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Posts Tagged ‘Les Miles’

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.

Coaching Changes and SEC Wednesday #5

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on September 28, 2016 at 5:07 PM

This is going to be a little bit different from the other entries in this series of blogs. I really didn’t have enough time to reflect and gather information on Monday. I had work until fairly late that day and had not had much sleep over the weekend. I also don’t like to feature anything lengthy when I post my rankings.

I thought about maybe posting something on its own yesterday, but having posted blogs three days in a row, I didn’t want to do that either. I still have to write something tomorrow for my ratings site, so I needed the break. I won’t go into much detail, but the basic picks and recap for SEC Wednesday is at the bottom if you just want to get straight down to business.

With the housekeeping out of the way, I want to start by acknowledging all the well-wishes etc. that Les Miles and his family have received from fans and coaches throughout the SEC and college football as a whole.

I’m starting to get annoyed with Nick Saban trying to make me like him. A couple of weeks ago he tried to get in my good graces by yelling at Lane Kiffin. Then he had what seemed to be heartfelt remarks remembering his time at Kent St. and the shooting that took place there. Now he goes on for about a minute about Les Miles during his weekly press conference when they’re not playing LSU for over two months. He’s not normally someone who likes to go on about extrinsic information like that.

I know Saban is going to miss beating Les, but I also think Les is one of those guys that even Saban couldn’t help but like.

As an aside, apart from single comment in a forum, I haven’t heard anyone who met Miles say anything negative about the experience of meeting him or talking to him. Even if one assumes the story were true, I guess once in 12 years it’s allowable to momentarily not be in the mood to talk to a stranger.

I would disagree with Saban’s characterization of the decision that was made, but what he had to say about Les as a man and as a coach was fitting. There is some commonality with Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt at the end of last season, as Saban pointed out, but I think both Georgia then and LSU now were entering a kind of managed decline. I’ll get into that below.

I also wanted to share a fan tribute to Miles that was posted. I don’t know if I’m getting sentimental in my old age, so maybe it’s just me, but I dare LSU fans to watch these two videos without some kind of emotional reaction. The first link shows the Saban piece I mentioned, but several other coaches make contributions including Kirby Smart, Butch Jones (who never got to face Les), Mark Stoops, and Jim McElwain. These were coaches who happened to have been asked about it in their Monday press briefings. I particularly liked McElwain’s mention of the players and families.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17645961

Gus Malzahn’s press conference wasn’t until yesterday, but he had good words to say as well. He said Les is a legend and one of the reasons the SEC is what it is today, and I agree. SEC defenses were getting spotty, traditional offenses had been eroded by those chasing Spurrier a few years before and were just about to be threatened by the emergence of the spread that Gus himself helped to pioneer. Of course the best offenses have elements of all of the above. I’m going to give the timestamp, so it won’t load the same way: https://youtu.be/QdqNqGKgKkk?t=15m28s

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama.  It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama. It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

Anyway, to get back to the decision, I first want to acknowledge again that Les Miles in my opinion is the best head coach of LSU in history.

There have been positive and negative trends at times. The first three years Les won 85% of his games. The Tigers went only 17-9 over the following two years, but then it was like nothing had ever happened. They went 44-9 (over 83% wins) over the following four years, improving Miles’ overall winning percentage to almost 80%. Had he stopped there, his tenure at LSU would have ended with a better winning percentage than his mentor Bo Schembechler had at Michigan.

Here is a list of the only notable major-college coaching tenures I can think of who did better with a comparable or greater number of games: Saban (Alabama), Carroll (USC), Switzer (Oklahoma), Parseghian (Notre Dame), Osborne (Nebraska), Devaney (Nebraska), Neyland (Tennessee), Wilkinson (Oklahoma), Bryant (Alabama), Spurrier (Florida), Tressel (Ohio St.). Urban Meyer hasn’t had a comparable tenure at one school, but of course combining Florida and Ohio St. puts him pretty high on that list. Pretty good company there.

There were a few other notable tenures who passed him up as his winning percentage decreased since then: Lou Holtz (Arkansas), Darrell Royal (Texas), and Mack Brown (Texas). Active head coach Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) is nearly 2 percentage points ahead of Miles, but it’s going in the wrong direction for him as well.

So despite a lot of young talent and despite an upset over Ole Miss and despite giving Alabama all they could handle, LSU went 8-5 the next year (2014). Combined with the 11-5 total between September 1, 2015, and now, that dropped Les to almost exactly 77%.

I’ve been thinking this was the year this group of LSU players would peak since two years ago, so I wasn’t that discouraged by the losses in 2014 and 2015 because we recovered when the same thing happened in 2008 and 2009.

I thought this year might have been like 2010 or even 2011. We would have recovered from the mediocre play of the previous two seasons and everything would have come together. I think those four games were enough to see that a similar resurgence just was not in the cards.

LSU had a spark around the second quarter of both the Jacksonville St. and Mississippi St. games, but with an experienced team like this, we would have run away with both of those games from beginning to end in past seasons. Either Wisconsin or Auburn might have been close, but I don’t think both games would have had to come down to the last minute, nor do I think we would have lost both.

I’ve defended Miles from people who wanted him gone for the last few years, but it just became clear that we were just going to get farther and farther away from that 80% mark I mentioned and the level of play (accounting for the normal ebbs and flows of experience that take place in college) was going to keep slipping.

That winning percentage was just going to keep going down. The same thing was happening to Georgia. I think Richt’s winning percentage would have continued to decline as well. He lost his job with just under a 74% total winning percentage, but that number was going down over the previous three seasons. In a couple more years without a change, I think Miles’ percentage probably would have fallen below Saban’s LSU winning percentage of exactly 75%.

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday.  (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday. (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

SEC Wednesday #5

Back to your regularly-scheduled programming…

Last Week

Alabama just had to get that extra touchdown. I could swear Lane Kiffin Is placing bets on the side. This has happened with Alabama a lot the past couple of years.

I was surprised by the Ole Miss margin of victory. I guess Saban was the driving force behind Kirby Smart.

I was also surprised how A&M pulled away.

Florida was way out ahead against the spread, but of course Tennessee had to score one too many times. It just turned out to be a big win weekend and I was expecting a series of close games. Why couldn’t this have happened with Auburn?

Well I thought South Carolina-Kentucky might be the magical bookie game, but I just couldn’t make a pick that didn’t make any sense to me.

I was right about Mississippi St. – UMass at least. The Minutemen are a little too good to lose by three touchdowns at home.

I saw final scores on the television or computer showing me that I picked the right team to win and the game was over! But they were both wrong somehow. At least I got the spread right in the Vandy game, but it’s another bad week in that category.

Missouri beat their FCS opponent as expected.

So given that I picked the wrong team to get credit for the last-second touchdown, I ended up with three losses straight-up, although the only genuine surprise for me was Kentucky.

Overall I fall to 36-8; against the spread I’m now 16-21.
SEC WED

 

Next Week

I’ll start with the easy one. If Arkansas can’t beat Alcorn St., they should just disband the football program.

Florida goes back to the state of Tennessee. I screwed up by taking the Gators with the points last time (but right winner), and I screwed up by not picking Vandy to win (but right on the point spread). On the other hand, neither team can be trusted week-to-week. Vandy can be mediocre at home after a win, and Florida has done really well with the lesser teams this year. Florida minus 10.

I don’t think ULM is a whole lot different from Arkansas St., so the Auburn offense should come back with a vengeance. I’ll take the War Eagle Plains Tigers -32.5.

I got burned by both Tennessee and Georgia against the spread last week. I don’t think Tennessee wins by 10 again, but 3.5 is too small to pick a team I don’t think will win, so the Vols -3.5.

I’m going to pick South Carolina and the points against A&M. I still think the Aggies will drop a couple, but they’ll be against the West. I just think South Carolina will keep it within 18.

If Lane Kiffin has Alabama throwing from the shotgun up 30, I’m not going to be happy; but I don’t think Alabama goes to Lexington and wins by 35 especially now that Kentucky has finally shown some fight.

Memphis made Ole Miss and people who pick the SEC look silly last year, but I don’t think the Rebels are resting easy this time, and they’ll be at home. The blue Tigers probably faced a tougher opponent in the spring game than they have since. I just think they’ll be out of their element. Ole Miss -14.5. 17 to 21 points seems about right.

My logic is similar with LSU-Missouri, but there is the added benefit that two touchdowns and two extra points would beat the spread. Missouri played Georgia to about the same level at home that Nicholls St. had between the hedges. SEC Network tried to sell me on the Mizzou offense based on the Tecmo Bowl performances against Eastern Michigan and Delaware St., but they only managed 11 points in Morgantown (3 points in the first 57:59 of the game). I think that’s the closest thing to a trip to Baton Rouge Mizzou has experienced this season.

If LSU is to be beaten it’s probably like they have been, one score in the teens against a slightly lower score in the teens. I haven’t seen any indication the black and gold Tigers can win a game like that.

