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Les Miles Isn't as Incompetetent as Y'all Think He Is

Prerequisites for this course can be found chyeah and chyeah (you'll need to scroll down to the reply of the game discussed in this entry).

It's been a bit of a party line around here that Les Miles ain't really that great of a head coach. Perhaps, though, what we really mean by that is "Les Miles is certainly not on the same level as Nick Saban and has, therefore, weakened LSU's program." This isn't to suggest the program is at all "weak" - one could hardly argue such - but it is undeniably not what it was six years ago.

Also with our criticisms of Les Miles we mean to suggest that, with the ousting of O and Croom and the introduction of Bobby Petrinointo the SEC West, the gap between the haves and have nots in our particular division has narrowed significantly. So, really, as we view it, the SEC West's coaching hierarchy is something like "there's Nick Saban, and then there's everybody else." LSU is no longer the home of Nick Saban and is, therefore, no longer the king of this particular hill, which is honestly from where much of the anti-Miles vitriol stems.

There are other arguments of varying validity used against Miles, of course. His quarterbacks have mostly been mediocre, he has made some regrettable hires at various assistant coaching positions, and he can be a bit of a buffoon in front of the media at times. But no event has galvanized the anti-Miles faction of the LSU fan base and his detractors throughout the rest of the country more than the final few minutes of last season's Ole Miss vs. LSU game in Oxford, a wild affair which ended with a 25-23 Rebel victory. His poor clock management and absolutely foolish use of his timeouts, people say, cost the Tigers the game. If it weren't for that ol' dumbass Les, the Bayou Bengals would have hoisted that stupid, uglier-than-Hell trophy in triumphant victory, right?

Perhaps, but, ironically though, as major Les Miles bashers, this bugs the hell out of us.

And the reason it bugs us is simple: such a criticism suggests that the game was LSU's to win; that Les snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But, really, that could hardly be further from the truth.

Here are the moments of which I have written. Take it away, uncle Verne:

And that, in a vacuum, would certainly lend credence to the argument that Les Miles blew the game for LSU. He fucked up. He should have called a timeout with 26 or so seconds remaining, not nine. He should have called a Hail Mary pass that would have actually gotten to the endzone and, even if it were to fall short, he should have had his field goal team ready to take the field right away. He did none of those things, and for that the criticism directed towards him is legitimate.

My argument is, however, that the resulting Ole Miss victory was far more deserved and earned by the Rebs than the Les Miles critics would have you believe because, as I unashamedly see it through red and blue colored glasses, Ole Miss was doing everything it could to hand LSU the game on a well-garnished platter and not the other way around. Ole Miss should have won the game handily, and the fact that they didn't shouldn't support the notion that Les Miles' idiocy was the only thing holding the Tigers back.

First, what do the statistics tell us?

LSU Ole Miss
First Downs 19 22
Total Yards 290 426
Passing Yards 250 233
Rushing Yards 40 193
Yards Per Carry 1.5 4.3
Penalties 5 9
Penalty Yardage 25 60
Turnovers 1 0
T.O.P. 26:24 33:36

The statistics demonstrate that LSU struggled offensively against the Rebels. The Tigers couldn't put together any type of ground game and, until the final two drives of the fourth quarter (which began with 3:42 left in the game) LSU's passing game was also pretty lackluster. Up until LSU's fourth quarter "heroics," the Tigers mustered only 164 yards of total offense and had sustained one drive that went for more than fifty yards, a 64-yard drive which ended with a Reuben Randle touchdown grab in the final minute of the second quarter.

For the better part of 56 minutes, the LSU football team was soundly outplayed and out-manned by the Rebels of Ole Miss. But it is even more complex than that because, despite the disparity in the statistics, there was great parity in the two teams' scores.

How come? Consider the following events, fair reader:

  • Cassius Vaughn's first quarter pick-six is called back by questionable officiating.
  • Joshua Shene's second field goal attempt is bocked and returned for an LSU touchdown. The field goal was the result of a poor drive which, itself, was the result of Cassius Vaughn's pick-six being called back.
  • Dexter McCluster's bizarre decision to, literally, jump out of the way of LSU's forth quarter onside kick, arguably leading to the Tiger recovery.

