To the tune of “American Pie” …
A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
The passing game used to make Les smile.
There was a time when Les Miles’ offenses used to pass the ball if not with abandon but with regularity. When passing yardage accounted for more than half — HALF! — of LSU’s total offensive production. When throwing the ball was something the Tigers just didn’t resort to when their running backs got tired.
But a funny thing happened for Miles on the way down Victory Hill to the Roman coliseum-styled Tiger Stadium. Somewhere along the way, Miles lost his love for the forward pass amid the cheering, bourbon-infused throngs, like a once-passionate relationship that over time grew stone cold.
It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of one tumultuous season. And it happened because of the domino effect caused by the dismissal of one key player who wound up at Jacksonville State, the school that win-starved LSU welcomes to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night like Dracula would welcome someone to his castle for a midnight snack.
When Miles arrived at LSU in January 2005, he immediately set off to secure the signature of the nation’s top-rated prospect, East St. John quarterback Ryan Perrilloux. Miles got his man, making Perrilloux the glittering centerpiece of LSU’s 2005 recruiting class. But Perrilloux’s time at LSU was filled with trouble.
Perrilloux, it must be said, has matured into a fine adult who today is quarterbacks coach at his high school alma mater. Back then, though, he was a virtually constant disciplinary headache, though a very talented headache. In 2007, he often spelled starter Matt Flynn in short-yardage situations and started in the SEC championship game when Flynn was hurt, not only leading LSU to the win but earning game MVP honors. It’s the win that set up for that season’s BCS national championship.
After Flynn graduated, Perrilloux was posed to be the quarterback in 2008 as LSU tried to repeat as national champion. But long before that season kicked off, Miles had enough, kicking Perrilloux off the team.
In a profession riddled with scoundrels, Les Miles is one of the good guys. He’s been a pill…
That left Andrew Hatch, a walk-on who formerly played at Harvard, to win the starting job. When he got hurt, he got replaced by Jarrett Lee. When Lee then threw seven interceptions that were returned for touchdowns (and an overall horrific ratio of 16 interceptions to 14 touchdowns), he got replaced by Jordan Jefferson, who started the last two games of a trying campaign. Jefferson started most of the next three seasons, only supplanted by Lee for the first eight games of the 2011 season after Jefferson’s own off-the-field issues stemming from a near-campus bar fight.
But in the time Lee was the quarterback in 2008, the damage was done to the relationship between Miles and the passing game. Irreparable damage. The circuits were fried. The lines of communication snapped. Both parties cited irreconcilable differences. Miles has spent most of his years since embracing the Darrell Royal quote: “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.”
Miles' teams in the past threw the football. During his first two seasons at Oklahoma State, passing yards accounted for 70 and 64 percent of the Cowboys’ total offensive output, though much of those first two seasons OSU was playing from behind.
In 2005 and 2006 at LSU, with a pair of 11-2 teams, passing represented 60 percent of the offensive output. But that was with JaMarcus Russell, arguably the greatest pure talent the Tigers have ever had behind center, throwing the ball on his way to becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Yes, an LSU quarterback of the Miles era was really the pros' top choice once. No foolin'.
Since the Year of the Pick Six, LSU threw for 60 percent of its yards in 2009, mostly with Jefferson doing the passing. But after that, in four of the past six seasons, LSU has thrown for more than 50 percent of its yards twice. That was in 2012 and 2013 with Zach Mettenberger, another big, talented passer, at the helm (and future NFL stars Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill in the same offense).
The message is clear: When Miles has a quarterback he trusts, like Russell or Flynn or Mettenberger, he’s willing to throw the ball around more. When he has had Lee or a quarterback like Brandon Harris at the controls, he’s much happier to have them hand the ball off.
To be fair, the past couple of seasons come with a caveat for LSU and Miles. The Tigers have an All-American at tailback in Leonard Fournette, though it’s debatable whether his ankle will allow him to play Saturday. With Fournette out at the end of the Wisconsin game, Harris threw a desperate, wild interception that ended LSU’s hopes of reversing what turned out to be a shocking 16-14 upset loss.
With Fournette or without against Jacksonville State, more running than passing can be expected. Expecting change from Miles would be a fool’s errand. Offensive coordinators have changed, players have changed, but for the most part his offensive philosophy has not in the past half-dozen years.
Now, LSU’s season is in trouble. Barring a huge change of mind, Miles wants his Tigers to run their way out of it, not pass.
Run or pass?
Under Les Miles, LSU has run the football at least 60 percent of the time since the 2010 season.
Year: Run/Pass ratio … Record
2015: 65/35 … 9-3
2014: 69/31 … 8-5
2013: 62/38 … 10-3
2012: 60/40 … 10-3
2011: 68/32 … 13-1
2010: 64/36 … 11-2
2009: 56/44 … 9-4
2008: 56/44 … 8-5
2007: 58/42 … 12-2
2006: 55/45 … 11-2
2005: 59/41 … 11-2
(Miles at Oklahoma State)
2004: 75/25 … 7-5
2003: 60/40 … 9-4
2002: 49/51 … 8-5
2001: 51/49 … 4-7
By the numbers
The passing game under Les Miles
Year Main QBs Comp-Att-TD-INT Pass. yards Pct. of total off.
2001 Aso Pogi 215-367-14-10 2,343 69.5
2002 Fields 243-454-32-15 3,414 63.9
2003 Fields 191-350-21-13 2,561 47.5
2004 Donovan Woods 104-201-14-5 1,722 37.7
Year Main QBs Comp-Att-TD-INT Pass. yards Pct. of total off.
2005 JaMarcus Russell 216-360-22-10 2,912 59.9
2006 Russell 245-368-30-9 3,272 60.3
2007 Flynn 256-442-29-13 3,154 51.3
2008 Jarrett Lee 206-391-21-18 2,617 54.7
2009 Jefferson 198-336-19-8 2,363 59.7
2010 Jefferson 173-301-10-11 2,023 45.6
2011 Lee 173-279-21-5 2,135 42.9
2012 Zach Mettenberger 208-356-12-7 2,607 53.6
2013 Mettenberger 205-326-23-9 3,263 55.4
2014 Jennings 138-276-17-9 2,118 42.0
2015 Harris 149-278-13-6 2,165 41.3
2016 Harris 12-21-1-2 131 50.1