If the most successful coach in program history getting canned isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Also, I’d bet Ed Orgeron is a hell of an alarm clock. I expect LSU to get a lead like they did in their last home game against Mississippi St., and then it will just be a question of keeping it.

Speaking of which, I had to post one more Les picture. This is him singing the Alma Mater for the last time in Tiger Stadium after Mississippi St.

lsu-football-6156_rs1

The King is Dead; Long Live Coach O

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 25, 2016 at 6:08 PM

This is the thought I left off with last night: “Anyway, the off-season decisions are water under the bridge. All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.”

It’s still true even though, as you probably know by now, a decision was made immediately.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn't seem that long ago.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Before I get into it, I want to say that I’m grateful for Les Miles coming to LSU all those years ago. He’s done more than anyone in their right mind could have anticipated. As Joe Alleva said, he’s been a great ambassador for LSU, and as far as I can tell, he’s an all-around good person. I think he still has the best winning percentage of any head coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. If you win 80 games more than you lose, you’ve done something at a program. I’ll research the specifics at another time.

He also seems to be going gracefully as he took part in the meeting with the players held with AD Joe Alleva and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. According to at least one of the players, Miles said he supports the decision. Some cynics say Les has been laughing all the way to the bank since the contract extension after the 2012 season; but I think he really cares about the players and the program going forward, so hopefully his reassurances will help to smooth the transition.

I’ve been calling for Cam Cameron to be fired for a while, but I also have nothing against him as a person. I just didn’t think he was suited to developing teenagers into good quarterbacks. He did a good job with Mettenberger, but Mettenberger was already a mostly-finished product.

I wish them and their families the best with whatever they do going forward.

As I said multiple times, if it were up to me, getting rid of Cam Cameron would have been an absolute requirement after last season, but given that Alleva’s attitude was essentially “as long as we keep calling you head coach, you have control over your staff”, I don’t blame him for pulling the plug the way he did.

This team is too good to have lost the game last night. Maybe that’s why I believed we had won it for so long. Assuming the clocks were run correctly and the replay booth did its job properly, all it needed was one guy getting out of bounds on one of the final plays.
I thought they would have waited until at least after the Florida game to make this move since the next week after Florida is a non-conference game against USM, but I guess the risk of losing another game they shouldn’t have lost due to Miles and/or Cameron was too high.

If the win against Missouri is jeopardized by this, I guess trying to save the season was a meaningless exercise anyway.

People have said LSU is out in the West, but last I checked Wisconsin isn’t an SEC team. Provided Auburn loses again (which I frankly can’t imagine not happening), LSU still controls its own destiny right now.

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Any USC fan will probably tell you that in hindsight it was a great idea to make Ed Orgeron the interim coach, and it was a mistake to let him go. So I have no problem with making hm the interim coach. I don’t know if he’s the best option for permanent head coach (Ole Miss fans probably don’t remember him so fondly), but if he goes 11-0 or even 8-1, it would be hard to argue against him. I have my ideas about other potential candidates, but there are about two months for interested candidates to make themselves available if Orgeron’s position turns out not to be permanent.

So I think the timing is really good. As well as giving candidates time to prepare and allowing for communications behind the scenes (as opposed to the desperate scramble that firing Les after last year would have been), there is what in the old days would have constituted a whole season left to play to give Orgeron a trial run. (For instance, when LSU won the national title in 1958, the bowl game was only the 11th game of the season.)

My fear has been that we could descend into mediocrity with a coaching change like so many other programs have. I mentioned USC; another example is Oregon. Notre Dame and Oklahoma aren’t looking too hot this season either. This was the team where Les could prove he still has it. Maybe if he’d given someone else the reins of the offense, he could have, but he didn’t.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Speaking of which, the staff isn’t official until tomorrow (although the players seem to have already confirmed the below with the media), but I’ve also read that long-time LSU defensive coach Pete Jenkins, who also helped out Saban in his first year, will help with defensive line duties since Orgeron will have other matters to attend to. Jenkins had also joined Orgeron at USC when Orgeron became the interim head coach there.

The offensive coordinator will apparently be current tight ends coach and former LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger. I thought it might have been the running backs and OL coach, but I’m relaxed about it either way since I don’t think anyone will call plays worse than Cameron. Etling does seem to like throwing to tight ends anyway. I guess it’s Etling’s Big Ten background. Ensminger was most recently a quarterbacks coach at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville in 2003 before moving to tight ends but has extensive experience as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at multiple schools.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

To be fair, I felt that the series of plays LSU called last night was not bad, but I don’t think the players were ready to execute the plays as well as they should have been. There was too much uncertainty and confusion in the final plays. We don’t have to call fancy plays; we have to have a team ready to execute what is called, and we should be fine.

Missouri isn’t a bad team. They nearly beat Georgia last week, and they had a good non-conference win over BYU late last season. But this is the kind of team, particularly at home, that LSU should be able to dispense with without too much trouble.

I think it’s important that we not only win but have the luxury of giving Fournette some rest. We’ve been putting too much on his plate, and he wasn’t at full strength at the end of the game last night. That led to one of the sacks, and obviously sacks cause you to lose time.

The real test will be at Florida in two weeks; but regardless of the outcome, I doubt that we’ll feel that after that game we should have kept Les and Cam and it would have been better.

Instant Reaction: LSU vs. Auburn 2016

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 24, 2016 at 6:53 PM

First of all, given the limited information for the television viewer, the replay decision seemed to have been wrong. There has to be indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field, which was that the snap was made on time, and the touchdown pass to give LSU a 19-18 win was completed. There is no doubt about the touchdown pass being completed if the first call were correct. If such evidence exists to overturn the call on the field, it was not shown.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the play is not to be ruled dead if the snap is already in progress unless there is a dead-ball foul or something of that nature. This seems to be the rule every time there is a borderline delay-of-game situation, I just can’t find clear textual confirmation. Even if the quarterback has to be in the process of receiving the ball, there still wasn’t enough to overturn the call on the field based on what was shown.

DJ Chark's winning touchdown that wasn't.

DJ Chark’s winning touchdown that wasn’t.

There is a picture that I’ll post below where it appears that the clock is at all zeros and there is no snap being made (although hard to tell from a still picture); but once the play clock starts, you can’t tell. My next question is whether they started at the same time or different times. If they started at different times, maybe the play clock started at the correct time. (No whistle could be heard in the replay.)

000

There are two additional things I need to see established before I will believe the call was correct: (1) another still after this with no movement OR for someone to point out in the rules that the quarterback has to be touching the ball when time runs out for it to count as a timely snap; and (2) the two clocks started at the correct time, but the game clock went to 0:00 because it was less than 0:01.0 when the play was whistled ready, OR the game clock started when the play was whistled ready but the play clock did not.

It also seemed like there was unnecessary time taken off the clock after the previous completion (which was called back).

This is the third time in seven trips to Auburn that there has been some kind of referee foolishness that decided the game (see rivalry series blog). The first time was in 2004 when Auburn’s winning extra point was blocked, but there was a questionable penalty called regarding the LSU player who blocked the ball using another player for support (Auburn was successful in the re-kick and won 10-9). In 2006, there were multiple questionable calls, including pass interference when LSU was on offense, in a 7-3 loss. So this is the third time LSU has “lost” to Auburn in such a way at Auburn, but LSU won in 2008 and 2012. So in seven games, 2 LSU wins, 2 clear Auburn wins, and 3 disputed Auburn wins.

The good news is I had already started writing about the loss, so at least those few paragraphs below are not wasted. Also, I didn’t have enough time to delete them since I was too busy celebrating the win that was eventually taken away.  I guess now I know how Tennessee fans felt in 2010.  See video below if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

All right, well, I never expected the Auburn or Wisconsin games to be easy this year. All we needed was a fourth-quarter score, and I think we win both games. Against Wisconsin, we were in field-goal position and turned the ball over in the last minute of the game.

It’s not like we haven’t been able to do this in the past. I know the offense hasn’t been good the past couple of seasons, but we still got what should have been game-winning scores against Alabama and Ole Miss two years ago when many of the current juniors were freshmen who were getting significant playing time. That was an 8-5 team, and Alabama (who would go on to get a last-second field goal and win in overtime) and Ole Miss were top-5 teams when LSU played them. How was I to know that two years later, as one of the most-experienced teams in the country, we wouldn’t be able to figure out how to beat or tie the other team in fourth-quarter points?

Had we gotten the field goal against Auburn, then we would have only needed a field goal at the end instead of a touchdown. I know it’s easier to get into field goal position when you need a touchdown, but again, I think based on what we were doing at the end of the game on offense, I think we could do that. Not to mention that all Etling had to do was look toward the middle of the field on 2nd and 1 and it would have been an easy pitch-and-catch for the probable win (although Auburn might have had a chance to hit a winning field goal).

