OXFORD, Miss. — Whatever Les Miles needed to boost his job security, to help his cause, to prove he is still the man to lead this LSU football program now and into a nationally competitively future, whatever he needed to prove and however he needs to be judged, what happened here Saturday against Ole Miss was the opposite of that.
The Tigers haven’t led for a second of their three straight defeats against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Each defeat has been more and more frightful.
With little argument, Saturday’s loss to the Rebels was the lowest point for LSU football since its loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS Championship Game.
It could have been worse.
But not by much.
A fight broke out on the field late in the third quarter after one of Brandon Harris’ two interceptions. If this game had been an actual prize fight, they would have stopped it.
With a sense of urgency, assuming pride still matters in Tigertown, LSU looked disorganized, outplayed, outschemed and completely lacking in the kind of cohesive, focused effort required to go on the road and defeat a quality Southeastern Conference rival.
The Tigers committed 13 penalties — five on the kickoff after Ole Miss made an opening field goal and on LSU’s ensuing drive. LSU lost the turnover battle. LSU came out with an offensive game plan that included three straight toss pitch runs to the left side while the Rebels ran plays like the coup-de-grace touchdown on a brilliantly conceived throwback pass to the tight end behind good blocking on the left side to make it 38-17.
LSU’s quarterback appeared to regress from the gains he was making earlier this season, or at least started forcing passes because of a 24-0 deficit forced upon him. LSU’s one-time Heisman Trophy-favorite tailback, Leonard Fournette, ran for 108 mostly ineffective yards. LSU came out with a defense that gave up a 57-yard pass play by the Rebels on the first snap, the kind of big-play botchery that has haunted the Tigers all season long.
It’s one game, yes, but part of an ongoing trend. A mighty troubling trend, one that has seen the Tigers slip to 4-3 in the SEC this year, 8-7 in SEC play over the past two years and 13-10 in the past three.
When everything seems to be mattering most, when jobs and careers and a coach’s legacy are the most at stake, everything about LSU’s team appeared to dissolve into something worse than defeat.
The Tigers, save a brief blip on the EKG when they punched in a touchdown after the Rebels fumbled a kickoff early in the third quarter, were uncompetitive.
They tried to fight, but nothing they tried seemed to work. Ole Miss answered the touchdown that pulled LSU back within 24-17 with a touchdown of its own. Chad Kelly, the Rebels’ tough, sharp quarterback, pinwheeled into the end zone on an 11-yard keeper, and all the fizz was gone from the Tigers’ two-liter soda bottle with a quarter and a half to play.
Miles said afterward that his offense needs to be adapted, needs to be fixed. It did gain more than 500 yards Saturday, but it appears to be too late for a meaningful remodel. There may not be time.
This game and next Saturday’s game against Texas A&M appear for all purposes to be a referendum on Miles’ tenure at LSU. To say it isn’t going well for Miles would be like saying the Titanic took on a little water after it hit the iceberg.
Whatever decision is made about Miles, it is safe to conclude it will happen after the A&M game but well before LSU sets sail on what now will be a pretty meaningless bowl trip.
Athletic director Joe Alleva declined comment about Miles after the game, saying there would be no comment until after the regular season is completed.
But if the writing isn’t on the wall for Miles, the pencil is at least being sharpened. If as has been established in this column that Miles is coaching for his job against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, what kind of result against the Aggies could change his fortunes at this point?
Black Friday has come early for the LSU football program. And soon, very soon, the school may be shopping for a new coach.
Miles, to his credit, said any speculation about his job didn’t have an impact on the game or his players. They claimed they heard none of the talk about their coach this week.
“I’m a nonfactor,” Miles said quietly afterward. “It has been and always will be about the team at LSU.”
Long after the game was over, Miles returned to a corner of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium’s cold, lonely playing field to record his weekly television show.
“Go to hell, LSU!” a couple of well-marinated Ole Miss fans mockingly yelled from a suite in the south end zone.
Not to worry, Rebels.
The Tigers, and their coach, are already there.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.