OXFORD, Miss. — On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Darrel Williams rushed up the gut for no gain.
On second down, Leonard Fournette rushed up the gut and fumbled as LSU lost 4 yards.
On third down, Williams ran again — this time for 2 yards.
On fourth down after a timeout, LSU ran a toss play to Fournette. Quarterback Brandon Harris’ pitch was off the mark. The ball hit Fournette near the shoulder pads, and it bounced on the ground 9 yards shy of the goal line — the final whimper from the Tigers’ suddenly struggling offense.
Four cracks from the 1-yard line. Four runs. Two fumbles. A loss of 8 yards.
“I promise you those plays were practiced,” LSU coach Les Miles said in the news conference following LSU’s 38-17 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday. “It’s an interesting thought. I just think they were distracted in that position for whatever reason. It’s a pretty simple execution.”
The series is indicative of LSU’s offensive approach in the past two seasons: physically pound the opponent with a relentless rushing attack. The series is indicative of LSU’s offensive troubles, too: struggle to block the opponent on the way to a middling performance.
Miles, an offensive-minded coach who has a strong influence on that unit, admitted afterward that his offense needs to be “adapted, fixed and adjusted.”
Miles suggested that the Tigers need to use Harris more from a running and throwing standpoint.
LSU (7-3, 4-3 Southeastern) has been held under 20 points for three straight games for the second consecutive season, which did not happen in the previous 14 years dating to 1999.
The Tigers have scored a combined 48 points during their first three-game losing skid in 16 years. It follows a span last season in which they totaled 23 points in a win over Ole Miss and losses to Alabama and Arkansas.
Offensive players were not made available to speak with reporters following the loss to the Rebels. Assistant coaches are only made available for questions about twice a year.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of a three-year contract that currently pays him $1.5 million. His contract ends March 31, 2016.
Miles told reporters a few days ago that he would wait until after the season to resolve Cameron’s contract, but the coach attempted to get an extension for Cameron earlier this year, two sources told The Advocate.
Miles on Saturday sounded like a man questioning the run-first, I-formation offensive philosophy — one he has held throughout his time in Baton Rouge. Asked specifically Saturday whether he believes he needs to “adapt” his offense, Miles said, “I don’t think there’s any question.
“I think we have a mobile quarterback. I think we have a guy that can throw it,” he continued. “I still think we can have balance, but I don’t think there is any question that that offense needs to be adapted, to be fixed and adjusted.”
Some might think it’s too late for an offensive change. Miles’ job security is in question, according to a report from The Advocate last week. The story was published even before Saturday’s mistake-filled loss in Oxford.
Miles’ buyout is $15 million and drops to $12.9 million Jan. 1. That would not appear to be a hangup, though, in the decision to end the coach’s 11-year run with the school.
Miles was seen Saturday walking the sideline while holding an offensive play card — not a rarity. At least one former player said Miles’ influence on LSU’s offense is substantial.
The ex-player said Miles often changes play calls or calls plays in big games and, more specifically, when LSU enters the red zone. The player who spoke to The Advocate wished to remain anonymous.
The coach has expressed disappointment and frustration over his offense in the past three weeks, including Saturday night.
“We did really nothing for them offensively,” Miles said when asked about his defensive woes recently.
There’s one regular-season game left to put on a show.
LSU, which slipped out of the two major polls released Sunday, hosts Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers have beaten the Aggies in their past four meetings, including a 23-17 win in College Station last season.
LSU scrapped its offensive identity in that game, replacing the I-formation approach with a shotgun-heavy scheme that utilized the feet of then-starting quarterback Anthony Jennings. Jennings ran for more yards (119 on 14 attempts) than he threw for (108 on 12 completions).
Cameron and Miles have somewhat jostled their offensive scheming this season. They seem to be searching for an identity. In the loss to Arkansas, 14 of LSU’s first 17 plays were out of the shotgun. The Tigers threw it on six of their first seven plays.
It was the opposite against Ole Miss: The Tigers aligned in the I-formation 12 of their first 13 plays, running the ball on eight of those.
How will LSU approach this game? It’s unclear, but they’ll be facing a unit led by former defensive coordinator John Chavis. Chavis left LSU for A&M after last season, refusing to sign a new extension because of a clause in his contract that tied him to Miles’ now-shaky future.
Chavis and the school are locked in a bitter lawsuit over his $400,000 buyout.
“Got to bounce back and get a win,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said Saturday. “We’ve got to fight. Lost three and a row. We’ve got to come out and fight. Keep fighting, keep getting better.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.