One of the reasons I like college football is it’s not particularly predictable. Of course people will call me a homer because I expected LSU to do a lot better than it looks like they’ll do this season. LSU could easily be in better position nationally right now than Alabama is, but once again it seems that Alabama is just that little bit better when it counts the most. At least I predicted that much when I picked the Tide #1.

I just would have never guessed that LSU would have two losses that were this close. Regardless, my reasoning for predicting a good LSU season was sound. A lot of people whose careers are based on college football picked LSU for the top four, so that’s really an annoying attack I’ve gotten.  If people who do this for a living said LSU wouldn’t get out of September without two losses, I might have re-evaluated my position.

Also, feel free to give me credit any time for going against the experts by ranking Wisconsin and not ranking Notre Dame or USC in the preseason.

Les Miles

Not surprisingly, people are calling for Les Miles’ head already.  I don’t agree that the last sequence was his fault though.  What was he supposed to do?  Tell Etling not to throw the ball on fourth down to put them in that situation?  Get on the field and snap the ball himself when it was whistled ready?  Ideally, there would have been more time, but there are only so many variables in actual game play you can control.

ap_les-miles_ap-photo3-wi-640x452

Les Miles being carried off the field the last time everyone said he was done.

I think the problem – more  than finishing the game – is there wasn’t a drastic change on offense that would have allowed LSU to run out the clock against Wisconsin and Auburn instead of having to try to score at the end in the first place.

Some people say the LSU AD was overruled by the president about keeping Miles.  If so, I thought he should have fired Cam Cameron as a substitute for firing Miles.  If Miles does not keep his job, some will say it’s because Les is just bad with quarterbacks (not to mention clock management), but I think his undoing will have been loyalty to Cam Cameron.

Etling has shown better control and the ability to execute a good drive, but obviously he hasn’t done so consistently.  The announcer who said he wasn’t an improvement over Harris didn’t know what he was talking about.  Cam was the one to bring in Etling, so I guess that was at least a marginally good thing; but we’ve had inept offenses for a few years now, so it doesn’t make up for his other inadequacies.

Anyway, the offseason decisions are water under the bridge.  All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.

 

Misconceptions about Miles and LSU/Ole Miss

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 27, 2015 at 11:52 AM

I’ll preface this by saying that all of my recent arguments (including those below) in defense of Miles would, I believe, be overcome by another loss, which would mean a four-game losing streak (worse than 7-4 on its own). That’s a situation that a head coach of a team like this no longer has a grasp of. It may be a done deal anyway, which I will discuss below, but I also wanted to talk about where we have challenges for whatever coach going forward and where I think we’re in good shape.

By the way, these are the two relevant rivalry blogs for the last week:
Ole Miss
Texas A&M

I first wanted to respond to some LSU fans who have been telling me Ole Miss was just a repetition of the two previous games, and that the result means Miles needs to go. I disagree on the first part, and I’ll talk more about the second.

I’ll be the first to criticize the Tigers’ game plan against Alabama and Arkansas. Against Alabama, the only two choices we seemed to have on our offensive menu were “throw downfield” and “run up the middle”. Arkansas wasn’t a whole lot better.

Against Ole Miss, however, we did some different things on offense. The problem was plays such as Fournette’s long run to open the game were called back, and other plays were made more difficult with pre-snap penalties. A number of short- and mid-range passes (including pitches in the backfield) were completely off-target, such as the one that would have been a touchdown before the drive that eventually ended in a missed field goal.

Finally, a number of drives just stalled after some nice plays. The Tigers had 13 failed third downs, three turnovers, and three failed fourth-down attempts. Granted, some of those were after no progress at all, such as the three three-and-outs in the first half. Also, the Tigers were penalized 13 times for 95 yards.

The Rebels responded to the first two three-and-outs with touchdowns. The LSU defense stopped them on the next possession, but ultimately a third touchdown was allowed after a Brandon Harris interception deep in LSU territory.

Yet one reporter wrote that the 24-0 deficit was “forced upon” Brandon Harris, as if he had nothing to do with the interception he threw (although the tip helped the defense) and nothing to do with any of the offensive failures that repeatedly put the LSU defense back on the field.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn't usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn’t usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

There is also the stock response that LSU’s offense is caught in the 1950s and doesn’t respond to a game situation. Is that what you call 51 passing attempts for 324 yards? Of course, it would have been for a lot more yards if the balls had been more accurately thrown and without some of the other problems mentioned.

When I criticize the lack of ball control leading to the 24-0 deficit, people have misused facts by pointing to the overall statistics of LSU having the ball for longer and having more first downs.

Sure, Ole Miss was happy for LSU to run out the clock on itself in the second half, but that doesn’t undo this exchange in the first half (starting at 1:30 to go in the first quarter):
LSU – 3 plays, 7 yards, 1:45, punt
Ole Miss – 8 plays, 80 yards, 2:23, touchdown
LSU – 3 plays, 4 yards, 2:41, punt
Ole Miss – 10 plays, 70 yards, 2:36, touchdown

The Rebels’ strength is not ball control because they’re comfortable with 2-3-minute TD drives, but LSU’s lack of ball control still played right into their hands. Also note that Ole Miss only has an advantage by a few seconds in its two drives above versus LSU’s two drives above.

After the drives outlined above, the two teams exchanged three-and-outs, followed by this:
LSU – 3 plays, 11 yards, 1:11, interception
Ole Miss – 1 play, 11 yards, 0:06, touchdown

LSU gained a minute over Ole Miss in time of possession! Yay! Yet somehow factmongers like me have to go and ruin it by pointing out LSU was the one with the lack of ball-control there.

So that’s why LSU being allowed long possessions in the second half has a relatively large impact upon the final time of possession statistic.

This issue is brought up in the larger context of the LSU offense being the dysfunctional unit as compared to the LSU defense. Despite barely getting a breather for the last quarter and a half of the first half, the LSU defense still forced the Rebels to punt twice. But for the interception, the halftime score would have likely been a manageable 17-7.

The 57-yard completion on the Rebels’ first set of downs was a result of a huge LSU defensive mistake, but the defense responded well enough to hold Ole Miss to three points there. Furthermore, it forced Rebels to punt in their second and third possessions. It just needed some help from the offense that didn’t come.

So it’s not a both sides of the ball issue. If there is better quarterback play (the detractors are correct that either Jennings or Harris must have some talent isn’t being brought out) and therefore a more balanced attack, I believe LSU wins this game despite a couple of defensive mistakes against a very good quarterback and offense.

A misread or blown coverage happens to any defense, including Alabama’s, so I don’t think there is anything unusual there.

The lack of a consistent credible passing game, however, does not happen to most offenses and most offensive coaches. Also, there is enough talent on the offensive line that the penalties and mental errors should not be happening so often at this point in the year. So I’m not saying that a shakeup on the offense isn’t needed, whether this involves removing the head coach or not, but I don’t think we need to scrap everything on both sides of the ball and start over.

Also, save it with the argument that this is a trend.
8-0 in conference in 2011
6-2 in 2012
5-3 in 2013 (even though we won a bowl game that year and didn’t in 2012)
4-4 in 2014
4-3 now

Let’s backtrack though.
7-1 in 2005
6-2 in 2006
6-2 in 2007
3-5 in 2008

Should Les have been fired then? What about when LSU fell to 4-3 in conference after a loss at Ole Miss in 2009?

Never mind the fact that LSU went 24-3 (14-2) over the next two seasons. I’m sure just about any decent coach could have waltzed into Baton Rouge and done that, right?

I guess some did want him fired then in 2009 and never stopped wanting him fired. Good for them for being consistent, but that’s ridiculous.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Others compare Miles to Charles McClendon, who went six consecutive seasons with at least four losses (each regular season was 11 games then, no chance of a championship game, bowls were much rarer) before he was forced to retire. So firing a guy who merely lost three (usually of 13) for four seasons in a row isn’t quite the same thing. Also, let’s not forget that LSU did worse over the four seasons after McClendon left than it had over his last four seasons even though the bar wasn’t as high as the one Les has set.

There are people such as Jim Kleinpeter, who covers the Tigers for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, who say it’s all over but the official announcement (he said there was 0% chance Miles will remain coach); but if you agree with that decision (if in fact it has been made), make your arguments based on an accurate portrayal of reality.

As I’ve already said, if LSU loses to A&M, then we should go to someone else anyway. Maybe that’s why an announcement hasn’t been made. They don’t want a backlash now that would be largely avoided with another loss. Maybe, just maybe, they haven’t told Miles what’s going on because they don’t know for sure yet. One can hope.

Rumors of Miles’ Demise Greatly Exaggerated

In College Football, General LSU on November 20, 2015 at 9:38 PM

I know it’s late, but I had to get this out there. Before I forget, here is the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog again. I also recently uncovered a blog I wrote about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt before his last game against LSU. I’ll talk about him a bit below.

Les Miles is the most successful coach in LSU history.

