Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Coast to Coast: Les Miles, Dumb Luck, and Insane Girlfriends

(Things have been slow to develop around here over the past two weeks because of various obligations, travel time, and anxiety about the MSU game.  I will try to produce more regular posts this week and beyond.)

Tell me he isn't crazy.  Crazy like a fox.
We've all been there.  You are just starting to get over a bad breakup and you meet a girl and everything clicks.  She seems perfect.  She's cute and talkative and she busts your balls just enough to get you riled up but has a really sweet side that only comes out when the two of you are alone.  You're into it and have to pinch yourself because things are going so great, all the while in the back of your head you worry just a bit that the other shoe is going to drop.  Could she be this great?

Well she seemed normal.
Then one day you start noticing little things.  Like a stack of credit card bills on the coffee table or the fact that she is habitually late for everything.  But you can talk yourself out of it because they are just quirks and you kind of find it cute when she finally comes out of the bathroom a half hour after you were supposed to leave for your dinner reservation and shoots you a coy smile.  Then the little arguments over things trivial things begin to pop up, maybe you didn't call one night because you passed out watching Monday Night Football after your third beer or you bailed on a date night because you forgot and made plans with your friends.  She gets mad at first and you fight, but its one of those quick fights and ends up with the two of you making up in a fit of passion within fifteen minutes and laying in bed afterward apologizing for getting so worked up, all the while promising it won't happen again.

But pretty soon the arguments start to get worse.  Maybe she accuses you of looking at her girlfriends ass while in line at the bar (which you were totally doing, but won't own up to because it will just feed her self conscious streak) and the two of you spend the rest of the night in a tense stare off that concludes with a yelling match at 2:30 when you get home from the bar.  Maybe she starts snooping through your phone when you leave it out on the table and accusing you of lying to her when you don't want to hang out.  Then one day she is asking to borrow money but won't tell you what it is for.  You think it has something to do with the phone calls she has been getting at night that upset her.  Maybe the credit card bills are a bigger problem then she let on?  Things begin to spiral more and more until the two of you are constantly fighting, only now you're living together because your lease ran out and the two of you planned on getting an apartment.  Plus you loaned her that money one night when she broke down crying about the debt collectors constantly harassing her, so now she is in to you for a few hundred dollars.  On top of that she constantly blames you for everything that goes wrong and continues to insist that she has everything under control.  Your perfect girl has turned into a nightmare, but you are trapped.  Things haven't gone completely sour yet, but all the while you are worried that the tenuous balance you have struck will come crumbling down and you'll wake up one day with her sitting on your chest with a gun pointed at your face sobbing.

Ok, maybe not everyone can relate to this.  Except LSU fans, who are in the midst of a similarly dysfunctional relationship with Les Miles.

At first it was great.  Miles made LSU fans forget about Nick Saban quickly, winning eleven games in each of his first two seasons.  Add in the fact that Saban struggled mightily in the NFL and everyone in Baton Rouge was pinching themselves.  Could they really have lucked out with such and upgrade?  Sure Saban was good while he was there, but Miles brought fire to the program and the high profile recruits flocked to him.

The 2007 MNC was the unquestioned high point.  After a season with two tough losses Les brought the team back and guided them to the SEC championship game where they dispatched Tennessee.  Even better, when his old flame (Michigan) came calling he declared he was an LSU man:

Short and sweet, but just a little crazy, right?

A month later the Tigers beat up on OSU in the BCS National Championship game and won the second title of the decade.  LSU fans were on top of the world, but it never lasts.

The next year LSU went 8-5 with blowout losses to Georgia and Florida and tight losses to then #1 Alabama and end of the season rival Arkansas.  The team had begun the season ranked in the top ten but fallen from grace as the losses mounted.  2009 offered little hope of as LSU began to falter, losing games to Florida and Alabama in the SEC, as well as Ole Miss on a very questionable bit of clock management:

Throw in the loss to Penn State in the Capital One bowl and things were looking very bad indeed for the once proud Tigers.  Even more telling were the rumblings of discontent surrounding the performance of Les "Mad Hatter" Miles.

If the MNC was the high point in the relationship and the last two years have been the slow decent into madness, then this is the year LSU fans spend every waking moment expecting to walk into the kitchen to find a rabbit boiling on the stove.  Things are still good on the surface.  Undefeated is undefeated, no matter how ugly, but you can only squeak by so many weeks in a row before the anticipated collapse begins to consume you.

Week one LSU took on a seriously undermanned North Carolina team that should have been an easy victory. Instead the underdogs fought back from a halftime score of 30-10 by scoring 14 unanswered points and got the ball back and into LSU's redzone for a shot to win in the final seconds.  In week four the anemic Tiger offense depended on cornerback Patrick Patterson who scored a punt return touchdown and blocked a field goal in the 20-14 win over WVU.

Week five brought about my favorite moment of the season so far.  A moment that so perfectly captures the current state of two programs that it couldn't have been scripted.  Words don't even do it justice.  Just witness it in all it's schadenfreude glory:

Not only is Les Miles lucky to get an extra man on the field after what might be the worst clock management in the history of college football.  He gets TWO extra men.  TWO!  Leaving absolutely no doubt that Miles doesn't need a potent offense or stout defense to win football games.  Like the MacGyver of college football he builds wins out of the spare change and lint he finds in his  pockets, his sock, and whatever is he can scrounge up from the glove compartment of an unlocked truck in the parking lot.

