Les Miles Retrospective
As LSU enters its first football season without Les Miles since 2004, it is fitting to recall his 10+ seasons in Baton Rouge.
Les Miles Retrospective - 1
  • First, Les did not follow a legend at LSU because Nick Saban was not yet considered the best coach in college football. However, Nick did restore Tiger football after the down period from 1988-99 and won two SEC championships and one BCS Championship.
  • Tiger fans were quite disappointed that Nick left for the Miami Dolphins but most understood that he had an "itch" that had to be scratched - can I be successful in the NFL? It was the same question that had led Steve Spurrier to bolt Florida for the Washington Redskins following the 2001 season.
    Steve lasted only two years with a difficult owner, Dan Snyder. The former Heisman Trophy winner compiled a 12-20 record with Washington before returning to another SEC school, South Carolina, where he took the program to unprecedented heights, winning 86 and losing 49 for a .637 mark.
  • Back in Baton Rouge, Miles inherited a talented team led by 17 returning starters, including ten on offense. He also enjoyed the services of Jimbo Fisher, the offensive coordinator starting his sixth season at LSU.
  • The first season with a new coach would have had enough challenges without nature intervening. But Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana August 29 and knocked the upcoming football season for a loop.
  • LSU's opening game against North Texas was postponed. Then the second game, scheduled for Tiger Stadium against Arizona State, was shifted to Tempe because the LSU campus was still being used for a triage center and home for refugees. With players completely off their training regimen for several weeks, LSU beat the Sun Devils on JaMarcus Russell's last minute pass.
  • The Tigers enjoyed a prescheduled bye in Week 3 before hosting Tennessee in the first home game after the storm. But that game didn't go off as scheduled either. Hurricane Rita, at the insistence of Philip Fullmer, the Vols' coach, forced postponement to Monday night. With Tiger Stadium at a fever pitch, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-0 lead but lost in overtime.
  • Fans (including me) ranted and raved about LSU's conditioning (ignorant of the fact that the Tigers' training program had been disrupted for a month because of the chaos caused by the storm). Saban wouldn't have blown that lead, we said. To his credit, Miles never gave the disruption caused by Katrina as an excuse for losing.
  • But faced with playing ten games in ten weeks, starting with Tennessee and including the rescheduled North Texas game in what was previously an off week, the Tigers won the next nine to win the SEC West. They played on sheer guts in the final game against Arkansas, holding on for a 19-17 win.
  • A week later, LSU ran out of gas against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, getting thumped 34-13. Again, Tiger fans howled. Saban won both his title games, including the 2001 upset of Tennessee, which had beaten LSU earlier that season.
  • But finally given a chance to recuperate, the Tigers clobbered Miami 40-3 back in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
  • All in all, Miles did an outstanding job in his first year as LSU coach.

Continue below ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 2
In my opinion, the finest team Les Miles coached while at LSU was the 2006 squad.
  • Here's the number of future NFL players on each of Miles's Tiger teams.
    Each number includes only players who lettered that year.
    2005 - 35
    2006 - 36
    2007 - 35
    2008 - 39
    2009 - 41
    2010 - 41
    2011 - 39
    2012 - 40
    2013 - 39
    2014 - 44
    2015 - 42
    2016 - 42
    I haven't amassed the numbers for other colleges during this period, but I'd bet any money LSU sent more players to the NFL from 2005-16 than any team, including Alabama. So Miles and his staffs could recruit and develop talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
  • 2006 was JaMarcus Russell's final season at LSU. The junior was voted the All-SEC QB. He threw for 3,129y and 28 TDs. It was arguably the best performance by a QB during Miles's tenure, edging out Zach Mettenberger's 2013 season (3,082y passing and 22 TDs). Zach was injured for the bowl game his last year in Baton Rouge but he had the advantage of a 1000y rusher in Jeremy Hill and a 1000y receiver in Odell Beckham, plus another future NFL star, Jarvis Landry, to throw to also.
  • The '06 Tigers had two slipups, both on the road. In Week 3, they lost 7-3 to Auburn when a clear case of pass interference or holding (take your pick) on an LSU receiver inside the 5 with less than three minutes to play was waved off. The officials ruled the ball was uncatchable, which it certainly was seeing as how the receiver, Buster Davis, was tackled by the defender.
    Then the Tigers went to Florida three weeks later and lost 23-10 in a game in which Russell tried a QB sneak inside the Gator 1 but fumbled the ball. The game also featured Tim Tebow's first jump pass TD.
  • The next week, the Tigers took out their frustration on Kentucky, which had lost to Florida 26-7 three weeks earlier. Playing in Baton Rouge, Florida scored the first four times it had the ball for a 28-0 lead at the half on their way to a 49-0 blowout. (UK would get revenge for that shellacking the following year.)
  • The Tigers survived two tight games the rest of the way, edging Tennessee in Knoxville 28-24 on a last-minute pass by Russell and prevailing over Ed Orgeron's 2-7 Ole Miss Rebels 23-20 in OT.
  • In between, LSU beat Alabama in Tiger Stadium 28-14 in the last year of the Mike Shula era.
  • Ranked #9 in the final BCS standings, the Tigers went to the Sugar Bowl because Florida made the championship game, clobbering Ohio State 41-14. That happens to be the same score by which LSU smashed Notre Dame in the Superdome.
  • Miles lost the offensive coordinator he inherited from Saban, Jimbo Fisher, who went to Florida State to become the heir apparent to Bobby Bowden. Les would never again enjoy the services of as fine an O-coordinator as Jimbo.