Charles McClendon won more games, but let’s look at what it took to push him out. LSU lost four games or more in McClendon’s final six seasons. In 1973, his last year in which the Tigers only lost three games, LSU got out to a 9-0 start before dropping the final three. Tulane was one of the three teams to bear the Tigers that season.

So all of a sudden Miles is coaching for his job after a 7-game winning streak (should have been 9 games considering the Norte Dame debacle) turns into 7-2 record? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Yes, the 1970s were a different era, but we aren’t suddenly in an age where a coach who wins 78% of his games over 10 years is on the hot seat because of two games, one of which was played against the #4 team in the country.

Let’s look at what had to happen to other coaches to get fired.

I’ll just stay in the SEC because some fans will claim anything else is apples to oranges.

Will Muschamp was only 18-8 in his first two seasons, yet he survived a 4-8 year before finally being fired after a 5-5 start the following year. Florida is pretty similar to LSU being that they won BCS titles in 2006 and 2008 under urban Meyer. 2008 of course was just one year after LSU last won. We’re not talking about a patient group of fans and boosters since the Spurrier years.

Spurrier’s successor Ron Zook was only allowed two 5-loss seasons, the most LSU can possibly lose this year, but that was out of only three.

Auburn-LSU was THE GAME in the SEC West before Saban first won the division with the Tide in 2008.

Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired after an 8-5 season in 2003, but Tuberville’s best mark up to that point was only 9-4, a record he had reached twice in five seasons. Of course, he redeemed himself with an undefeated year. I’ll go into why that might be relevant for Miles below. What actually got Tuberville fired was a 14-11 mark over two years in 2007 and 2008. The worst Miles will do is 15-10 over two seasons, but Tuberville only had two seasons with double-digit wins in 10 seasons. Miles has had six.

Staying with Auburn, Gene Chizik was of course fired a couple of years ago despite having won the national championship in 2010. Chizik only went 11-14 over his final two seasons. The team had apparently given up on him in the final season during a five game losing streak and finished only 3-9.

At Alabama, Mike Shula was fired after going exactly .500 over two consecutive regular seasons.

That takes care of the other relevant national-championship-level programs in the SEC being that of course Urban Meyer left voluntarily.

Georgia came close to the national title game in 2012, so maybe you could argue that’s a similar program, but of course Richt has been at Georgia for years longer than Miles has been at LSU and still has his job. Richt survived a 14-12 stretch in 2009 and 2010, by the way.

Is Miles the new Houston Nutt?

So nothing like firing Les Miles has happened.

There is some precedent for firing a generally successful coach after a 5-loss season, and that was when Houston Nutt was fired at Arkansas. Nutt of course was never a national-championship-level coach, although the Hogs were briefly in the conversation in 2006. However, his tenure in Fayetteville was a significant step forward from the years prior to his arrival.

Arkansas went from one winning season between 1990 and 1997 to seven in Nutt’s 10 seasons there.

There are two good reasons for this though. 2007 was the last year of Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, so not only was that season disappointing, but Arkansas was not looking at a good 2008. Bobby Petrino is not without his personal issues, but I don’t think many coaches including Nutt would have done better than his 5-7 mark in 2008.

The other good reason was the fact that Nutt had already survived a bad stretch and was given the benefit of the doubt. Arkansas had gone a total of 9-13 in 2004 and 2005 before surprising everyone with a 10-game winning streak in 2006.

What does 78% as a coach mean?

I also wanted to take a moment to consider how good 78% is as compared to others.

At LSU, Nick Saban only won 75%. Joe Paterno’s overall winning percentage at Penn St. was almost identical depending on how you count ties.

Lou Holtz won 76.5% at Notre Dame and 78.6% at Arkansas.

Woody Hayes only won just over 76% at Ohio St.

Miles does fall a bit short of Hayes’ rival (and Miles’ mentor) Bo Schembechler though. Schembechler won 79.6%.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught only won 74.6%.

At Texas, Darrel Royal won 77.4%.

At USC, John McKay won 74.9%.

At Florida St., Bobby Bowden won 75.6%

At Army, Red Blaik won 76.8%.

There are coaches with better records, such as Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. Of course, factoring in Alabama puts Saban higher. Are any of them coming (back in Saban’s case) to LSU? I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe if LSU offers $10 million a year or something ridiculous like that.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

Here are some others that Miles doesn’t quite live up to: Spurrier, Parseghian, Byrant, Osborne, Devaney, Wilkinson, Switzer, Neyland.

So if you’re not of those, you don’t get a job at LSU? Those are absurd standards to live up to.

Young players represent an opportunity, not an “excuse”

There was one other thing I wanted to mention. I made some reference to it above. This is not Leonard Fournette’s last season with next season being some abyss we’re staring into. Brandon Harris is also a sophomore.

I’m not just selectively picking two examples. Look at this depth chart.

Three of the top four receivers are underclassmen. There is only one guard who is older than a sophomore. There is one junior and one senior tackle on the depth chart, the rest are underclassmen. Actually, that’s true on both offense and defense. The #2 tight end right now is a true freshman. Two junior defensive ends, the rest underclassmen. Both strong safeties are sophomores.

I think anyone looking at this team and saying it’s a failure and we need to give up and start over next year with a new head coach is just insane.

Few people expected this to be the year for LSU until they surpassed expectations by starting 7-0. Of course, it almost certainly would have been 8-0 had the first game not been cancelled. Why are the problems that have emerged since then insurmountable because we have some younger players in key positions and it looks like the national semifinals are off the table? That could very well jeopoardize a great year like the one Auburn had in 2004.

Even if some other coach comes in and wins a national championship next year, maybe that same coach leads us to a 3-9 season a few years later like Chizik did. `There is no guarantee of being able to replace and develop talent as well as Miles has even though we can probably find a coach better at calling plays (which I don’t think Miles actually does that often). You might remember a coach named Larry Coker. He went undefeated at U. Miami in 2001 and nearly went undefeated in 2002 before a controversial overtime loss to Ohio St. The ‘Canes have been mediocre for 10 years now.

That said, if we go 8-5 next year with a healthy Fournette in what would almost certainly be his last season, I might see their point.

Edit: Given the third loss in a row which came after this was written, I might see their point with a fourth loss in a row.

Preview of LSU-Alabama 2015

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 6, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Before I begin, I wanted to refer people to my previous Alabama blogs. Most of my hits this week have already been the main rivalry blog first written in 2010 but updated annually.

Last Friday, I wrote specifically about LSU’s meetings with Alabama while undefeated.

So in my SEC Wednesday blog/column, I said I would be taking LSU and the points. I’m going to talk about picking the winner now.

With my luck in recent weeks, I should probably hedge my bets and pick Alabama to win, but I have to call it how I see it. Alabama has won four in a row in the series, but I’ll tell you why that doesn’t matter.

The first thing I would note is Alabama has been favored against LSU every year since 2008, and LSU has won twice since then. Also in that time, Alabama has only won by more than they were supposed to twice.

This is not a rematch. Nick Saban and his defensive coaches haven’t had over a month to prepare for a quarterback that they’d seen two months ago like the 2011 BCS championship. I think LSU’s quarterback now is better anyway. Harris didn’t throw a single pass against the Tide last year, so they not only have nothing from this year to look at, they have nothing against them at all. So I think these factors were essentially what made the difference between the game on 11/2011 and the one on 1/2012 and obviously are not at play tomorrow.

LSU's Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011.  Alleman would kick the winner in overtime.  The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

LSU’s Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011. Alleman would kick the winner in overtime. The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

In 2012 and 2014, LSU had the lead until the final minute. If they were equal teams every year, this would be troubling; but they haven’t been. Alabama won the national championship in 2012 and the SEC in 2014. LSU finished with three losses in 2012 and five losses in 2014. So it would have been rightly considered an upset had LSU won either.

If you just look at the score, you might think Alabama blew LSU away in 2013, but that really isn’t the case. The game was tied with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. LSU entered the game with two losses, while Alabama entered the game undefeated. Alabama did pull away late; but again, you would not have expected them to have to do that based on other wins and losses that year. Alabama being able to go back and forth from McCarron throwing to Yeldon running was a big problem for the LSU defense in that game, and I don’t think the current Alabama team will replicate that. Of course, I loved the way that season ended for the Tide; but if they make that long field goal or win in overtime, they likely would have won a third straight national title.

Apart from 2007, when LSU played many more players Saban recruited than Alabama did, LSU did better than they should have based on the respective overall seasons every year of Miles vs. Saban previous to 2012.

In 2010 and 2011, LSU and Alabama were pretty even. LSU played a better schedule in 2011, but it’s not surprising based on other results that they played each other twiee and each time got a win. Alabama was still playing for a national championship when they went to Baton Rouge in 2010. They would have had to upset Cam Newton and Auburn, but Alabama was expected to win the LSU game.

Bama also had better teams in 2008 (when they lost the SEC Championship to Florida) and 2009. LSU went to overtime in 2008 and should have had a chance to win but for a botched call in 2009. That was the Alabama team that went undefeated. So that’s six times LSU has done better on the scoreboard than should have been on paper, and only twice that Alabama has.

