Monday, September 5, 2016

This is going to be a long season ... and what's next?

        I did not want to write about the weekly mis-adventure series that is LSU football so soon, but I can't resist.
     To begin, who do you have being LSU's next head  coach? And how soon?
     Next week? Don't laugh. It is a possibility ... if Jacksonville (Ala.) State -- no pushover -- does to the Fighting (?) Tigers what Wisconsin did on Saturday. 
     Wouldn't surprise me. Nothing with LSU football for the last dozen years under head coach Les Miles surprises me.
Brandon Harris and his LSU teammates were woeful and
embarrassed against Wisconsin at Green Bay's Lambeau Field.
(photo by Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports)
     You know darned well the "help Mac pack" faction -- oh, sorry, a little flashback there -- no, the "let Les leave" crowd is gathering the money for the contract buyout that I read Sunday is substantially less than the roughly $15 million it would have been last year.
     Can't lose four of your last six games at LSU and not feel the heat.
     Lose your season opener, which had never happened to Miles before at LSU, and lose it with the promise of a better-balanced and maybe even more exciting offense -- didn't happen -- and the hot seat is burning.
     I was ambivalent during the "Miles is fired" onslaught last November. But I'm worn out now. 
     A change might be a good thing. I think it was Steve Spurrier -- now the ex-Head Ball Coach -- who suggested that a dozen years is enough for any head coach at schools these days. The days of long-time tenures (think Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Mack Brown) now are rare.
    Time for Les to go? More days like Saturday, and it'll be an easy decision. Maybe even Les will agree, although -- as LSU faithful know well -- he is one stubborn individual.
    Keep reading that LSU has as much or more football talent on campus than most schools (except maybe Alabama). I said this last year, and I will repeat: Not true.
    Most people will tell you that the Tigers' main problems the past few years are (1) coaching, be it Miles and/or offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron and (2) quarterback play.
     Yes, yes, and yes. But here is what I believe is the biggest problem: The Tigers' linemen -- offense and defense -- are vastly overrated.

     Better line play, and a lot of problems are solved. But -- my opinion -- against better teams, the Tigers have been whipped up front consistently the past couple of years.
     They've rarely been as dominant as some of the LSU lines for most of Miles' first 10 years there.
     You saw it Saturday. Wisconsin's defensive front so badly outplayed, outmaneuvered, out-willed LSU's offensive line that it made all the difference in the game.
     I've read several reviews that said LSU's defense played at least decently, considering how much it was forced to play. I don't agree.
     Yes, it was the defense which scored the first LSU touchdown and set up the second one with a forced Wisconsin turnover.
     Truth is, the Badgers had several time-consuming drives -- punching holes against the LSU linemen/linebackers or space in the secondary because the Tigers rarely pressured the Wisconsin QB (certainly not to the extent that the Wisconsin defense harassed Brandon Harris).
     When it came to crunch time, LSU trying to protect a 14-13 lead, Wisconsin kept the ball 4 1/2 minutes and drove 48 yards (eight plays, three first downs) to the winning field goal.
     The Badgers had 21 first downs, 339 total yards, 19 pass completions ... and a couple of near-misses. They should have won more easily than they did. 
     So overall LSU's defense was hardly impressive, not anything like some of LSU's finer defenses over the years (the last one in 2011). 
     I had to laugh when one of my friends -- not an LSU fan -- sent me a message right as the game ended, saying "I really miss the Chinese Bandits."
     Very (not) funny.
     Now about the LSU offense ... what's new? Nothing.
     Boring. Haphazard. Not creative enough. Not nearly. Watch other teams' offenses and they're efficient and often unpredictable.
     The quarterback is too erratic; same problem for nine years, or since Matt Flynn in 2007 (national title).
     Zach Mettenberger had some very good games (and great receivers) in his two seasons as the starter (2012-13) but also some subpar ones. Harris is looking more and more like Jordan Jefferson (2008-11) and Anthony Jennings (2014).
     Leonard Fournette is outstanding -- a pro star developing -- but even he cannot do it on his own enough times to overcome a lack of blocking.
     Too many three-and-outs, too many failures (short on 3rd-and-1, then 4th-and-1), too many off-target Harris passes (high, low, wide), two sacks, repeated hurries, too many unblocked defenders spoiling plays.
     Tell me if I'm wrong, but LSU in recent years can never throw an effective screen pass. Either the ball is poorly thrown, or a defender breaks through and makes the tackle after a short or no gain (as Wisconsin did Saturday in a crucial situation).
     As usual, two wasted time outs when play calls didn't come in fast enough from the sideline (or Harris didn't read them quickly enough). A typically weird  "explanation" by Miles after the game.
     A really dumb timeout call by Harris with 2 seconds left in the third quarter to avoid a delay-of-game call. (Take the darned penalty, and save the much more valuable timeout.)
     You'd think he would have improved over last season -- with more coaching from Cameron. Nope -- not yet.
     (If you look at Cameron's resume, his many stops and many good coaching ties, you'd think better results. He has had some success, but rarely at a championship level. He does have a Super Bowl ring, with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 NFL season ... and they fired him with two games remaining in the regular season.)
     I'm not a fan. Sorry. I've seen many more effective play-callers and quarterbacks coaches.
     Kicking game? Also, still inconsistent and often harmful, a poor punting game and kickoffs that are either short or out of bounds. Happens much too often. Bradley Dale Peveto has been called a good special-teams coach. I question that ... often. Again, not a fan.
     I am a fan of Brandon Harris, as I wrote last year. The kid is from Bossier City and from the school in what was our neighborhood in the 1980s. Playing QB at LSU is a high-profile, high-pressure job. Hope he grows into it; I know he wants to.