All Tiger fans know what happened in 2007, when LSU won its second BCS Championship.

  • As Les Miles said at the end of the regular season, "We never lost in regulation."
  • Gary Crowton came from Oregon to replace Jimbo Fisher as O-coordinator and
  • A week after beating Florida at home 28-24 to rise to #1 in the greatest football game I ever saw in person, the Tigers went to Lexington and were upset by the Wildcats in triple OT.
  • LSU won the next four games to retake the #1 spot.
  • With a spot in the SEC Championship Game clinched, the Tigers again lost in triple OT, this time to Arkansas in Tiger Stadium 50-48.
  • Their BCS title hopes seemingly dashed, #5 LSU took care of business against Tennessee 21-14 for the SEC championship despite the distraction of an ESPN report that Miles was moving to Michigan to replace Lloyd Carr, who was retiring. (But that was false news. In fact, Michigan was not interested in Miles.)
  • That's when LSU got some luck. Everything that had to happen that last playing date came to pass. Oklahoma beat undefeated Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game. Then unbeaten West Virginia fell to archrival Pitt in the Backyard Brawl.
  • LSU also leapfrogged #5 Georgia, which didn't win the SEC East, to the #2 position to make the BCS Championship Game for the second time.
  • And for the second time, the Superdome was the host site when the Tigers finished in the Top Two.
  • LSU defeated Ohio State 38-24 for their second BCS title in five years.
  • At that point, Miles had at least pulled even with Nick Saban in LSU lore if not surpassing him.

However, you could argue that both the 2006 and 2007 Tigers underachieved.

  • The '06 team might be forgiven for the loss to Florida, the eventual BCS champion. But the defeat at Auburn was inexcusable, bad officiating or not.
  • And the '07 team had no business losing to either Kentucky or Arkansas.
  • A factor in both '07 losses was Bo Pelini's defense, which gave up 43 points to the Wildcats and 50 to the Razorbacks (admittedly in 3 OTs in both games).
  • Pelini took the head coaching job at Nebraska for the '08 season.

Continued below ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 3
The 2008 LSU season saw a big dropoff from the BCS Championship year of 2007.
  • The main factor was the absence of an experienced QB. Miles counted on Ryan Perilloux, the highly touted run-pass threat from East St. John whom Les targeted as his main recruit of his first class at LSU in 2005.
  • After a redshirt season in '05, Ryan saw spot duty in '06, then played much more in '07, leading the Tigers to the 14-7 victory in the SEC Championship game when Matt Flynn was injured.
  • But Ryan, who had been in and out of trouble in Baton Rouge, was kicked off the team before the '08 season.
  • That left Miles and Crowton with two choices for signal-caller: redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and true freshman Jordan Jefferson.
  • The two alternated throughout the season, with Lee throwing 269 passes and Jefferson, who was the better runner, flinging 73.

The second problem was the defense.

  • Unable to hire a big name D-coordinator to replace Bo Pellini, Miles went with co-coordinators: Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.
  • The experiment didn't work as the Tigers gave up 314 points, 35 more than '07 (in one less game) and a whopping 150 more than '06.
  • The '08 Tigers gave up 51 to Florida, 52 to Georgia, 31 each to Troy, Ole Miss, and Arkansas.
  • All-in-all, LSU was fortunate to go 8-5 but were only 3-5 in the SEC.

The '09 Tigers got a new defensive coordinator, Jon Chavis, but won only one more game overall than the previous year but turned the conference around to 5-3.

