HOUSTON — For more than a month, Les Miles has indicated that LSU’s offense will change.
Miles said he would “tinker” with the unit during practice ahead of the Texas Bowl, and the coach said he’d “tweak” things to make the offense more productive.
Athletic director Joe Alleva said he and Miles have agreed that offensive changes need to be made, and Miles has, at times, questioned the direction of his old-fashioned unit in this modern age of college football. He said after one game that it needed to be “fixed and adjusted.”
So, can LSU fans expect to see a different offense when No. 22 LSU (8-3) plays Texas Tech (7-5) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at NRG Stadium?
“The things we’ve had success with, I think you’ll see again and again,” Miles said.
The limited number of bowl practices offer little time to make noticeable changes, Miles said, but the 11th-year coach again suggested he’s set to make offseason alterations to his ground-and-pound offense.
LSU coaches plan to visit the staffs that oversee successful spread offenses, Miles said, hoping to glean some X’s and O’s from their counterparts. It’s a first step, maybe, in Miles adopting a new scheme.
“When we get done, there will be a number of places that we will have a natural tendency to go look and see. We’re running some spread. Certainly we have the opportunity to be multiple that way,” he said. “We want to see how those teams running it best are having success.”
Is one of those teams Texas Tech? Miles declined to reveal which teams he and his staff will visit.
Their opponent Tuesday night has been as successful with the spread offense as any.
Tech has finished in the nation’s top seven in passing offense each of the past 11 seasons — each year Miles has led the Tigers — and the Red Raiders lead the nation this year. They pass for 389.7 yards per game. They throw the ball 47 times per game — twice as often as LSU — and they’re second nationally in total offense.
The offenses of these squads and their coaches — ex-quarterback Kliff Kingsbury and Miles, a former offensive lineman — can hardly be more different.
Don’t tell that to Kingsbury, who played against Miles-led Oklahoma State teams as Tech’s quarterback in the early 2000s.
“When he was in the Big 12, he ran a more open style, spread-type attack. And he’s now at LSU, has an incredible defensive line, great running backs, great secondary, so he’s playing to his strengths and adapting to his personnel,” Kingsbury said Monday. “That’s a sign of a great coach.”
Could things be changing, though? Could the Tigers really adopt a spread offense during the offseason?
It’s conceivable in many ways. Miles is facing his most pressure-packed season as LSU’s coach after all of the drama that unfolded last month, and the Tigers are in the midst of their worst passing stretch in his 11 years as coach, ranking 111th nationally this year after finishing 116th last season.
Personnel could be seen as an issue. Most high school teams run a spread system, and positions like fullback are disappearing.
Is change really brewing?
“There’s some things you do and you do really well, and you don’t want to lose that,” Miles said. “There’s a bunch of ways to improve. It’s something you work on on a daily basis. Many times its execution. It’s not even scheme. We’ll have to see.”
Miles is adamant that the “motor” of his offense — running back Leonard Fournette — is “stinking strong.” So a run-heavy spread might be in the works. But it’s a guessing game about which schools LSU’s staff might visit during the offseason.
With about 40 years in the business, Miles has coaching connections throughout the nation. Miles and TCU coach Gary Patterson share the same agent and are friends. Miles and Southern Miss coach Todd Monken were together at LSU and Oklahoma State.
Patterson’s and Monken’s teams have implored a run-heavy, successful spread system.
At the center of any offensive change is the quarterback, Miles said.
“Again, we have to have a trigger man,” he said, “and I think our trigger man is going to improve.”
Miles once called quarterback Brandon Harris “a future for us” while recruiting the four-star prospect from Bossier City. Does that still hold? It’s unclear. Miles has banned Harris from interviews since the sixth game of the season against Florida, and the coach defended the quarterback a few weeks ago when asked about the future.
Harris’ production dipped severely over the past four games. He completed 47 percent of his passes and threw five interceptions against three touchdowns.
The passing game was a focus during the 13 bowl practices, Miles and players said.
“I don’t want to say we’ve started from square one or we have to reinvent the passing game,” receiver Malachi Dupre said. “We’ve had some times this year that it was successful but, just in the time we’ve had (at bowl practice), it was one thing we emphasized and tried to get that better.”
On Sunday, Miles was asked about Purdue transfer Danny Etling and his role with the team. Etling sat out this season under NCAA transfer rules. He has been practicing with the team since his arrival this summer, though.
“His competition will definitely elevate the room at the quarterback spot. No question,” Miles said.
Is a new quarterback in the works, running a new offensive system? Who knows?
One thing’s clear, at least: On Tuesday night, Miles and LSU meet their opposite — but don’t go telling him that.
“Except for being tall and having a lot more hair,” Miles said of Kingsbury, “I think there are a lot of similarities.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.
By the numbers
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: 26th (58th/11th)
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: 50th (111th/10th)*
*through Dec. 27
Texas Tech’s offensive ranking each year under three different coaches since Les Miles took over at LSU:
Year: Total offense (pass/run)
2005: 6th (1st/104th)^
2006: 6th (3rd/112th)^
2007: 2nd (1st/119th)^
2008: 4th (1st/95th)^
2009: 4th (2nd/115th)^
2010: 15th (7th/75th)&
2011: 13th (7th/87th)&
2012: 13th (2nd/88th)&
2013: 8th (2nd/112th)#
2014: 10th (5th/82nd)#
2015: 2nd (1st/30th)*#
*through Dec. 27
# Kliff Kingsbury as coach
& Tommy Tuberville as coach
^ Mike Leach as coach