    One of my thoughts on the Miles era: The Tigers invariably make it interesting, they more often than not play to the level of their opponent.
     Another thought: If the opposing team is smart and well-coached, and its talent can come close to matching LSU's, it has a great chance to beat the Tigers.
     Wisconsin, on Saturday, was smart, well-coached and more talented than LSU fans might have expected.
     I've written this before, and I'll say it again; it is something everyone knows: Miles has been one of the nation's luckiest coaches. But luck has turned on him and hasn't bailed him out much in recent years.
     In other years, Wisconsin might have missed that final field goal.
     Oh, there's still the great escapes. Take you back to last season when LSU escaped losses -- Mississippi State and Syracuse, to pick two games -- mainly because Fournette made some spectacular runs to save the Tigers' butts.
      Miles better find that lucky charm in the next dozen weeks. He needs to coax his linemen and his QB to play much better and -- and his coaches to find solutions.
      Glenn Guilbeau, who writes columns and stories on LSU for the Gannett Co. papers in the state (Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lafayette) and is one of several Louisiana writers I respect a lot, reminded us Sunday that Miles will not change his philosophies or his quirky ways. He is who he is.
      Might not work much longer here. You can bet that LSU's money brokers in the anti-Miles faction are looking at an offensive-minded head coach successor.
      Already, with the Tigers at 0-1, we're reading/hearing Jimbo Fisher (again), Tom Herman (the hot name at Houston), the unemployed Art Briles (fired in a scandal at Baylor) ... and here is one someone suggested to me -- with a controversial career somewhat rehabilitated as the offensive play-caller at Alabama, Lane Kiffin.
      Spurrier is available. LSU has its chance with him once.
      But maybe Miles and his staff -- and it is a good defensive staff, especially -- can salvage this mess. They better hurry. No. 5 (a ranking far too high, I thought) should be number zero now.
      I have told a few friends this already, but have been reluctant to say it publicly about LSU football. However, I suspect a few people will agree with me:
      I'm disgusted.
      People know: I love LSU, and I love Louisiana Tech. Never would root against either one -- in any endeavor, but especially not in football.
      But as I hinted in a blog post last week, I no longer love football; I merely endure it these days.
      After watching LSU in that woeful game Saturday, I made a decision: I'm not watching for a while. Don't enjoy it, don't need the stress or aggravation. 
      So call me a front-runner. But until things improve, I figure the Tigers can win or lose without me. I'll record the games and watch them later because I'm interested. I apologize for this -- but the Les Miles era has become too hard for me to endure.
     Who's next?