LSU's Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama's Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009.  The play was ruled incomplete.

LSU’s Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama’s Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009. The play was ruled incomplete.

Just to be clear, give credit to Alabama for being the better team of late; but that accounts for the success much more than some unique approach to playing LSU.

Of course Alabama has a good chance to win—there is a small percentage chance they could even win easily—but I think LSU has a better chance this year.

Apart from a picture which I will post again, I haven’t made reference to the long-term dominance of the road team in this game. Since and including 1970, LSU has beaten Alabama 15 times. Guess how many were in Baton Rouge…

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.


FOUR.

Obviously since they alternate yearly, Alabama has also done much better on the road in this series than at home. LSU did tie Alabama a couple of times at home that I didn’t mention, so the recent series has actually been pretty even. It’s even closer if you start after Alabama’s 11-year winning streak in the series from 1971 to 1981 (inclusive).

I was going to go into detail about some of the more interesting plays in the recent series, but the videos tell the story better than I can. LSU’s reverse on fourth down is pretty easy to find. I mentioned a botched call in 2009. You may have heard of a guy named Patrick Peterson. He intercepted an Alabama pass and I guess they didn’t think he had complete control, but it looked pretty obvious to me. LSU could have been a much better team in 2008, but I think they had a record number of pick-sixes that year. Some of the losses had two or three of them. I’d rather not relive that.

Touchy feely stuff

Instead, I’m going to conclude by mentioning a couple of extra motivators for LSU. If you just want serious sports coverage and not emotional stuff, you might want to stop reading now. ESPN may be covering one or both of these tomorrow on GameDay, SportsCenter, etc.

I don’t usually write about things like this; but I’ve had a couple of personal relationships end in death lately (people that I know would want to be watching the game), so I guess I’m in a place where it seems appropriate. I usually make fun of those people who get emotional after games, but I think this might be one where that happens to me, possibly regardless of the winner. I think sports can be very therapeutic in these situations, but in some cases they also remind us of people that we miss and so forth. I usually use the journalistic style of referring to people by their last name, but I won’t do that for this section.

The first story is about a young man named Sid Ortis, who passed away from cancer this week. There are pictures of him with Miles and some members of the team. He lived in Alabama, but he was a big Tiger fan. Apparently a local minister put Sid in touch with Les. I’m sure this game had extra meaning for Sid even though he didn’t quite make it.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Les talked about him during his Monday press conference (about 8:35): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuBsCS2TplE

Les said, “We all will have our day, and he was with his mother and father and is in a better place… I think about how fortunate that we are—that I am… my family being healthy and being in position to continue.”

If you didn’t know this about Miles, something about sick kids really tugs at his heartstrings. On Wednesday, he talked some more about Sid (nothing really new or different) and mentioned helping a little girl get her medical expenses paid in the first couple of minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56WfKS7zPAM

I don’t expect most people who aren’t Tiger fans to know who Jim Hawthorne is, but Jim has been the voice of the Tigers and called every LSU game since 1984. I barely knew what a football was in 1984, so obviously I don’t remember anyone else doing it. Growing up in the 1990s when we had some really sorry teams, often you heard the Tigers on the radio or you didn’t find out much about them.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

I’ll give an example. In 1994, LSU appeared on Jefferson Pilot (the syndicate that preceded the SEC Network) twice and on ESPN once. For most games, if you didn’t listen on the radio, you only saw them in local news coverage or in the newspaper.

In February, Jim announced that last spring would be his last baseball season but that he would remain the voice of the Tigers until the conclusion of the 2015-16 basketball season.

His streak of 387 or 388 games called will end prematurely with this game after what is reported to be quadruple bypass surgery. He said 388, other sources said 387, maybe McNeese St. is the sticking point.

During the Wednesday press conference linked above, Les said, “what’s a couple bypasses? …Put a Band-Aid on it, let’s go.”

It is unclear whether Jim will call another football game. Not that the Tigers needed more motivation, but I’m sure as Les would say there is a want to do well for these people who have meant so much for the LSU football community.

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

You may remember that the highlight of last season was the win over then-#3 Ole Miss, which came the day after Les’s mother passed. So maybe things like this can influence outcomes.

History of Undefeated LSU vs. Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 30, 2015 at 2:57 PM

You can see the main entry of the LSU-Alabama rivalry here.

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.

I’ll just start by giving the list. I’ll fill in the blanks below. I’m excluding the times they played in the first few games. I’m including the couple of times LSU was undefeated in conference but not overall. The games at Alabama before 1988 were actually played in Birmingham.

1964 – @Alabama 17, LSU 9
1970* (undefeated in conference, not overall) – LSU 14, @Alabama 9
1972 – @Alabama 35, LSU 21
1973 – Alabama, 21, LSU 7
1982 – LSU 20, @Alabama 10
1984* (undefeated in conference, not overall) -LSU 16, @Alabama 14
1987* – Alabama 22, @LSU 10
2011* – LSU 9, @Alabama 6, ot
Jan. ’12* – Alabama 21, LSU 0

* = games when LSU had a higher ranking

Tenures of Coaches for Reference:
Bear Bryant 1958-82
Ray Perkins 1983-86
Bill Curry 1987-89
Nick Saban 2007-
Charles McClendon 1962-79
Jerry Stovall 1980-83
Bill Arnsparger 1984-86
Mike Archer 1987-90
Les Miles 2005-

Other Years Since 1958 with LSU Undefeated at the End of October:
1958 – stayed undefeated; national champions
1959 – lost to Tennessee by 1 in first week of November; lost Sugar Bowl
1962 – lost to Ole Miss by 8 in first week of November; won Sugar Bowl
1969 – lost to Ole Miss by 3 in first week of November; no bowl

Background

From talking to older fans, one might think LSU went undefeated several years in a row in the 60s and 70s only to lose to Alabama. That’s not what happened obviously, but I’ll try to explain why people think that.

I’m not going to get into detailed particulars of any games, just focus on the big picture of the seasons that are at least relevant to the time period.

A few years after LSU won its first recognized national championship in the poll era (and only before 2003), head coach Paul Dietzel left for Army. Hard to believe now, but Dietzel’s only coached three games against Alabama was in 7 seasons. He won all three.

Dietzel only coached against Bear Bryant in Bryant’s first game as head coach with Alabama. LSU won in Mobile, 13-3, actually not a bad result for the Tide being that this was the year of that LSU national championship I mentioned. Bama went 5-4-1 for its first winning season in five years

For the 18 seasons after Dietzel, Charles McClendon coached the Tigers. He’s still the winningest coach in LSU history, but he lacked any poll national championships and only won a single SEC title.

LSU had a number of good years, but shortly after Dietzel left and Alabama started to do well, LSU started playing Alabama every year. McClendon wasn’t winless against the Tide, but there was frequently a November hiccup against someone. I’ll cover the more interesting seasons.

There were a number of times in the late 60s and early 70s where ole miss was a big issue as well. LSU typically played the two in consecutive weeks, so this made it especially troublesome. See the Ole Miss blog for more, especially 1968 to 1972.

In 1962, LSU didn’t even play Alabama, but the Tigers did suffer their first loss in early November. That year it was Ole Miss. I wonder if people mix up Johnny Vaught (who also liked to wear suits and a hat and whose name is also on his team’s stadium now) with the Bear. Despite the loss, LSU is considered co-national champions by the Berryman system. Obviously I’m not counting that one as a major poll.

McClendon vs. Bryant

In 1964, Alabama derailed an LSU undefeated streak to start the season for the first time. The Tigers had tied Tennessee earlier though and would also lose to Florida before winning the Sugar Bowl over Syracuse. Alabama won the SEC but opted to play in the orange bowl instead.

LSU would also lose to Alabama the next four seasons but had lost at least twice before all four years.

1969 was much like 1962. LSU won every game until the first game of November against Ole Miss. Except this time the Tigers played and beat Alabama, the first win over the tide in 11 years.

The Tigers hoped to play in the cotton bowl for a potential claim on the national championship and refused all other invites. Instead notre dame decided at the last minute it wanted to go to a bowl game. So after one of the best LSU seasons in the last 50 years, the Tigers didn’t go to a bowl game at all.

LSU technically did not share the SEC championship since the Tigers only played five SEC games that season. This was shortly after Tulane left the SEC, and their spot remained on LSU’s schedule. SEC champion Tennessee had a blowout loss to Ole Miss, so they were apparently not considered title contenders.

LSU was not undefeated the next year against Alabama either, but they went (and stayed) undefeated in conference for McClendon’s only SEC championship. LSU had two non-conference losses though and also lost in the Orange Bowl.

In 1971, LSU lost early out of conference and lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama.

McClendon stayed at LSU until 1979, but in hindsight his last real chances to do anything were 1972 and 1973. This is why Alabama is usually brought up within seconds of his name being spoken among older LSU fans.

