort in the comeback, and this was his worst play of the day. Taking a sack here is inexcusable.
You may point to the fact that he never should've been passing in the first place. We'll get to that later.
Now, you're almost certainly out of field goal range, and another head scratcher of a screen is called. Yards lost again, but that wasn't the worst part because there are 25 seconds left on the clock for your 4th-and-26 play, and somehow Miles lets the clock drain to the nine-second mark before using his last timeout.
If what Jefferson did a play ago was a sin, Miles' lack of clock awareness was a deadly sin punishable by a bald Kevin Spacey.
With only nine ticks, a Hail Mary play is called. WR Terrance Tolliver comes down with it at the five-yard line with :01 showing on the clock.
Mass confusion ensues...followed by the inexplicable lining up and spiking the ball to end the game.
Game over, Miles leaves the field looking as confused as everyone who watched the last seconds unfold.
The above is what went down—the following will try to make some sense of it.
Before I get started here, I want to say that Les Miles is a good coach. Let me also say he is one of the worst game managers to ever walk the sidelines on this level.
I'll always defend him on the Auburn game in '07, but he's done other things to wear this reputation of a game mismanager. One needs to look back no further than the Georgia game this season, when Miles' inability to manage the clock cost the Tigers a chance at a field goal before the end of the half. LSU won the game anyway.
His first game in Tiger Stadium was one where some fans formed the opinion still held by them today. Miles had multiple gaffes in this contest versus Tennessee, a game that LSU lost in OT.
But Saturday night was a perfect storm of stupid. Many LSU fans feel like Miles stole a win away from him, and he did.
However, you may not have all the facts, so like a crime scene, let's go over it again.
I'm going to let you know when what I say is my opinion and what I say is a fact so there's no confusion.
For instance, this has not been confirmed, but I think Miles has very little to do with any of the actual play calls. I think he lets OC Crowton and especially DC John Chavis do their thing. As head coach, he always has a chance to override but rarely does.
The two-point conversion
Miles explained that both TEs were injured at the time and not ready to come back in yet, thus eliminating the chance to run the ball.
That sounds fishy to me. You mean we can't line up four wide in a shotgun and hand off to Ridley against a spread-out defense?
Actually, if you are an LSU fan you would know that no, we probably can't. Four and five wide sets always mean pass in Crowton's offense. You can't run out of a passing set; that would be like tricking the defense or taking advantage of matchups. It sounds downright illegal.
Again, Crowton's shortcomings come back to Miles, who never said through the headset after the second fade was called, "Uhh, hey there Gar, we got anything else in that book of yours besides a play that works 11 percent of the time?"
The onside kick
Very little to say here other than LSU executed it perfectly and Rebel RB Dexter McCluster was probably unaware it's only the defense that has to wait 10 yards to touch the ball.
Miles explains that he didn't overrule Crowton's call for a pass here because he felt like Jefferson was in rhythm and Crowton had called a good series to get the TD. The call was for a deep pass to keep the defense honest—a setup play in order to run a short pass on second down.
There comes a time to step up and take control, and this (well, one of the times) is where Miles failed. When the play comes down from the booth, you tell your OC, no way, we pound three times and let our kicker who already pumped a 50-yarder through the uprights do his thing.
Instead the incomplete pass happens.
The short pass that never materialized. In a perfect world, Jefferson hits the WR for seven yards, maybe more after a catch and gives your kicker prime real estate.
However, Jefferson takes a sack. Something Miles said in his Monday press conference was that he did not explicitly tell Jefferson not to take a sack.
Sometimes you have to tell a child not to play with matches or they'll get hurt. Miles failed to do this, but let's not put it all on him. Crowton made the call for a second pass, which was ludicrous. Miles stamped his OK on it, which was awful, and Jefferson took a sack. Fill in a Three Stooges comparison here.
This was the, "Oh heck, we're at the 50 now with time ticking what do we do?" play. Crowton opted for a screen that lost yards.
At this point, what could you do? Ole Miss was going to blitz, and they covered the screen well this time. This was mostly good defense, and you end up having to try to escape the hole that you have dug for yourself.
But while in the hole, why not bathe in gasoline and light a match by letting 15 SECONDS TICK OFF THE CLOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My one-year-old daughter is about a year or two away from knowing you have to call the timeout immediately here. If you still see time ticking off the clock, you chase down someone wearing a striped shirt and tackle him while screaming for a timeout in his bleeding ears.
Miles explained this as basically he thought the timeout was called and he'd moved on to the next play and the situation in his mind.
Not very satisfying for LSU fans when your coach basically says, "I forgot to call timeout—my bad."
You're basically left with :09 to try to get at least 26 yards for a first down, but now with no timeouts, Miles thought the only play was to go towards the end zone.
LSU lives and dies on this play because with :09 they thought they could not get another play off if there was any time left (they were right, it would appear—more on that later). What no one thought, including the coaches in the booth and on the field, was that Jefferson's throw would come up short of the end zone.
But that's what happened. He was hit as he threw, and the ball came down at the five-yard line but in the hands of Tolliver with :03 left. It would also appear that two seconds drained off the clock after the catch (but hey, you're in Oxford, what are you gonna do?).
Now with :01 came a situation no one was prepared for. The FG unit wasn't ready because the call was a Hail Mary to the end zone because of a lack of time.
It's right here where LSU fans and outsiders have mulled over and analyzed video footage like the Kennedy assassination. Which leads us to...
The Spike Ball
Have you ever heard the term "clock it" used before this weekend? Me neither, but it seems to be a phrase I've heard at least a hundred times since.
It's like a sports hernia. I don't think they existed before 2007.
