You’d think that we’d all learn. You’d think that all the comebacks, successful trick plays, that goofy smile and almost sinister wink would teach us not to doubt The Hat.
But for some reason, we fail to realize the mad scientist genius that LSU coach Les Miles is. Right when we think he’s palm-clapped a win away, he’s there smiling, jumping and fist pumping in a crowd of purple and gold.
Saturday night, we were guilty of distrusting Miles when his team buried itself into a 24-7 hole against No. 14 Wisconsin in the third quarter. But neither the Mad Hatter nor his team flinched, as the Tigers reeled off 21 straight points for a thrilling 28-24 win in Houston, which was Miles’ 22nd fourth quarter/overtime comeback victory at LSU.
Naturally, the Tigers’ comeback was fueled by a fake punt that Miles called early in the third quarter (a drive after Wisconsin built its 17-point lead) on fourth-and-4 from his own 44-yard line. The Tigers kicked a field goal at the end of that possession, which led to four straight scoring drives for LSU.
“I’m very proud of this victory,” Miles said Saturday night. “I think we played sloppy, I think we did everything that we could have possibly done to the latest possible time to do it before we decided to play our best. The number of mistakes that were made by young players, the number of misfires that stopped us from really controlling a game and playing like we are capable will all be addressed in very orderly fashion as we go through this week. How much fun it is to have victory when making corrections!”
Grass smoothies for all!
It was so vintage Miles. He had just got done watching his football team set offense back 100 years with a dismal first half that featured just seven LSU points and 136 measly yards of offense. We still aren’t sure if Anthony Jennings’ 80-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural was even supposed to hit him or if it was supposed to float out of bounds.
But does it really matter? That’s Miles football right there, and it’s something that has captivated us for nine-plus years. We scoff at Miles’ quirkiness and those occasional indecipherable mumblings. There are loads of jokes about his clock management skills -- or lack thereof. And don’t take your eyes away from Miles when it’s fourth down. At this point, you just assume Miles is going to either go for it or fake it.
Which takes us back to Saturday. LSU had nothing going for it early in the third quarter. The defense had just surrendered a 75-yard touchdown drive on six plays. The offense then mustered six yards on three plays. Miles’ team needed a spark, so he ordered the fake, and the pieces just fell into place, as the Tigers found that want to win.
“We felt like we had to make a play, and we didn’t have the right personnel in the stinking game,” Miles said. “I was madder than hell. It was a right call, and it was a right time and we had Kendell Beckwith with the ball, and I think those are quote, positives, and the momentum change at that point was significant. I think our guys started feeling it, and our opponent realized that we’re not going anywhere, and they were going to have to play until the bitter end.”
Miles was right. As LSU’s offense transformed into a more than competent unit, Wisconsin’s melted. The Tigers swarmed on defense and mirrored terrorizing defenses we’ve seen in the past. LSU pounded away, with Miles thunder palm-clapping with glee.
It isn’t easy to trust Miles, but as he enters his 10th season in Baton Rouge, we all know to expect the unexpected. Or should we just expect the expected? Whatever, you get the point. For all the questionable calls, Miles resembles a genius more than he does a goof. There’s a reason LSU is the winningest program in the SEC since Miles took over in 2005 (96-24), Miles has a national title (2007), and he’s won 10 or more games in seven of his nine full seasons at LSU.
LSU won’t go undefeated, and Miles’ riverboat gambling will catch up with him at times, but for anyone thinking the Tigers weren’t going to have a say in the SEC West race this fall, you were wrong. The second half of Saturday’s game proved this young team’s resiliency, and these cats are only going to grow and get better as the year continues.
"We're imperfect, even though we made the point that frankly, this is the time,” Miles said. “... I think we'll be better. I think this football team can take this experience and realize that to do the things that we want to do, to have the ambition that we really have, we're going to have to play better. The good news is, after victories, it's a lot more fun to go to work.
"The growing pains are very slight tremors and very light infection when you win.”