  1. From Stan Tiner: I feel your pain. One thing for sure is that Les will not change. Such a waste of so much talent. Can you imagine what Herman or Jimbo could do with the LSU talent. Saturday LSU was fully revealed to be a poorly coached team -- in almost every phase of the game. Fans are investing way too much money and psychic capital into a mess of mediocrity. And we are being humiliated on a national stage. What a shame for Leonard Fournette.

  2. Nico, I agree with your observations! I have not been a Miles supporter since he put the group that got in trouble with the Law back in as starters. Miles has less character than those players. LSU needs a leader with character, first, and then technical skills far superior to what I have seen in Miles.

  3. From Dick Hicks: As usual, you are dead on. I stopped playing football after my 9th grade year at Lakeshore when I had broken 13 bones in three years and my Dad said, "Son, I don't think football is in your future; if I were you I'd stick to basketball and baseball." As usual he was right. My point is this: I don't know an awful lot about the schemes and things of play, but it just didn't look to me that much changed from last year or past years. Also, it looked like to me from play one that Wisconsin wanted the game a lot more. Thanks as always for your insight.

  4. From Tena Pilcher: Just read your latest blog on LSU and I really enjoyed it, and totally agree. I stopped being an LSU fan in January 2012 when 'Bama blew out the Tigers in the BCS championship game. I watched every second of that game and nearly had a stroke. After it was over I gave all my LSU shirts to Goodwill and became a "Roll Tide" girl. My whole family still wears the purple and gold while I strut my 'Bama t-shirts. Like I tell them, I'll put the purple/gold back on when LSU gets another coach.

  5. From Tommy Canterbury: My son was at the LSU-Wisconsin game and texted: "Do we really ask why all wanted Miles fired?" He is very level-headed. I think we know the answer.

  6. From Anonymous: Excellent column on Miles. Sums up how so many of us feel. It is now beyond frustrating to watch. And you know when a coach's back is against the wall, they only dig in deeper and become more paranoid and bull-headed. It's a pattern we see over and over. I like Miles as man, but not as a coach. I'm just as aggravated at our athletic director. Have never been a fan of him or how he handles situations. Had he handled the coaching situation in a professional manner last year we would likely have a new coach now.

  7. From Patrick Booras: Personally for coach Les Miles' sake and his continued mega-employment as LSU head coach, I hope he can lead the Tigers to a 10-3 season or better, including a win over Alabama in Baton Rouge on Nov. 5.
    There is a lot of football for LSU between now and Nov. 5.
    If LSU does not win the game vs. Alabama, then it looks like there is no room for error, and that loss to Alabama needs to be a competitive game that the Tigers do not give away -- like they did the last two times Alabama came to Tiger Stadium.
    People are tired of the "comedy of errors" on the football field. You want to stay positive, but for four-plus years now Miles has unintentionally turned LSU football games into a complete circus.
    Here's hoping Les Miles and the Tigers get it done. The bar for me is at 10-2 or 11-1 before postseason game(s). It is a high level to reach.

  8. From Roger S. Braniff Sr.: "Just the facts, m'am, just the facts." Very well said. I believe you nailed this, every element of it. Funny and memories ... I can remember my Dad listening to the radio on Saturday night in the late 1950s and hearing: "The Chinese Bandits are on the field!"

  9. From Bubba Kneipp: After the first two three-and-outs, I went bush hogging. ... Well written.

  10. From Brian McNicoll: Lots of good points here, but the best, I think, is that we're still not good at offensive line or defensive line.
    It also helped that Wisconsin knew our defense, and it being the first game, that we were not prepared to adjust much.