In 1972, LSU won in controversial fashion over Ole Miss 17-16 the previous week to remain undefeated. There were no heroics in Birmingham though, as #2 Alabama prevailed by 14. The Tigers would lose a bowl game to Tennessee to finish 9-2-1.

In 1973, LSU navigated all the non-conference traps including then-#10 Colorado but had only really been challenged in conference by Kentucky, with the Tigers winning by 7. Same result though. #2 Alabama again won by exactly two touchdowns.

LSU was apparently so disappointed that the next game they lost to Tulane for the first time since 1948. The Tigers would also lose the Orange bowl against Penn St. to finish 9-3.

McClendon would not beat Alabama again. Although his last team in 1979 was shut out, it held the #1 Tide to just a field goal.  There was some wind-driven dew causing inclement weather on the field though.

The 1980s

After McClendon, LSU hired Bo Rein, who tragically died in a plane crash before getting to coach the team. The Tigers turned to a loyal former player named Jerry Stovall, but he was an inconsistent coach.

So when the Tigers had the only really good start of his tenure (6-0-1), they went to #8 Alabama and won. Some may have thought happy days were in Baton Rouge again, but this feeling would be short-lived.

LSU would win a total of three games against top-10 teams that season (also Florida and Florida St.) but would lose to unranked Mississippi St. and Tulane (his second loss to them in a row) before losing in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska. The tie also came against an unranked team, Tennessee. Georgia, who LSU had not played, won the SEC.

After the Tigers went winless in the SEC the following year, defensive innovator Bill Arnsparger was at the helm in 1984. LSU once again beat Alabama in Birmingham but couldn’t win at Mississippi St. No more losses to Tulane to this day, but LSU did lose another Orange Bowl to finish 8-3-1. Florida, the team who tied LSU, would win the SEC, although the title was later vacated.

LSU lost early in Arnsparger’s other two seasons but tied Alabama in 1985 and beat them again in 1986. The ’86 win was the third road win in a row over the tide.

Between that 1969 season mentioned and Nick Saban’s first season in 2000 (in which LSU curiously lost to Alabama-Birmingham but beat the Tuscaloosa version), LSU did not beat Alabama at home even once.

In 1987, Arnsparger’s assistant Mike Archer took over. LSU was undefeated and untied in conference but had tied Ohio St. out of conference. Alabama won somewhat easily, 22-10, the Tigers’ only loss of the year. LSU finished 10-1-1 after winning the Gator Bowl.

Archer managed to win the SEC despite three non-conference losses the following year but couldn’t do much beyond that in the two losing seasons that followed.

The recent rivalry

Apart from those two games at the end of the list above, there isn’t much by way of undefeated LSU teams to talk about, but I thought I’d still tie up loose ends.

LSU only managed two winning seasons from 1989 to 1999. The longest LSU winning streak to start the season in that time was four games in 1996, so that didn’t come close to the Alabama game, but the Tide won 26-0 anyway. 1996 was one of only two 10-win LSU teams from 1962 to 2000.

The game has been in the first 16 days of November every year since 1982, so that limits the undefeated possibilities. Of course there are several examples of undefeated Alabama against LSU, and LSU has actually won a few of those in the last 20 years or so. That’s just obviously not the situation this year.

The intensity in the rivalry, despite a very entertaining overtime game in 2005, didn’t return to its prior levels until Saban took over in 2007. Although LSU won the national championship that year, the Tigers had lost to Kentucky in triple OT two games before the Alabama game.

Further evidence of the recent intensity is bye weeks. LSU had a bye before Alabama in 2007 and has had one from 2010 to at least 2016. Alabama has also typically had a bye before the LSU games. Their recent pre-LSU byes have been 2007, 2009-11, and 2013-2016 (and probably continuing afterward). Alabama won on the infamous screen pass in 2012 anyway.

2011 wasn’t that long ago, but that’s of course covered in my main rivalry entry.

Just as a side note, that weekend in 2011 was also one of the best of the history of this blog on WordPress and actually was the best full stop until last season when I got big boosts around the time of both Mississippi St. and Ole Miss.

Spurrier and LSU-Florida Revisited

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on October 16, 2015 at 3:39 PM

I don’t want to go too much into ancient history in this blog because my rivalry blog has all that stuff, but I have to say a couple of things about Spurrier in addition to my comments Wednesday.  His last game on Saturday was 25 years and four days after his first game against LSU with the Gators.

{Late edit: I wanted to add this about the South Carolina game and relief efforts.  Worth the read.}

Not only did LSU fail to beat Spurrier’s Gators except for the 1997 upset in Tiger Stadium, but that was one of only three games where the Tigers came within two touchdowns of the Gators in Spurrier’s tenure.  Before Spurrier took the helm in 1990, LSU had a 19-15 lead in the series.

So in large part thanks to Spurrier, Florida still has a lead in the series of four games, 31 to 27 with 3 ties.  Spurrier had zero success against LSU with the South Carolina Gamecocks, however.

I mentioned that game in 1990 was also in October. I like that this game has occupied a fairly consistent spot every year.  With only one exception, the game has been played in the first three playing weeks of October since 1973.  In fact, there have only been four times in the entire history of the series when the game was played in a month other than October.

With that out of the way, I’ll turn my attention exclusively to things that have happened this century.

The recap of the games and seasons below is also part of my rivalry blog, but that was more of a big-picture focus than some of the game stories below.  I’ll probably re-organize this at some point, but an exception was last year, where the full game story is part of the rivalry blog and not reproduced in any way below.

2001 to 2006 

Of course there have been a lot of years where the winner of the LSU-Florida game went on to win the SEC, and there were also of course a few years where the winner won the national title.  Given where the game takes place on the calendar, there can still be time for the loser to rebound.  This occurred in both 2001 and 2003.  LSU lost both games, both at home, and won the SEC in both years.  In 2003, the Tigers also won the BCS championship.

LSU won in the Swamp in 2002, having worked out its frustrations with a 36-7 win over Ron Zook’s first team.  Both teams finished 8-5 that year.

2004 was a similar year, and LSU won in a close game (I actually watched it about a year ago on ESPN Classic).  JaMarcus Russell (who also started in 2005 and 2006) struggled in his first start with the Tigers, but he was successfully relieved by the veteran Marcus Randall.  Also, the defense stepped up and held the Gators scoreless for the entire second half.  Apart from the first four minutes or so, LSU did not lead or tie until 27 seconds remained in the game.  Randall managed the game well, but RB Joseph Addai accounted for 44 yards of total offense on the 50-yard winning drive.

In 2005 (the first season for both Les Miles and Urban Meyer), LSU got only its second win at home against Florida since 1987, but it was another good game, 21-17. LSU had stormed out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, then Florida took the lead in the third quarter before the Tigers scored the winning touchdown early in the fourth. Neither team was able to generate any offense to speak of after that point. This frustration caused Urban Meyer to cry after the game.  LSU went on to win the division with a 9-game winning streak but lost the SEC championship game to Georgia.

Not 100% sure this is the right game, but Meyer was occasionally upset in his tenure at Florida despite a lot of wins.

Not 100% sure this is the right game, but Meyer was occasionally upset in his tenure at Florida despite a lot of wins.

LSU would have an 11-win year that culminated with winning the Sugar Bowl in 2006, but it wasn’t quite as good as Florida’s 13-1 BCS championship season.  So according to plan, the Gators won without too much drama in the Swamp that season, 23-10.

The only player to score a touchdown for LSU in the 2006 game was a man named Jacob Hester, who averaged nearly five yards per carry.  Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton must have realized that former OC Jimbo Fisher may have been in error not handing it to him more often in that game, because Florida sure was sick of him after the 2007 game.

2007

Feel free to skip to the bottom of this section or the next heading, but I have not told the full story of this game on this site, and what better time than with undefeated LSU against undefeated Florida at night in Tiger Stadium coming up tomorrow?

Miles actually mentioned the 2007 game in his Wednesday press conference, and for me that’s the iconic game of Miles’ tenure so far.

LSU and USC were the consensus #1 and #2 teams in the early part of that season.  The Tigers had not even had a competitive second half yet and went into the game 5-0.  Florida had just suffered its first loss the week before in a close game against Auburn, so they went into the game looking to redeem themselves.

Except for the first four minutes of the game, Florida had led for the entire night, going back up by 10 (the Gators had also led by 10 at halftime) with five minutes left in the third quarter.

After one drive that ended in a punt and another that ended in a missed field goal, it just was not looking like LSU’s night.  Then something started happening.  Some say Tiger Stadium is haunted, and the ghosts only come out at night.

Tim Tebow, who went after the fans after someone had gotten a hold of his cell phone number and disseminated it on campus, had a chance to put the game away.  The ghosts especially don’t like opposing QBs who attack the fans (as Bo Wallace would also find out in 2014).  For some reason, on second and 6, Tebow took a chance and threw an interception.

