The pitch in Les Miles’ voice rose.
He stared down at a questioner, turning from goofy, humorous coach to angry, defensive leader during Saturday’s postgame news conference.
The question: Will you contemplate a serious overhaul of your offense?
“The serious and overhaul with the offense ... does that include Leonard Fournette?” he asked. “Would we take the running game from the offense? Oh, OK then. So basically it’s not a serious overhaul because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong.”
LSU’s offensive motor — Fournette — is in good condition, but the carburetor, the transmission, the fuel injector seem to need a tuneup. And the coach knows it.
Miles followed that terse defense of his offense by admitting that the unit needed change. He side-stepped a question about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s future and did not rule out staff changes following the 19-7 win over Texas A&M.
“Do we want to consider change? You betcha,” Miles said. “I think ‘serious overhaul’ is appropriate but would be a little much.”
Miles is facing what is likely the most pressurized situation he has ever dealt with as a head coach — and much of it involves his run-heavy, old-school offensive mindset. The 11th-year coach did not learn he would remain as the program’s leader until after the Texas A&M game in a brief meeting with school administrators in his private locker room at Tiger Stadium.
That meeting was held just moments after LSU’s offense limped to another disappointing outing. The Tigers finished with four three-and-outs, and five more drives stalled in A&M territory, leading to a field goal try.
LSU’s offense was held under 20 points for the fourth straight game. That had not happened since 1993. The Tigers, excluding a surge in their bowl game, will finish outside of the top 50 nationally in total offense for the ninth time in Miles’ 11 years as coach.
Quarterback Brandon Harris’ numbers have dipped substantially following an impressive three-game run earlier in the season. He was 7-for-21 for 83 yards against A&M.
In the past four games, the sophomore is 60-for-126 — a completion rate of 47 percent — and has thrown three touchdowns against five interceptions. That followed a three-game performance against South Carolina, Florida and Western Kentucky that produced seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a 62 percent completion rate.
“Honestly, I thought up to Game 7 I thought he was magnificent,” Miles said. “There seemed to be a pause, and we just haven’t quite got him back on track. There’s work to do there.”
LSU is 111th nationally in passing offense. The Tigers have finished 94th or worse in that category five of the past six seasons.
Cameron’s job seems unstable. He has a contract, paying him $1.5 million, that ends March 31. Miles attempted to get an extension for Cameron earlier this year, but that failed, two sources told The Advocate. He’s in his third year with the school.
Miles avoided a question about Cameron’s future Saturday.
“I’m not answering any of those questions,” he said. “I’m going to look at statistics and do studies, and I’m going to make quality decisions. I can tell you this: Thank goodness we had him tonight.”
Miles and Cameron are close friends, having worked together at Michigan under legendary coach Bo Schembechler, but Miles recently has questioned his own offense. After the loss to Ole Miss, he said the Tigers offense needed “to be adapted, to be fixed and adjusted.”
LSU’s game plan over the past four games has waffled between schemes. The unit is searching for an identity, it seems.
Against Arkansas and A&M, LSU opened the game in pass-first mode, using the shotgun formation and multiple receivers. In games against Alabama and Ole Miss, it was the opposite: two tight ends, I-formation, a run-first mentality.
The pass-first mentality against the Razorbacks and Aggies backfired, and the Tigers quickly switched to the ground-and-pound.
Eight of LSU’s first 14 plays Saturday were passes. Harris completed one of those attempts, and the Tigers started the fifth drive by running the ball four straight times.
The passing struggles are somewhat baffling after that successful stretch in October.
“We have the tools to be an offense that can average more than 200 yards a game. We did that this season at times,” receiver Malachi Dupre said.
What happened? Who knows?
Harris has not been made available for interviews for more than a month after Miles handed down a gag order for the outspoken QB.
Miles’ involvement in LSU’s offense has been well-documented. The former offensive lineman and offensive assistant coach is often seen holding an offensive play card, and one former player said Miles’ influence on the offense is substantial.
On Saturday night, Miles, play card in hand, rushed to call a timeout before the Tigers faced third-and-goal from the 4-yard line with less than 3 minutes left.
After the timeout, the Tigers pitched it to Fournette — the old toss dive — for the clinching touchdown.
“Tonight, it was more one-sided in the running game, and we didn’t get the passing game going that much,” Dupre said. “But moving forward, our offense as a whole, as receivers, linemen and Brandon, we just have to do a better job in the passing game and not be so one-dimensional.”
LSU QB Brandon Harris and the Tigers’ passing game has hit the skids recently:
Past four games
Completion percentage: 47%
Previous three games
Completion percentage: 62%
LSU’s offensive ranking each year under Les Miles and four different offensive coordinators:
Year: Total offense (pass/run)
2005: 60th (55th, 52nd) #
2006: 11th (18th, 31st) #
2007: 60th (55th, 52nd) ^
2008: 55th (71st, 43rd) ^
2009: 112th (97th/90th) ^
2010: 86th (107th/27th) ^
2011: 86th (106th/22nd) &
2012: 87th (94th/52nd) &
2013: 35th (45th/29th) *
2014: 80th (116th/25th) *
2015: 54th (111th/10th) *
# — offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher
^ — offensive coordinator Gary Crowton
& — offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa
* — offensive coordinator Cam Cameron