The main problem here was the question of, "Why on earth would you spike the ball with :01 left and not run your FG unit on the field or try for the TD?"
But here's another short, unsatisfying answer for LSU fans: Because the game was essentially over.
Whether it was a field goal or a pass to the end zone, do you honestly think the clock operator lets that play get off in Oxford for the opposing team?
The last play never happened officially. It's not in the official stats showing Jefferson spiked the ball. And in beyondo world, where LSU runs their kicker onto the field and he makes it or Jefferson hits Rueben Randle again for his third TD to win the game, it wouldn't have counted.
That makes everybody feel better, right?
Not even close.
But I do remember while watching the game I wasn't infuriated over the :01 play because I kept saying they won't get it off. I was way more frustrated by the 15-second lapse in calling a timeout.
However, what happened needs to be talked about.
The buzz around Baton Rouge (and the college football nation, it would seem) was the boneheaded play of spiking the ball with one second and the questioning of Miles afterwards like he was Colonel Jessup and we were trying to figure out if he ordered the code red.
The code red being Miles saying he didn't know where the call to spike the ball came from and the video of Miles making what looks like a "spike ball" motion to the field. That statement would be construed as Jefferson took it upon himself to spike the ball.
There have been two explanations so far:
1) The one Miles sticks to is that the video shows him making that motion to the officials because the ball is stripped from Tolliver after the whistle and Miles says he was trying to tell the refs he was down.
Miles said, “The video that I looked at was simultaneously arrived with the ball and the catch, so the view that I have is that the Mississippi player comes up with the ball, and I’m telling him he’s down.”
2) There's another video showing Miles mouthing the words "clock it." This explanation (No. 2) I believe to be what really happened.
Miles said the call from the booth was to spike the ball because the booth thought it had seen 12 men on defense for the Rebels, which a spike ball would cause a penalty and give LSU time to kick (the count was wrong; it was just Ole Miss substituting, which they were allowed to do).
Now that the booth realizes the count is wrong, it's too late to run your kicker on the field (because they feel like they wouldn't have gotten the play off with :01 even if they were prepared to run the special teams on the field).
So a grad assistant is signaling to Jefferson to spike the ball, and he is confused—as any of us would be. He looks at the clock and points out there is only :01 left.
The befuddled QB finally looks back to his head coach, who just relays the call that was coming through his headphones.
So yes, I do think Miles was making a spike motion, and technically, no, he wasn't lying.
He states he didn't know where the call came from, but what people don't realize is that statement was protecting a coach in the booth, not leaving his QB to twist in the wind.
Miles stated, “I can only tell you this. I knew that clocking it was not the answer, and I was stung in that position with knowing that clocking it was signaled, and I was not for it. Now, to find out why clocking was called, I did not get until I came to work on Sunday, and when I came to work on Sunday, I was told that the view of 12 men on defense was why the ‘clock it’ call was called from the press box, and I certainly know that there was nothing that was going to be done with one second to go on the clock unless there was a defensive penalty."
C'mon you Miles haters, you know I'm right. Even you have to admit Les is probably too dumb to be sinister.
But just because he didn't lie doesn't take Miles off the hook for this game.
The loss rests solely on his shoulders, and the multiple instances of Les' brain farting Saturday has to rank in the top 10 worst coaching performances of all time.
I've defended Miles many times before, but this loss and his decisions were indefensible.
Miles met with his players on Sunday and took full responsibility. Below are some player quotes from that meeting:
“It makes you earn so much more respect for a man who comes out and says something like that,” senior tight end Richard Dickson said.
“Coach Miles has done great things here, been a great coach. The way he comes out and says that means a lot to you as a player and as a man. I earned a lot of respect for our coach for the way he talked to us.”
RB Stevan Ridley added, “I respect him. Any head coach that does that in front of the team and in front of the assistants, that comes up there and says, ‘This was my fault,’ it takes a lot for somebody to swallow their pride and say, ‘I messed something up.’
“He did what he needed to do. There’s nothing else that needs to be said. It says a lot about the person he is, and not just the coach. The team, that was something we needed to hear.”
“He tried to take the blame for the whole game, but I don’t think that’s fair,” LSU guard Lyle Hitt said. “There’s more to the game than just the last 30 seconds. That loss is on everybody’s shoulders.”
Added linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, “People are trying to say the end of the game is the big reason we lost, but the game could’ve been won at any time during the game. He’s taking all the pressure, and it’s really not his fault.”
It says a lot about Miles as a man, though, that his players would say this about him. But don't think for a second that there aren't players who are sick that they lost this game. However, don't think Miles isn't sick over it either.
Miles went over the game, especially the last minute, in much detail in his Monday press conference luncheon.
After dissecting his missteps, he added, “I regret the mistake. It cost my team a best opportunity at victory. In 48 hours I’ve gone through the pain of this, and it’s not something I enjoy."
In a follow-up article I'll talk more about the fans' reaction and my own opinions of Miles going forward.
But the positives and negatives must be weighed. This game has exposed Miles' inability to effectively manage games—what are seemingly basic skills for a head coach.
Les Miles is a great recruiter and a great face of the program. His players play hard and respect him. But it would seem a great benefit to Miles to leave the game management to someone else—especially when the clock is ticking down.
He already leaves the playcalling to his coordinators. Whenever the clock hits 4:00 or less in a half, hand Les a Powerade and a towel and tell him to sit this one out. Surely there is someone on his staff (not you, Gary Crowton) who can manage the end of a football game.
(For a look at how Les Miles stands within his own fanbase and what's basically part 2 of this article, click here.)
(Player quotes above are taken from Randy Rosetta's Nov. 24, 2009 column in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate)
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