Lucky Les? Maybe, but Miles keeps on winning

Published October 10, 2010

| Associated Press

LSU coach Les Miles doesn't need respect and adoration. And it's a good thing, too, because there's not another coach in college football with an undefeated team and a national championship to his credit, that gets vilified — by his own fans — as much as Miles.

THE BIG STORY

In a league stocked with star coaches and gaudy resumes, Miles' accomplishments stack up with any of them.

Since replacing Nick Saban, who bolted for the NFL after the 2004 season, Miles is 57-15 (.792 winning percentage) at LSU. He's 30-13 in regular season SEC games and he won a national title in 2007.

For comparisons sake, Urban Meyer, whose first season with Florida was also 2005, is 60-12 (.833) and 34-10 in the SEC with two national championships.

Head-to-head, they have split six games. The latest was the wildest. A week after Miles came down with another case of tangled time management and lucked into a victory against Tennessee, every card he flipped down the stretch against the Gators at The Swamp was an ace.

The centerpiece of LSU's 33-29 victory was a fake field goal that will go down in SEC history, a strange combination of boldness, brilliance and blind luck that pretty much sums up Miles' LSU career.

Down three points and facing a fourth-and-3 from the Florida 36, Miles sent kicker Josh Jasper on to try a 53-yard field goal. LSU curiously let about 20 seconds tick off the clock before calling its last time out with 35 seconds left.

Then it was magic time. It's a play Miles has used successfully before at LSU: The holder flips the ball over his head to the kicker coming around on a sweep. Only this time the flip was long and wide and hit the turf.

As anyone who has ever played catch knows, footballs can take some strange bounces. Not this time. This one bounced like a soft liner off a perfectly manicured infield into Jasper's arms. He scampered 4 yards for a first down.

Or had he?

Officials reviewed the play to see of the ball had been flipped forward, which would have resulted in an incomplete pass.

"But it was dead sideways," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday with just a hint of a chuckle.

A few plays later, Jarrett Lee tossed a touchdown pass and just like that LSU was atop the SEC West and lurking in the national championship race.

As for his critics, Miles said he couldn't care less what they had to say, though he did it far more colorfully.

Even after winning it all in '07, Miles didn't win over many LSU fans.

Maybe it's because he got off to a bad start with them.

In his second game with LSU in 2005, the Tigers blew a double-digit lead and lost to Tennessee 30-27 in overtime in Baton Rouge.

It was an especially difficult loss for LSU fans because it was the Tigers' first game after hurricanes Katrina and Rita had done so much damage and brought so much pain to so many across the state. And, of course, many blamed Miles, the new guy hired from Oklahoma State.

Miles' national championship team lost two games in triple overtime and needed some good fortune with other teams losing just to get into the BCS title game against Ohio State.

Sure he won it, but that team was stocked with Saban's recruits.

Say this for Miles, he never ducks blame, though at times he does seem to have a hard time initially comprehending his mistakes.

Who knows what lies ahead for Miles and LSU? It's hard to imagine that it will end well. But for now, Tigers fans, he's your coach and you can't be too upset with the results.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

There were two teams that came into this past weekend undefeated and unranked. Both lost.

After Kansas State was crushed by Nebraska on Thursday, Northwestern lost its first game on Saturday night against Purdue 20-17.

The Wildcats from the Big Ten ran out to a 5-0 start by winning close games against a bunch of losing teams, but two missed field goals did in Northwestern against the Boilermakers (3-2).

Amazing how one game can change the tone of a season. Last week, Northwestern looked like a team that could make a run at 10 wins. Now the Wildcats seem as if they might have a tough time getting to eight.

QUICK HITS

— The Heisman campaign for Navy's Ricky Dobbs is not developing. He has scored five touchdowns and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry after setting an NCAA record for a quarterback with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2009. But Dobbs had his best game of the season in a 28-27 victory against Wake Forest. He ran for 100 yards and two TDs and threw a 6-yard TD pass with 26 seconds left to push Navy to 3-2.

— Illinois coach Ron Zook seemed to be on a very shaky ground coming into the season. The Illini haven't had a winning season since playing in the 2008 Rose Bowl, but after a solid effort in a loss against Ohio State and a convincing win at Penn State to move to 3-2, a seven-win season is in reach. That might be enough to keep Zook in Champaign.

— Florida State, with new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, has 26 sacks in six games to match its total from last season.

LOOKING AHEAD

The fans in Nebraska have been gearing up for Texas' visit to Lincoln for months. It's the final meeting between the Longhorns and Cornhuskers as Big 12 conference rivals.

Tired of Texas holding so much power in the Big 12, Nebraska decided to move to the Big Ten next season.

The Longhorns come in riding a two-game losing streak, which takes some of the luster of the game nationally, but not in Lincoln. The Huskers would love to add to Texas' misery.

___

Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.

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