Les Miles stood in front of his team as it prepared to take the field Saturday night against Oregon.
Pent up is how the coach described the way he and his players felt after a turbulent offseason. Now, at the appointed hour, he could barely hold them back. They streamed onto the turf like a herd of angry Texas cattle.
And Miles ran, briefly, toward the wrong sideline.
Sometimes I swear he does this stuff on purpose. That the hat, the grass chewing, the word combinations never before uttered in the history of the English-speaking peoples, are part of a master plan to underestimate Miles, and by proxy, his team.
It’s as though he wants people to believe he’s the Inspector Clouseau of college football (ah, yes, the old bounce the ball to the kicker on the fake field goal ploy; most ingenious). Generally, they do.
But more observers, even those who want to dismiss Miles as Goofy Uncle Les, are beginning to realize that he’s more like Columbo. The guy who looks completely disorganized but who is really always a step ahead.
It’s understandable, because the way the Tigers win often doesn’t compute.
Saturday, Miles’ team was outgained 335-273. Yet LSU won 40-27, an even more lopsided rout given that Oregon got a cheap touchdown with 13 seconds left. Last year, the Tigers went 11-2 despite being proud owners of a passing offense that was as dependable as a British sports car.
It doesn’t compute, but it usually adds up to victory. Miles is 63-17 at LSU, a mighty impressive 24-13 against the top 25. If not for a field at the 2009 Capital One Bowl that resembled an uncooked chocolate cake, he still might not have lost a nonconference game.
Saturday’s contest was pure Miles tour de force. His team, missing three offensive starters and riddled by a summer of potentially crippling distractions, rose above it all and made all the key plays it took to win. Handily.
In the process, Miles’ team held in check an Oregon offense that led the nation in scoring in 2010 (47.0 points per game) until the matter was decided.
“There wasn’t one look they gave us we didn’t see on film,” cornerback Tyrann Mathieu said. He was praising John Chavis’ game plan, but who put The Chief in charge of LSU’s defense?
Miles convinced his players to focus not on their problems but on the playing field. This after an August honing a game plan designed to dominate with the running game, deny Oregon the big play, and confound the Ducks with tactics like the hurry up offense that produced LSU’s first offensive touchdown.
In the process, another “coaching genius,” Chip Kelly, joined the befuddled group that includes Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier, Frank Beamer and Bobby Petrino. All coaches who, at times, have come a cropper against Miles’ method.
True, there’s nothing like it. But in terms of wins and losses, there’s much to like.