  11. From Lee Holland: It's funny, I watched through the first series of the third quarter and after that three-and-out I said that's enough and went to Home Depot and bought a lawnmower. Not wasting any more time.

  12. From Johnny Hollier: What is even more predictable than Les Miles is the criticism by so-called fans of LSU. Those who believe preseason polls and recruiting class rankings are always destined for disappointment. Support the team and more importantly Louisiana State University and what this institution means to our state. Just sayin'.

    1. Johnny Hollier said it well. He was a great athlete (track) and now I learn he is a great LSU fan. Being a native of Louisiana, I have a soft spot for LSU, but since 1972 I have pulled for another school (after all it is my employer). All the objective people I know thought Wisconsin would beat LSU especially at home. The Tigers weren't perfect, but they did well in a hostile environment. Most fans think they know what is going on with their favorite team. Unless they are at every practice, in every meeting, and in close contact with the players they know very little. Their job is to publicly support their team and only criticize it privately and usefully. Just sayin'.

  13. From Joe Harris: I agree with most of what you had to say, but emphasize this: LINE PLAY. [Brandon] Harris has the tools to play, [but] he needs better protection, especially with the Miles philosophy. Hard to find receivers when you are running for your life. Also, Fournette's talents would be better utilized with a stronger line and a different set. Up for the running game, hard to run to daylight when you are handed the ball 8-10 yards behind the line and the defense has already reached 3-4 yards deep. ... Miles will most certainly never give up his game plan.

  14. From Maxie Hays: Lucky Les is on the way out. When??? Should be today!!! 5 million dollars is too much money to pay a guy to play the first game of the season so unprepared in Wisconsin. He is paid to make good decisions for his football team and he never does. PULL HARRIS in the first quarter. Let other linemen have a chance to do a better job than the starters. Get the TE off the field and spread their D out so they can't put eight in the stupid box.
    I am so sick of watching that mess. Les and Cam need to leave BR ASAP. There is no HOPE for LSU football under Les Miles.

  15. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: I have not been a fan of Les Miles since the national championship game where a below-par Jefferson was left in the entire game. Showed Miles to just be stubborn at all costs. If there is a "go fund me" page collecting $ to remove Les as head coach, where do I donate? Embarrassing loss for all LSU faithful.

  16. From Rod Chandler: You wrote exactly what many of us cannot put on paper. Great article.

  17. From Lewis Allgood: After traveling 2,200 miles to see this historic game I'm almost speechless and really disappointed. In the last seven years since my wife passed away I think I have missed about 6 or 7 games in Tiger Stadium with my son, who lives in Port Allen. We love LSU and won't give up on them. However, your piece was really on point. I'll be there Saturday night, not for the coaches but to support the team I love. Things always have a way of working out -- for good or bad. Thanks for your article. After all these years I must say the good has outdone the bad, although I've shook my head in disbelief at many of Miles' decisions.

  18. From Lonnie Dunn: Well said and on point. Les Miles best years at LSU were when he was coaching games with Nick Sabin's recruits. Miles' thought processes are too slow to be effective in today's level of brain football. Time for the plug to be pulled.

  19. From Phil May: I've loved LSU all of my life but as long as Miles is the coach, I'll never be able to go "all in" again. He ripped any inkling of that away in the national championship game against Alabama. So ready for him to go.

  20. From Becki Boudreaux Bass: Whether you're a Les Miles supporter or not, this article says it all. Best one I've ever read on the "subject."

  21. From Johnny Seymour: As always, good stuff. Two words for LSU -- hire Tom Herman, soon before someone else gets him.

  22. From Thomas Youngblood: Agree with some of the comments on Miles' tenure at LSU. My thoughts are slanted toward a buyout. At every level of sports the coach is paid to win. College football contracts are ridiculous but that is not the point. He needs to go.
    I disagree with your comments on the quality of the LSU players. The NFL regularly drafts them at all levels in the draft and I think we have as many players in the league as anyone.