But wait.  There is more.  Not to be outdone by one wild finish in week five, he crafts an even wilder finish the next week.  Up 26-14 against Florida, the Tigers allow 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to go down by three points.  With the ball on their own 34 and just over three minutes left, LSU drives into Florida territory and gets stopped at the 36 setting up a 4th and 3.  What happens next is the stuff of dreams:

A field goal ties the game.  There isn't one coach in the country who doesn't go for the tie game here, especially with a senior kicker who has kicked three 50+ yard FGs in his career.  This is the safe move and D-I coaches are hopelessly risk averse.

Of course, I was yelling at my TV from the couch "run the fake Les, run the fake."  I knew he wanted to.  Everyone knew he wanted to.  This is not a case of Michigan State catching Notre Dame off guard with a gutsy and surprising play call.  Everybody watching the game knew this play was a possibility.  LSU famously ran this exact same play against South Carolina in 2007 for the win.  Despite this being the most obvious fake FG of the past decade, when trying for the game tying FG and OT is the sensible play, Les Mile still ran the fake.

What happened next almost feels like an afterthought.  A horrible LSU passing offense gets a 28 yard completion to put the Tigers on the Florida three yard line.  Then LSU runs the same pass play two times in a row, and scores on it the second time for the winning touchdown.

I cannot fathom being an LSU fan right now.  It has to be akin to watching an SEC horror movie where teams are slowly picked off by the killer, only Miles and LSU clumsily stumble out of tight spots and provide comic relief as someone else falls victim to a horrible fate.  All the while the killer lurks just behind the main characters waiting to thin the heard out a little more until its just the main character left (Auburn?  Nah, couldn't be).  The problem for LSU is the funny guy always dies in the end.  Now LSU fans get to nervously watch each game waiting for their luck to run out, knowing it is only a matter of time before Les Miles dooms them to a horribly gut wrenching loss.

Les Miles is officially the insane girlfriend of the college football world.  Sure, he has some great qualities (good recruiter, always puts together a great defense, won a MNC), but LSU fans know it can't last.  Something is bound to go wrong eventually and all of his bad qualities (horrible game manager, history of inept quarterbacks, um...CLOCK MANAGEMENT)  are bound to doom this team in the end.  All they can do is sit back and wait for everything to come crashing down.

At least LSU didn't propose after a great first date like someone else I know (ahem, Notre Dame) only to end up finding out the two had nothing in common and then having pay out the ass in the divorce settlement.


#19 South Carolina 35 - #1 Alabama 21
Who honestly saw this one coming?  If you asked me three weeks ago I would have predicted this game as an even match up.  But after a USC loss to Auburn two weeks ago and Alabama's back to back victories over Arkansas and Florida   the latter being a case of utter domination   the college football world seemed to settle into the natural state of one presumed favorite and a band of challengers.  Not anymore, as South Carolina opened up an early lead and never looked back.  Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery were outstanding for USC, hooking up 7 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns.  Mark Ingram on the other hand decided to sabotage his Heisman candidacy more than Denard Robinson (I keed, I keed) by only gaining 41 yards on 11 carries, which makes McElroy still undefeated in games where he has some help in the backfield.  Golden boy Greg's one man show, however, wasn't enough in this one despite 27/34 passing for 315 yards and two touchdowns.  Both Ingram and Richardson have probably one or two more sub par performances before Saban becomes fed up with them and lets them pursue their dreams of practicing medicine in rural communities after "career ending injuries".

"Ethics?  We don't need no freaking ethics." - the SEC.  (Or maybe I'm thinking of Blazing Saddles.)

#23 Florida State 45 - #13 Miami 17
If a conference favorite falls in the ACC, and nobody is watching, does it matter?  FSU took it to the Canes on Saturday and put themselves in the drivers seat to represent the ACC Atlantic Division in the conference championship game.  None of this really matters outside of the continuing competition between the ACC and Big East to be the worst auto-bid conference in the country.  Can we all agree to ignore east coast football for the rest of the season like the polls have?


#16 Stanford 37 - USC 35
The amazing thing about USC isn't that the team has forgotten how to play defense, or that they continue to find new ways of setting other teams up for game winning field goals.  No, the real amazing thing, at least in my mind, is how Pete Carroll was able to run a loose, celebrity fueled program for so long, allow major violations to occur right under his nose, then bolt at the first sign of trouble, and yet Lane Kiffin is the bad guy.  Don't get me wrong, this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, but in the end isn't it something that Carroll has escaped without tarnishing his reputation in the least bit?  Something tells me Butch Davis won't be so lucky.

#4 Boise St. 57 - Toledo 14
In your weekly inane transitive property argument for Boise State.  The Broncos beat Toledo by 43 points.  A few weeks ago Toledo beat Purdue by 11 points.  Also on Saturday Purdue upset Northwestern with a three point victory.  This means Pat Fitzgerald's team is 57 points worse than Boise St.  Northwestern is a middle of the pack Big Ten team.  Therefore, Boise State deserves to play in the BCS title game.  You've just been math'd.

Tune in next week for Nebraska's chance to take out years of aggression on Texas, Arkansas and Auburn play the only game with top 15 implications, and Les Miles finds a way to torture the entire LSU fan base for 59 minutes against McNeese St. only to pull out the victory in the last second when a plague of locusts descends on the field and carries the ball and Patrick Patterson into the end zone for the go ahead score as time expires.

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