Toss those around with Ole Miss' poor red-zone offense (and, in fairness, LSU's good red-zone defense), and you get an amalgamation of bizarre touchdowns and chip-shot field goals for the Rebels.

Let's look first at Cassius Vaughn's interception. Only five minutes into the game, with the Rebels leading 3-0 after a decent opening drive, LSU has the ball on their 29 yard line at second down with 12 yards to go. Jefferson passes to the left side of the field and is picked off by Rebel cornerback Cassius Vaughn. Vaughn sprints down the sideline and dives into the endzone for an apparent Rebel touchdown. That would make it 10-0 Rebels after the pending extra point attempt.

But flags were thrown. There was a Rebel block in the back at the nine yard line, apparently. That would push the play back 10 yards from the spot of the penalty to the LSU 19. That sucks, but it's more than manageable. And then the second penalty is called. Cassius Vaughn's dive to the endzone, a hardly celebratory dive away from an LSU lineman which was pursuing him to the goal line, was flagged for the ambiguous and loathed "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty (Aside: I'd like to extend my warmest "fuck you" to SEC officiating and a steaming heap of "fuck you" to Mike Slive for sweeping his conference's absolutely embarrassing officials under the rug this past season. Fix that shit, Mike. We're the richest conference in America; don't tell us you can't hire a few dozen referees worth their weight in dog turds.). So it is now Ole Miss with a first and ten from the LSU 34.

That drive stalled. The Rebels did get a first down but, immediately after, LSU's defense came to play and the Rebels gave up some yardage after a boneheaded penalty, setting up a field goal for Joshua Shene. Bizarre event number two then happens. LSU defensive lineman Al Woodsblocks Shene's kick, it rolls behind the Rebel special teamers, and is conveniently snagged out of its roll by a well placed Patrick Peterson. Peterson sprints into the endzone, and "Tiger Rag" is blasted out of the horns of the Golden Band From Tigerland.

Blocks happen, but they are just as much a result of good defense as they are of poor offense. LSU should get as much credit as Ole Miss receives blame for that. But to have the blocked ball bounce right into the welcoming hands of Patrick Peterson, arguably the best player in the conference, is nothing but blind chance and dumb luck.

What could, or perhaps should, have been 10-0 Ole Miss was 3-7 LSU. Officiating, good LSU defense, poor luck, and an atrocious effort on special teams all conspired to take a touchdown away from Ole Miss and give it to LSU.

The second quarter then comes, and a Rebel field goal is followed by LSU and Ole Miss trading sustained touchdown drives (remember, LSU's only sustained touchdown drive of the game until their late, 4th quarter rally). Halftime. The third quarter comes and the Rebels and Tigers trade punts. Setting us all up for the thrilling fourth quarter.

A minute-and-a-half into the fourth quarter, the Rebels would take the lead for good on a Dexter McCluster pass to a wide open Shay Hodge. An LSU punt and a Joshua Shene field goal later, the Rebels would be up by eight with 3:42 remaining in the game. This is when LSU finally turned on their offensive jets and let loose an effective passing attack which would, about 2:20 later, see LSU bring the game to within two after a Reuben Randle touchdown catch and a failed two-point conversion (which, frustratingly enough, the Tigers were given two shots at due to a Cassius Vaughn pass interference call).

With just over a minute remaining, LSU would have no option but to attempt the onside kick. Josh Jasperlined his kicking team up, and pooched the ball right at Dexter McCluster of the Rebel hands team. But Dexter didn't catch it. It hasn't been discussed much since, principally due to the bizarre events which occurred afterwards, but Dex was in absolute prime position to grab the onside, hit the deck, and win the game by earning the Rebels possession of the ball. He did just the opposite though, literally jumping out of the way of the oncoming football. The ball then weebled and wobbled down field a bit until it was recovered by LSU on the LSU 42.

LSU had the ball with about a minute to go. (As an aside, did any Ole Miss fan, at this point, feel confident in a Rebel victory? Because I sure as hell didn't.)

