Tigers Unimpressive In Season Opener
By John Ventola
For years good days in my hometown Baton Rouge coincided with LSU football success. At least that is the way I felt as a youngster and as a student at the university. That feeling only intensified when my dad handed over the family’s two season tickets (17 years at that point) upon my graduation. Forty-six years later (yeah, Ventola family now in 63rd year as season ticket holders), LSU victories and championships make life good and more tolerable, but are no longer essential.
However, when one considers what the Baton Rouge community has gone through in
the past couple of months with a nationally scrutinized shooting, three law enforcement officers shot and killed, and catastrophic flooding, the loyal Tiger fan base (thousands of them flood victims) needed something positive to pin their hopes on. Surely, LSU football could provide some relief.
A much ballyhooed football team featuring All-American running back Leonard Fournette was dangled in front of fans as local media expounded daily on how Coach Les Miles was going to make changes in his coaching philosophy, and make adjustments in offensive Coordinator Cameron’s play calling tendencies (supposedly promises made after his Houdini-like escape from coaching unemployment last November).
Local scribes bought in to Miles’s storytelling, writing glowing reports about newly hired defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, and the improvement shown by returning quarterback Brandon Harris.
Saturday’s much anticipated season opener against Wisconsin at Green Bay’s legendary Lambeau Field sadly showed that the hard-headed Miles has not changed
his coaching philosophy (yes there is a difference between trying to win and trying not to lose), Cameron is still making vanilla play calls that do little else but short circuit and harness the ability of Fournette, and Harris is still erratic and inconsistent. Even Aranda’s defensive scheme could not be labeled a first game success despite providing the Tigers with one of its two touchdowns. LSU was not able to provide consistent pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston.
The Tigers, ranked No. 5 in preseason polls and a solid 11-point favorite over the Big Ten Badgers, looked unemotional and unprepared (nine players on field during one play and the usual forced time outs because of delayed play calling that seems a staple of Miles’ sideline regimen) in early action, and then panicky (Harris’ game clinching interception thrown directly to a Badger defender on first down at Wisconsin’s 35-yard-line) late in the game.
First half action (64 yards total offense) was eerily similar to the 2012 National Championship meltdown to Alabama. And the overall effort was reminiscent of last
November’s three-week dream walk against SEC opponents Ole Miss (17-38), Alabama (16-30), and Arkansas (14-31), that almost, and should have, cost Miles his job.
The Mad Hatter is a fine man. He has a legitimate fondness for his players, and they in turn have shown that they share mutual feelings—–at least publicly. However, the quirky coach, now in his twelfth year in Tigertown, long ago (in most cases starting with that January night in the Superdome in 2012) lost the unflinching support of many Tiger faithful due to his repeated failures in clock management, unimaginative play-calling, and his bewildering tendency to play games tentatively (the old don’t lose it rationale instead of going all out for victory).
When you throw in Miles’ documented inability to recruit a quality quarterback (he inherited JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn, and Zach Mettenberger was a transfer) to campus to fill out his annual Top Ten recruiting class, you have enough reasons to wish that the LSU Board Member who leaked word of Miles’ impending firing after last year’s regular season had not opened his mouth.
This LSU alumnus is not jumping off the Miles Wagon. I was never on it. I was embarrassed by the school’s shabby treatment of Miles after the leak, and the two-week period before the Texas A & M finale. His overall winning percentage and personal character should have accorded him better handling of his employment status by the
university. After all, he had been at the helm for 11 years. (And no, despite reports to the contrary, I do not believe Michigan, or any other top echelon football school, ever made overtures to Miles).
Winning 77% of your games is impressive, but that fact is negated when obvious shortcomings in strategy and preparedness lead to defeats in key games. After all, the school is paying more than the going rate for a solid football tactician and strategist to lead the program.
Numerous friends and relatives made the trek to Green Bay and from the phone videos I saw the town welcomed Tiger fans with open arms, a local high school playing the Tigers’ fight song and local dignitaries greeting airport arrivals with purple and gold beads. Making the loss, the first nonconference defeat for Miles in 43 non-SEC regular season games at LSU, even more frustrating. The fans were ready and prepared. The football team was not.
And that falls squarely on Les Miles.
While he should be commended on his concern and outspokenness for the Baton Rouge citizenry and law enforcement officers after the shootings and flooding, he should also be condemned for not having “his” football team emotionally and physically prepared to play winning football.
A few confounding observations from Saturday.
When the Tigers finally got things going offensively in the second quarter, Harris was forced to call a time-out as the play clock was winding down (usually costs the Tigers two or three timeouts a game), and then a botched third down play followed the timeout. The Tigers only ran 21 plays in the first half.
I have been watching LSU football since 1954 and Leonard Fournette is one of the top running backs I have seen wear the Purple and Gold. Despite his coming to life in the
second half and gaining 138 yards on 23 carries, I have to question if some of the Heisman hype has him doing some out of character posing. Am I the only one who saw him take a knee as he walked to the locker room at halftime and force his teammates to walk around him. Hey, Fournette, what was that about—why not get to the locker room, then kneel, pray, and regroup?
Harris, supposedly a dual-threat QB, never runs the football to open up the defenses that are keying on Fournette in seven and eight-man front schemes. He consistently threw high passes to Travon Dural and Malachi Dupre. His long completion to Fournette seemed to hang in the air forever. When flushed out of the pocked on first down of the last series why didn’t he throw the ball away. Fournette was set to come back in the game on the next play with over a minute left. Eight yards or so on the next two plays would have put LSU in position for a makeable game winning field goal attempt by Colby Delahoussaye.
Alabama and Texas both showcased true freshman quarterbacks in victories over
Southern Cal and Notre Dame during the weekend. Either one, properly handled and similarly coached by LSU’s staff, would have led the Tigers to an easy victory over the Badgers.
The cheap shot by lineman Josh Boutte showed a complete lack of character, an embarrassment for anyone that ever donned a Tiger uniform, or supported the university’s athletic program.
While the die hards will cling to the fact it was only the season opener, this blogging realist can only repeat a Dr. Phil McGraw saying. “The best predictor of future behavior, is… past behavior”. I am sure it translates to coaching also. That being said. last November’s SEC death squad trio, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas, again await the Bengals at the tail end of this season’s schedule. LSU has posted a dismal 2-7 record against those three schools over the past three years.
Throw in road games against improved Auburn and Florida, and home contests against Dak-less Mississippi State and recent SEC newcomer Missouri, and Miles could have another interesting Thanksgiving! (Interesting to see various GoFundMe accounts set up late Saturday for money to give to the university to help pay any buyout amount for Miles’ termination).
Maybe this year that Board Member will be silenced, and overzealous TAF members will be threatened with revocation of tickets and perks if a potential coaching change is even discussed.Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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