  • Chavis's first defense allowed over 100 points less than the '08 team - 211.
  • LSU still didn't get as much production as needed from the QB position. Jefferson started 12 of the 13 games.
  • The Tigers were 8-2 with two games to play but lost to Ole Miss 25-23 in Oxford in a game that permanently damaged Miles's reputation with a significant segment of Tiger fans. After scoring a TD with 2:15 to play to cut the Rebel lead to 2, the Tigers receovered the onside kick. Needing only a FG to win, Crowton and Miles butchered the clock management. After Jefferson completed a desperation 43y pass to Terence Toliver on the 1 with 0:01 left and no timeouts, the Tigers should have hurried the FG team onto the field. Instead, the offense stayed in and Jefferson spiked the ball to end the game. The offense had obviously not been prepared to run the two-minute drill.
  • At home against Arkansas the following week, the Tigers fell behind 30-27 with 2:38 remaining. But this time, the offense executed the two-minute drill beautifully to set up a 41y Josh Jasper FG with 0:04 left to send the game into OT.
  • LSU kicked a FG to take the lead, then won when Arkansas missed its 36y FG.
  • The Tigers lost the Capital One Bowl to Penn State on a disgraceful muddy field that nullified the Tigers' speed advantage.

After going 34-6 his first three seasons in Baton Rouge (with Saban's talent according to Les's detractors), Miles had compiled a mediocre 17-9 the next two seasons. He needed to get back into the double-digit wins per year stratosphere and fast.

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Les Miles Retrospective - 4
The same question plagued LSU as the Tigers approached the 2010 season. Would the QB play improve?
  • Jordan Jefferson won the QB battle over Jarrett Lee and started all 13 games. But he completed only 56.5% of his passes and threw for only 7 TDs against 10 INTs. Jordan compiled the second highest rushing total on the team, 450y, behind only Stevan Ridley's 1147.
    A personal experience following the opening game of the 2010 season illustrates the attitude of some LSU fans toward their head coach. The Tigers had just defeated North Carolina 30-24 in the Georgia Dome in a game in which LSU jumped out to a 30-10 lead only to see UNC score two TDs, then drive to the 6 in the final minute. LSU had to bat down a short pass in the EZ on the last play of the game to preserve the victory. In the men's room afterward, a young LSU "fan" proclaimed, "I was hoping we'd lose so they'd fire Les Miles!" That brought approval from some others.
  • The highlight of the season was the 24-21 victory over defending BCS-champion Alabama in Tiger Stadium. The key play was a 75y TD pass from Jefferson to Rueben Randle running free in the secondary. The victory remains the Tigers' last over Saban in Tiger Stadium.
  • A 24-17 road loss to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers - on their way to the BCS Championship - the week before cost LSU a shot at the SEC West championship.
  • But most disappointing was the 31-23 defeat at the hands of Arkansas in Little Rock to end the regular season. Mixups in the secondary led to 80y and 85y TD passes from Ryan Mallett to Cobi Hamilton.
  • The Tigers completed their 11-2 season with a 41-24 triumph over Texas A&M (still in the Big 12) in the Cotton Bowl.

The return to double-digit victories set the stage for what was almost the greatest season in LSU history.

