It’s time for LSU football to undergo a culture change.
On the field. On the sideline. And in the stands (sorry fans, you’re not exempt on this one).
LSU coach Les Miles faced the media Monday less than 48 hours after his Tigers lost 34-29 to Mississippi State. The Tigers were dominated for all but the final frantic few minutes of the game. It was a startling sight, seeing a team invade Tiger Stadium and impose its will on the Tigers the way the Tigers usually do to almost everybody else.
State looked more in tune with modern college offense: Though it had a run/pass ratio of about 2-to-1, it spread the Tigers out and gashed them for more yards (570) than any foe in the Miles era.
Monday, Miles didn’t single out any specific players. That isn’t his style. It’s one of the things that makes talented players gravitate to LSU to play for The Hat. He even managed to laud Brandon Harris and say he has earned more playing time without denigrating the hot/cold play of starting quarterback Anthony Jennings, a move that would have made hard-running State quarterback Dak Prescott proud.
He also made it known everyone inside the LSU football complex is in this together. Players have to play better; coaches have to coach better.
“Sometimes it’s personnel, and sometimes it’s not,” Miles said. “Sometimes it’s (that) you have to recognize what we’re asking you to do in this position and you need to play it differently. We’ll make that adjustment.”
The biggest adjustment must come from the top.
Offensively, LSU was exactly 50-50 run-pass Saturday, 36 plays of each, but that’s because the Tigers were behind the entire night.
In 2014, LSU is running the ball roughly twice as much as it’s throwing, 193 to 95. Over Miles’ 10 years in Tigertown, that’s roughly been the ratio.
But it’s not just that the Tigers are a run-first team. It’s the way they run.
LSU started timidly on offense. Kenny Hilliard ran up the middle for 3 yards, then up the middle for 2, then Jennings kept for 2 before LSU punted.
The Bulldogs weren’t fooled.
“Mississippi State expected run all the way,” ESPN color analyst Todd Blackledge said. “The linebackers didn’t drop with any depth. They had their eyes on the quarterback anticipating the draw.”
State then swept 51 yards for a touchdown — four passes, two runs — and the rout was on, at least until the Bulldogs started messing around and the Tigers nearly executed the steal play. Harris threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes, and if he’d completed one more on the final play, it would have made The Bluegrass Miracle look, well, like a run between the tackles.
Even if LSU had pulled off The Mississippi State Miracle, it wouldn’t have masked the need for change that Miles said is coming. The Tigers have in Jennings and Harris two quarterbacks who come from spread backgrounds who are asked to work repeatedly under center out of the “I.”
When given a chance to move the pocket and make plays with their feet, they’re both better. They don’t get those chances more often because Miles is eager to minimize the chances for mistakes from his young signal-callers.
Miles’ desire to lean more on the run and the defense and special teams and less on Jennings and Harris is understandable. LSU hasn’t been this inexperienced at quarterback since 2008, when Miles lost Matt Flynn to graduation and booted Ryan Perrilloux from the team, leaving him with walk-on Andrew Hatch, sophomore Jarrett Lee and freshman Jordan Jefferson.
But the defense has its own issues — namely trying to find some quick-hardening cement to plug a soft middle.
Getting Miles to change his offensive philosophy won’t be easy. The man has won 80 percent of his games at LSU with a national title and two Southeastern Conference titles by primarily relying on the run and defense and special teams. It’s hard to make any coach move away from what has worked so well in the past.
LSU can come out in Wing-T on Saturday and beat New Mexico State, but certainly stiffer tests are literally just down the road against Auburn and Florida. That will be the test of the Tigers’ offensive direction.
Now back to that near-miracle comeback. Tiger Stadium was about nine-tenths empty by the time Harris’ last pass sailed toward the goal line.
“We’re probably two feet from having on that last throw the completion that just erupts the place,” Miles said. “Except it would have been a very quiet eruption.”
You can lay any blame you want for Saturday’s loss on Miles or his coaches or his players, but say one thing for them: They didn’t quit. They showed plenty of heart, right down to the very last play.
The culture of Tiger Stadium has been changing for years to more late-arriving and more early-departing, if the fans come at all (75,000 actual this Saturday would be a good crowd). The ones who stayed last Saturday made almost as much noise as a full house, which is telling.
If LSU fans expect a 60-minute effort from their Tigers, their Tigers should get a 60-minute effort from their fans. Even when all seems lost.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.