It was right about this time that an announcement came over the PA system. FINAL SCORE: STANFORD 24, USC 23.  This was one of the biggest upsets for several years.  Mighty USC—who had won an AP title in 2003, nearly accomplished BCS titles in the next two seasons, and then followed with an 11-2 season in 2006—lost to Stanford, who had only won a total of three games from October 2005 to that night nearly two years later.

The crowd went nuts.  It didn’t hurt that a few years before LSU had been forced to share its first national major title in 47 years with USC.  Miles recalled wondering why the crowd was so excited when LSU was still behind in the game.

Later in the ensuing LSU possession, the Tigers faced a fourth down, seemingly a good time to take the three easy points.  Not so fast.  LSU had missed a field goal, as I mentioned, even though this one would have been shorter.  Both of the Tigers’ previous touchdowns had been enabled by going for it on fourth down.  The first was a fairly routine goal-line situation, but the Tigers’ third-quarter touchdown drive to stay in the game was kept alive by a fourth-and-5 scramble.  Whatever it was, something told Les Miles to go for it again on fourth and 3.

QB Matt Flynn had started only 10 for 21 with an interception, but I guess something said that the Tigers needed to throw it on that play.

The Florida offense had apparently been thrown off course by the interception and sputtered on its next possession.  After a punt, LSU took over with 9:20 left on the clock.

Due to a penalty, LSU faced a 2nd and 18.  The smaller, quicker back Trindon Holliday only managed two yards to set up a third and very long.  Maybe LSU would have to try for the winning drive in the next possession…

On the third and long, Flynn was stopped about a yard short of the first down after a desperate scramble when no one was open.  Maybe Florida needed a more bruising back to get the first down on yet another fourth down.  Jacob Hester provided it.  LSU still trailed by three near midfield though.

Three plays later (including a first-down pass), Hester rushed for another 19 yards, then he picked up 4 yards.  Then Ryan Perrilloux, the backup running quarterback, ran for another 5 yards.  Hester was surprisingly stopped for no gain on third down.  Once again, Miles had the chance to take the field goal and a tie game.  Once again, he refused and instead called a handoff to Hester on fourth down, which once again succeeded.

Three plays later, Hester had apparently lost his patience for fourth downs and ran for a touchdown on third down.

Jacob Hester extends the ball for the winning touchdown in 2007.

Jacob Hester extends the ball for the winning touchdown in 2007.

Not only did LSU have its only lead of the game; but the 15-play, 60-yard drive had chewed up all but 69 seconds of the clock.  Florida would get a couple of first downs, but Tim Tebow was sacked on the second-to-last play and threw an incomplete pass on the last play.

Although the Tigers converted fewer than half of the third downs they had faced, LSU went 5/5 on fourth downs for the game.  LSU had converted almost as many fourth downs as Florida had converted third downs (6).  That includes a third-down scramble by Tebow on the final drive.

Despite a few other crazy games, two of which ended in losses, LSU would end the season as BCS Champions after defeating Ohio St.  This time, the AP went along with it.  Florida finished only 9-4 but would win the BCS the following season.

2008 and 2009

I’ve already given you a hint about what happened in 2008.  It wasn’t even close, as Florida won 51-21.  This was basically a throwback to the Spurrier era.  LSU struggled that season in part because the aforementioned Ryan Perrilloux had been the heir apparent at quarterback, and LSU’s pocket passer Jarrett Lee had a terrible habit that year of throwing touchdowns to the wrong team.  Later that year, he was relieved by Jordan Jefferson, a more mobile quarterback who better suited LSU’s playbook and didn’t turn the ball over so much.

LSU improved a bit the next season, but Florida would not lose again until the SEC championship in 2009.  LSU hung in there but couldn’t generate much offense in the 13-3 loss.  This was one of only four home losses for LSU from the beginning of the 2009 season to today.

2010

In 2010, LSU was a good bit better, while Florida was in rebuilding mode again.  After LSU’s opening field goal, the teams traded touchdowns and leads to go along with them.  LSU finally extended its lead to 6 at the end of the half.  The third quarter was scoreless, but LSU went up 26-14 after a failed conversion attempt early in the fourth quarter.

Florida then ran back the ensuing kickoff to get within 5.  After the teams traded punts a few times, new QB Jeff Brantley led Florida on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to give the Gators the lead with only 3:21 left in the game.

LSU basically had to put in Lee at quarterback because Jefferson was not a reliable enough passer for the two-minute drill.  LSU only needed a field goal, so Tiger fans held their breaths and hoped Lee didn’t do anything crazy.

LSU faced a third-and-1 just outside of normal field-goal range and RB Stevan Ridley was absolutely stuffed for a loss of two.

LSU lined up for a field goal, but Florida should have known how Les felt about tying field goals, especially from 50+ yards away.  Anyway, the holder flipped the ball over his shoulder to kicker Josh Jasper, who ran an end-around and got what appeared to be a first down.  The play didn’t quite go according to plan, however, as the ball hit the ground and bounced up to Jasper instead of his being able to catch it in the air.

K Josh Jasper runs for a first down in the final minute in 2010.

K Josh Jasper runs for a first down in the final minute in 2010.

After an extensive review and after Urban Meyer threw a fit on the sidelines, repeatedly signaling first down for Florida, the play stood as a lateral.  I have some suspicions that stress induced by Les Miles alone played a major role in Meyer’s departure from Gainesville (though I suppose Nick Saban helped too), but that’s getting off-topic.

Also, according to Miles, the play should have resulted in a touchdown without the bounce (as a similar play did against South Carolina in 2007); but instead the Tigers still had 31 yards to go with about 30 seconds left.

Lee handled it surprisingly well.  On first down, Terrence Toliver (I looked him up, and he’s now a starting WR for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) found a seem up the middle and Lee connected to set up first and goal.  After an incompletion, the ball again went to Toliver on a fade route to the left side for the winning touchdown with just six seconds left. LSU won, 33-29.

Comments after 2012 and 2013 games (see here for full blog): In the last 11 years, LSU leads 6-5, with half of the wins coming in Gainesville (2002, 2004, and 2010). Since LSU lost in 2001, this means that in the last 12 years, LSU has gone 6-6, with three home wins and three road wins, and obviously Florida has done the same. The two teams often knock each other out of the SEC championship game, and although a rematch has been often discussed as a possibility, it has never happened. However, as mentioned below, in both 2001 and 2003, LSU lost to Florida before winning SEC championship games over Tennessee and Georgia, respectively.

I thought of this later even though it was unrelated to the 2012 game in Gainesville. LSU has won 22 consecutive home games (as of 10/14/12), the longest in school history, since losing to Florida in 2009. LSU’s win over Florida in 2005 (which was payback for the 2003 loss) began a 19-game home winning streak. So the two Florida wins at LSU from 2003 to present are two of only seven wins at LSU by opposing teams in that time. Three of those LSU losses were in 2008, when Florida beat LSU in the Swamp.

2012 and 2013 were consecutive games where the overall point total was below 24 points. This also took place in 2009, Florida’s last win at LSU (and the last win of anyone apart from the 2012 Alabama team at LSU), when the Gators won, 13-3.

There were 16 games before 1974 where the two teams combined for fewer than 35 points, which isn’t too remarkable as passing was fairly rare before that time, but the frequency of such games hasn’t decreased as much as is typical in other series. It happened three games in a row from 1979 to 1981. Then Florida won 20-0 in 1985, 19-6 in 1988, 16-13 in 1989, and 16-0 in 1991. Meanwhile, LSU won 13-10 in 1987.

The Spurrier era at Florida put the brakes on all that defense, but there was an exception in 1998, when Florida only won 22-10. The best win of the Ron Zook era was the 19-7 win at LSU in 2003. That LSU team would win the BCS Championship. Then in 2006 (a championship year for the Gators), Florida won 23-10.

Even though many of the particularly bad losses were in the 1990s. something else I noticed was that only 5 times in the 14 years from 2000 to 2013 did LSU lose by more than 21. Three of those were to Florida (2000, 2001, and 2008).

(This was originally on the main rivalry blog I linked to earlier:)

2014 Summary and Comparisons

2014 was a more exciting game.  It reminded me of a couple of previous LSU wins.

LSU’s previous win at Florida, in 2010, was very similar.  If you don’t remember, LSU had the fake field goal where the holder flipped the ball and the kicker (Josh Jasper) picked it up off the bounce and ran for a first down.  This eventually set up LSU’s go-ahead touchdown on a fade in the corner of the end zone, the second lead change in the last 3 1/2 minutes of the game.  In that game, the Tigers struggled with kick returns, giving up an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that kept LSU in the game.  LSU had taken the lead in the second quarter after falling behind early on.

For posterity, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the 2014 game. I shouldn’t have to explain the similarities.  A guy named Andre Debose (who scored on the kickoff return in 2010) opened scoring with a touchdown on a punt return, helping Florida to an early 17-7 lead.  The Tigers chipped away at the lead and eventually had the lead going into the fourth quarter. LSU didn’t have a fake in this game, but they did opt to go for it on a fourth and goal in the first half.  This lead to a touchdown.