  • The 2013 Tigers were a juggernaut that crafted what multiple commentators called the greatest regular season in college football history.
  • They won 13 games without a defeat, culminating in the SEC championship in a 42-10 romp over Georgia.
  • Their non-conference victories included Oregon (40-27) at a neutral site and West Virginia on the road (47-21).
  • Most important of all was the 9-6 OT victory in Tuscaloosa. The #1-vs-#2 clash was dubbed "The Game of the Century." It was not so much that Miles outcoached Saban as that Nick and his staff made crucial blunders, such as having a WR limping with his injured ankle throw a pass from Wildcat formation that was intercepted at the goal line by Eric Reid. Also, the play-calling on Bama's possession in OT was atrocious.
  • The regular season ended with a 41-17 blasting of #3 Arkansas to clinch the SEC West.
  • But the Tigers' dream season suffered a bad stroke of luck when Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State on the road November 18. The Cowboys had vaulted to #2 following Alabama's loss to LSU the previous week. The day before the game, a plane crash killed OSU's women's basketball coach and his assistant. The tragedy had a huge psychological impact on the potent Cowboys squad. Coach Mike Gundy stated, "Honestly, the last thing that anybody wants to do, really, is play a game." Still, OSU raced to a 24-7 lead early in Q3 only to have the Cyclones rally to tie the game at 27. Still, the Okies had a chance to win in the last minute but missed a 37y FG. After the teams traded TDs in the first OT, Iowa State intercepted a tipped pass on the first play of OSU's next possession and kicked the winning FG.
  • Human voters immediately moved Alabama back to #2, where they remained despite OSU winning the Big 12 Championship. The Cowboys finished ahead of the Tide in the computer polls that comprised 1/3 of the BCS formula. But several voters in the Coaches' Poll, including Saban himself, ranked Oklahoma State lower than third, seemingly to make sure they didn't edge out Bama in the final BCS rankings.
  • So what was LSU's reward for its brilliant 13-0 season? Beat Alabama again.
  • The meeting in the Superdome was undoubtedly the game that turned a large percentage of LSU fans against Miles. An anonymous SEC coach, writing for Sports Illustrated, called it "almost unfair" to ask someone to beat Saban twice in the same season.
  • But it wasn't so much that LSU lost the rematch that irritated Tiger fans. It was the fact that Miles and his offensive staff came up with nothing new. Jefferson had had success running the option play in the first meeting. So LSU seemed to build their game plan around that play. But Alabama was all over it this time, and LSU seemed to have nothing else up its sleeve. The Tigers made only five first downs, 39y rushing, and 92 total yards. The great LSU defense - and I don't use the word "great" loosely since the unit included nine future NFLers - played their guts out, but you can only hold up so long when your offense can't keep you off the field.
  • The 21-0 Bama victory cancelled, in the minds of many, everything LSU had done during its 13-0 run. Miles's critics castigated his stubborn allegiance to old fashioned offensive ideas. If he couldn't win the BCS championship with this squad, he would never win it again.
  • The good that came out of Alabama's 2011 BCS Championship was Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany deciding to change his intransigent stance against a playoff. Plans immediately began hatching to convert the BCS into the College Football Playoff.

Continued below...

Les Miles Retrospective - 5
LSU started a QB with an NFL arm in 2012 in the person of Zach Mettenberger.
  • He had originally signed with Georgia but was dismissed from the team after an incident at a bar. So he transferred to Butler Community College, where he threw for 2,678y in 2010. He moved to LSU in 2011 but played sparingly.
  • Would LSU throw the ball more in 2012? The answer was a resounding YES. Zach threw for 2609y, which was 496 more than in '11 in one less game.
  • Two future NFL receivers were on the other end of most of Mettenberger's passes: Rueben Randle (53 catches for 917y) and Odell Beckham Jr. (41/475).
  • The Tigers won their first five games before losing at Florida in a game in which LSU failed to score a TD (14-6).
  • The only other loss was at the hands of #1 Alabama in Tiger Stadium in a game in which LSU, leading 17-14, faced 3rd-and-10 at the Bama 32 with 2:28 left. Instead of trusting Mettenberger to pass to Randle or Beckham for the 1st down that would almost certainly clinch victory, Miles ordered another run, which gained only 4y.
  • The Tigers then let the clock run down before calling timeout and sending in the FG team. But Drew Alleman missed the kick from 45y.
  • Alabama took over with no timeouts on their 28 with 1:34 on the clock. Executing the two-minute drill to perfection, AJ McCarron threw three straight completions to receivers who stepped out of bounds to reach the LSU 39 - almost in range for a tying FG.
  • But after an incompletion, the Tide got more than they bargained for. McCarron threw a screen pass that TJ Yeldon ran into the EZ. It turned out that freshman DB Jalen Mills missed the change in the defensive call right before the snap and blitzed instead of covering the screen.
  • The loss began what has turned into a five-year nightmare for LSU against Alabama.
  • Tiger fans were also upset by the loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl in which LSU blew another lead in Q4. The Bayou Bengals led 24-13 heading into Q4 but failed to score another point. That allowed the ACC Tigers to eke out a 25-24 victory with a FG as time expired.

Jarvis Landry, another future pro starter, replaced Randle at WR for 2013.

  • The Tigers would boast a 3,000y passer (Mettenberger), a 1000y rusher (Jeremy Hill) and two 1000y receivers (Landry and Beckham).
  • But the defense was the worst in years as epitomized by Game 5 when the Tigers scored 41 points at Georgia but lost by three.
  • They also tasted defeat at Ole Miss 27-24 and at Alabama 38-17 - LSU's worse loss to the Tide since 2002 when Saban's Tigers were humiliated at home 31-0.
  • The Tigers avoided a big upset at home in the final regular season game against Arkansas. Leading 27-24, the Razorbacks punted dead on the 1/2y line with 3:04 left. To make matters worse, Mettenberger had been hurt on the previous drive, leaving the job of leading a drive for the tying FG to Anthony Jennings, who had played little. But the impossible happened and the Tigers pulled out the game when Jennings threw a 49y TD pass to Travin Dural.
  • Jennings then led the Tigers to a ho-hum 21-14 victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl to finish 10-3.