Two plays later, they were in field goal range after a completed pass downfield to Brandon LaFell. (To follow-up with the previous aside, at this point, I knew we were going to lose.) First and ten at the Rebel 32. On that first down play, Jefferson throws an incomplete pass. On second and ten, Emmanuel Stephenssacks Jefferson and knocks LSU just outside of field goal range. Time out is called, LSU's second of the half, with 0:32 on the clock. On third down, with 19 yards to go, Jefferson throws out left to Stefan Ridley on a quickly busted screen play, and seven more yards are lost.

This is where Les screws up. He doesn't call a timely time out. He waited for the clock to tick from 0:26 at the end of the play, down to 0:09, and thencalls a time out. One could question the play-calling, I suppose, but this is undeniably Les Miles' most criticized decision of that night, if not his entire LSU coaching career. This inexplicable waste of time made the chance for an LSU victory nearly impossible, but when considering everything that lead up to this exact moment, the fact that LSU was in this game late in the fourth quarter with a chance to actually win, was something just short of miraculous.

And furthermore, even if he had managed the clock as well as he could have, that still wouldn't have guaranteed a Tiger victory. 

Let's say they take a timeout with 26 seconds remaining, as Les Miles should have. They're still set up with a harrowing 4th and 26. They're still beyond the option of just getting it within field-goal range, because they're still going to need to get to the Rebel 22 to convert the first. They're still in a situation with the odds stacked incredibly against their favor.

So they take the timeout. What play are they calling exactly? A long pass play, so, really the timeout doesn't change the play call at all.

Alright, I could just spin this all day, but keep in mind, they were facing 4th and 26 regardless of the field position, score, or time left on the clock. Fourth. And. Twenty-Six. The fact that they converted that in the first damn place and in the fashion that they did - a Hail Mary thrown, as Jordan Jefferson was having his sternum caved in by the crown of Marcus Tillman's helmet, into what was essentially quadruple coverage - would be considered miraculous, if it weren't LSU vs. Ole Miss.

(That throw, like Billy Cannon's improbable 1959 touchdown run in Death Valley, is a microcosm of whatever we want to call this, one of the SEC's oldest rivalries.)

So, in the overwhelmingly unlikely event that LSU does call a timeout at the appropriate time, complete that hail mary on 4th and 26, spike the ball, set up and make the game-winning field goal, would everyone then suggest that the Bayou Bengals won because of Les Miles? Hardly. Talking heads and even LSU fans would acknowledge the improbability and luck involved in such a fourth-quarter comeback. "Ole Miss Loses Late in Fourth to LSU," the headlines would read; not "Les Miles' Football Acumen and Timely Decision Making Win Again."

Les Miles is not the reason LSU lost on that (totally badass) Saturday in November. Ole Miss played better football for the majority of 60 minutes, made many mistakes, and endured incredibly bizarre circumstances to persevere over a talented LSU Tigersfootball team. That is why LSU lost. The only way one could reach the conclusion that Les Miles lost that game is if that person didn't at all watch the contest and, instead, went to to get the recap.

The only reason that game was as close as it was that late in the fourth quarter was due to mistakes made by the Rebels - penalties, horrible special teams miscues, and an unimaginative and ineffective redzone offense all come to mind - and the absolute blind, dumb luck of the Tigers. Such an explanation is hardly as sexy or convenient as "our coach fucked it up," especially if you're an LSU fan coming to grips with having lost to Ole Miss and especially if you're looking to warm a guy's seat a little bit, but it's the accurate one.

One sees this a lot in college football. Coaches are certainly responsible for wins and losses, but there are two other factors which are just as significant, if not moreso: players and chance. Great coaches can lose plenty of ball games if their players aren't any good and they're unlucky, just as bad coaches can win games with good players and good luck. It's easy to blame a coach in order to ignore the fact that your team just wasn't that good to begin with (HEY ARKANSAS FANS DID YOU SEE THAT I AM SO ALLUDING TO YOU RIGHT NOW GET ANGRY GRRR WOOPIG SOOIE), just as it's easy to praise your coaches and players for winning a game you were lucky to escape from alive.

Great programs are those which have brought together great coaching, players, and circumstance and, as a result, done great things. Les Miles is not a great coach (let's say he's "good"), but he does have great players and has proven time and time again to be one of the luckiest guys in the game. His luck just ran out, along with the time, on that memorable night in Vaught Hemingway Stadium.