Turning your attention to the fourth quarter, Dubose had another important return which gave Florida the ball at the LSU 9.  This lead to a touchdown and a lead for the Gators.

When LSU took over possession with just over 6 minutes remaining, QB Anthony Jennings had only thrown one pass for over 10 yards, earlier in the fourth quarter.  So it looked like Florida was in good shape when LSU was down by 4 at their own 38 and facing a third and 25.  Someone forgot to guard Jennings’ favorite receiver for these situations, Travin Dural.  He got the first down and another 16 yards for good measure.  That combined with a Florida personal foul helped set up an LSU touchdown (on a fade pass to the back corner of the end zone) to go up 3.

The mutual struggle of the two teams to lose the game wasn’t over though.  Florida’s Jeff Driskel threw a 73-yard pass to give Florida the ball at the two.  After a couple unsuccessful runs and dropped virtually undefended pass by Florida, Will Muschamp opted not to go for it and the Gators kicked the tying field goal.

Not knowing if Florida may take the lead, LSU had called a timeout to keep time on the clock.  That became a double-edged sword when the LSU drive was abruptly ended by an incompletion and sack in consecutive plays.

Then Florida called a timeout.  This gave the Gators good field position (at the Florida 42… the LSU punter finally had the good sense to kick it out of bounds) and a chance for a potential winning field goal.  Jeff Driskel, who had recently looked like a hero of the game and was moving Florida downfield yet again, threw the ball to the wrong team, giving LSU a chance to win.  Surely the LSU kicker who missed an extra point earlier in the day wouldn’t have a career long from 50 to win, right?  This is a Les Miles team, you learn to just shake your head and laugh.

The other game this reminded me of was actually before Les Miles though.  It was in 2004 and was the last time Saban faced the Gators as LSU head coach.  Saban was only 1-3 against Florida going into the game and had one of his worst losses (at least among the games not played against Florida) on the road the previous week.  Even though they had changed starting quarterbacks, LSU also fell behind early, 14-0.  The first score was set up by an interception return deep in LSU territory.

LSU shrunk the Florida lead over time but they still trailed by four with just over 2 minutes remaining and had not done much on offense since the field goal drive that opened the second half.  Another potential field goal had been blocked in the interim, but nothing had come very close to the end zone.

This crazy offensive coordinator named Jimbo Fisher decides to call three running plays in the first four plays of a two-minute drill.  But the man who got the ball in those three plays was Joseph Addai, who ran for a total of 34 yards in those plays.

Then Marcus Randall, the QB who had been benched to start the game, was sacked, bringing up a third down from the Florida 10 with LSU needing a touchdown to take the lead.  After a play action, none of the LSU wide receivers were open; but in rushing the passer, Florida forgot to guard an eligible receiver named Joseph Addai, who had sneaked through the line.  Addai caught the ball at about the 8 and went all the way into the end zone to give LSU its only lead of the game, which it held onto for the remaining 30 seconds.

The 2014 win was the second in three LSU games at Florida and the fourth win in seven games at Florida, the latter run following seven consecutive losses.

Next week, some time before Wednesday, I will also have more to say about the Pete Carroll USC teams, as I had some comments to share in reaction to the “30 for 30” entry “Trojan Horse”.

10 years: Les Miles and Hurricane Katrina

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, Me on September 6, 2015 at 5:13 PM

It was oddly fitting that 10 years after the LSU-North Texas game was postponed due to Hurricane Katrina, another game that was scheduled for Tiger Stadium was cancelled.

That North Texas game was supposed to be the home opener of the Les Miles era at LSU. Instead, this strange guy from Ohio with a goofy grin (his original nickname at LSU was “Less Smiles”) found himself in the middle of makeshift field hospital and landing zone at the LSU athletic area.

If you’re not familiar with the LSU campus, most of the major facilities operate in the shadow of Tiger Stadium. This included the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, which served as the triage area for new arrivals, many of whom landed in a helicopter on the infield of the Bernie Moore Track Stadium (which had hosted the NCAA meet in 2002). Care and shelter was provided to the injured at the Carl Maddox Field House.

A helicopter above the LSU athletic facilities. The Pete Maravich Assembly Center is to the right.

A helicopter above the LSU athletic facilities. The Pete Maravich Assembly Center is to the right.

Here is Miles talking about the experience recently:

The Athletic Director at the time was Skip Bertman, formerly the long-term head baseball coach with the Tigers. These were some of his comments:

This part isn’t really related to Les, but I thought it was an interesting observation. Skip said no one understood how bad it was until they got there:

Personally, I have to agree. I grew up in the New Orleans area, and I knew a lot of the locations that I saw on the news and so forth. Still, you couldn’t grasp the magnitude of it from a television set.

It’s like when you see a tornado touch down some place. Not to minimize tornadoes (which are actually one of the many risks posed by hurricanes), but everything on the screen can look completely devastated; but a few blocks away, there might not be any damage at all. This was nothing like that.

Seeing mile after mile of roofs with blue tarps on them, dead lawns, and boarded up concrete with spray paint on the front was really intense. As was traveling at night and seeing nothing but pitch black where you used to see the lights of civilization. I didn’t see any of this until a few months after Katrina, so I missed things like refrigerators bursting with rotting food and sky-high piles of trash that result from having everything in your house soak in rancid water for weeks in the natural heat and the resulting mold.

I wrote about this when I wrote on the Sporting News site, but people have this annoying habit of injecting partisan politics into this. I want to address that briefly. There were a lot of people in the federal government of both parties that neglected the levee system in the 40 years between Hurricane Betsy (the previous time hurricane winds actually reached New Orleans) and Hurricane Katrina. In the first 30 of those years consecutively the House of Representatives was predominantly Democratic, for instance. So assigning part of the blame on the federal government does not require having a dislike for George W. Bush.

It also does not imply that state and local officials did all they could to coordinate relief efforts or otherwise direct available resources to their best purposes. Even though Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin were both Democrats, I’m told they butted heads because Nagin had endorsed the Republican (who happens to be current governor, then known as Congressman Jindal). So just put that aside and realize that something like this doesn’t happen just because of one party or the people who were in office at the time.

To bring this back around to football, Miles’ home opener was then supposed to be Arizona St. This game was moved to Arizona and LSU won in a bit of a shootout (at least it was at the end), 35-31. The Tigers had scored 28 points in the fourth quarter with the winning touchdown coming with 1:13 remaining.

So after not having a home opener either of the weeks he was supposed to, surely LSU would just have it the next Saturday against Tennessee, the second consecutive top-15 opponent. It could have happened that night, but Tennessee threatened to forfeit because of another approaching Hurricane named Rita (although it was far enough away not to pose a threat to anyone in Baton Rouge that night), so the date was moved once again.

Finally, Miles’ home opener took place the following Monday, 23 days after the North Texas game was supposed to have been played. It looked good early, as LSU’s offense scored early in the first and second quarters. The Tiger defense had completely rattled Tennessee QB Erik Ainge though. He went 7 for 19 for 54 yards with an interception (pick six) and two sacks in the first half. It was 21-0 LSU at halftime. Ainge also was hit a few times, but that came back to haunt the Tigers when he was knocked out of the game. One-time LSU player Rick Clausen started the second half for the Vols with some success and Chief John Chavis’s defense held the Tigers to just three points in the second half. This allowed Tennessee to come all the way back to tie, and they won in overtime.

I remember Miles somewhat nonchalantly mentioning he thought LSU would win in overtime, which didn’t exactly make me feel better. I didn’t realize that this attitude was based on things generally working out for him one way or another.

That would be LSU’s only loss until the SEC Championship game that December, but that game didn’t affect national title hopes since the BCS championship was already going to be undefeated USC against undefeated Texas. After finally getting a break, the Tigers would dominate Miami in the Peach Bowl.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU.

I’m not sure if they would have beaten Tennessee had the season proceeded as scheduled, but for your only loss in your first 11 games as an SEC coach to be in overtime under those circumstances was pretty good. I don’t care who recruited those players.

So even before witnessing some of his eccentricities, I will always have a soft spot for Miles, and this will continue even if we have an awful year or two and Les has to find a new line of work. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of his success though.

Les has won 78% of his games in 10 seasons. His first three years he won 85%, and from 2010 to 2013 he won 83%. There have been three years, including last year, where LSU didn’t have double-digit wins. But when LSU started 13-0 for the only time in its history in 2011 (actually they were perfect in that calendar year), that was only two years removed from an 9-4 season and three years removed from an 8-5 season. Going back to Miles’ predecessor, LSU’s first BCS championship in 2003 came directly after an 8-4 year.

New Orleans has thankfully only had one big rebuilding process in the last 50 years, and hopefully it will be a long time before another is needed. College football doesn’t work that way, but whether it’s a good year or a rebuilding one it can be a welcome distraction from disasters, as it certainly was 10 years ago.