To be continued ...

Les Miles Retrospective - 6
LSU lost their Big Four offensive stars from 2013 - QB Mettenberger, WRs Beckham and Landry, and RB Hill.
  • Anthony Jennings had excited Tiger fans with his leadership on the 99.5y drive to pull the Arkansas game out of the fire to end the 2013 regular season. He had managed a vanilla offense in the 21-14 bowl victory over Iowa.
  • His task would be made easier by the arrival of the #1 national recruit, RB Leonard Fournette, who would gain 1049y for an average of 5.5ypc.
  • But Jennings completed only 48.9% of his passes for only 1611y and just 11 TDs in 227 attempts. Backup Brandon Harris threw for six TDs in just 45 attempts.
  • With the addition of five-star freshman S Jamal Adams, the defense was much improved, giving up 17.5ppg after yielding 22.0 the previous season.
  • The season started with a 28-14 victory over Wisconsin in Houston and continued with romps over Sam Houston State and ULM to rise to #8 in the rankings.
  • Then Dak Prescott from Haughton LA led his unranked Bulldogs into Baton Rouge for a 34-29 victory that was not as close as the score indicates because Harris came off the bench and led the Tigers to two late TDs. It was MSU's first victory in Baton Rouge since 1992.
  • Miles decided to start Harris against New Mexico State, a 63-7 romp. But the freshman was way over his head at Auburn the following week, a 41-7 humiliation that knocked the Tigers out of the Top 25.
  • Jennings took over and led LSU to a thrilling 30-27 triumph at Florida on Colby Delahoussaye's 50y FG at the buzzer.
  • The Tigers rolled over Kentucky at home 41-7 to set up the annual showdown with the Rebels, ranked #3. The Tiger defense played a magnificent game, holding the visitors to 7 points to win by three.
  • That set up the visit by the Tide, whom the Tigers had allowed to escape with a last minute win two years earlier. After a fumble recovery deep in Bama territory, LSU took a 10-7 lead on Delahoussaye's 39y FG with just 50 seconds to play. But Blake Sims led the Tide on a desperate drive to a FG to send the game into OT. After Bama got a 6y TD pass on their possession, Jennings rolled out on 4th down with a wide open field ahead of him but decided to run and was stopped short to extend the losing streak to Nick Sabana to four.
  • Miles's teams had an excellent record bouncing back from a loss, but these Tigers had nothing left in the tank the following week and were shutout by Arkansas on a cold evening. But Fournette rumbled for 146y and Jennings added 119 on the ground the following week to beat A&M in College Station 23-17 for their tenth victory.
  • The bowl game provided a final frustration. The Tigers scored 28 against Notre Dame in Nashville but the defense, with coordinator Jon Chavis thinking more about his impending move to Texas A&M than stifling the Irish, gave up 31. Final tally:

The 2015 Tigers started strong in Fournette's sophomore season.

  • They won their first seven games after the opener against McNeese was rained out. That pushed the Tigers to #4 in the AP poll and #1 in the first Playoff Committee rankings.
  • Leonard was the overwhelming favorite for the Heisman thanks to epic performances against Auburn (228y, 3 TDs) and South Carolina (163y with an 87y TD).
  • Then came the fateful night in Tuscaloosa that should have been Miles's death knell. The offense that had scored 45 against Auburn, 34 vs Syracuse, 44 against Eastern Michigan, 45 against South Carolina, 35 against Florida (in Harris's best game as a Tiger), and 48 against Western Kentucky was totally bottled up by Bama. LSU gained only 12 first downs, 54y rushing, and 128y passing. Fournette gained only 43y in 19 carries and, fairly or unfairly, fell completely out of the Heisman race. He didn't even make the Top Five to get a trip to NYC.
  • As happened the year before, the Tigers stunk against Arkansas the week after the annual loss to Alabama, this time at home, 31-14. Then Ole Miss clubbed the Bengals 38-17 in Oxford.
  • Amid rampant rumors that Miles would be fired after the finale at home against A&M, the Tigers prevailed 19-7. But with everyone expecting AD Joe Alleva to announce the dismissal after the game, instead Miles was retained for another year. It turned out that the Chancellor had gotten cold feet at halftime and gave the condemned coach a reprieve.
  • The Tigers celebrated Les's return with a 56-27 pasting of Texas Tech in the AdvoCare Texas Bowl as Fournette had another field day (212y).
  • Seemingly chastised by his near dismissal, Miles promised a revamped offense for 2016.

To be continued ...